The student had previously had the opportunity to observe several surgeries as part of a practical work experience component common in many middle schools in Sweden.
However, on one occasion, the 15-year-old was handed a scalpel, bringing a new dimension to the “hands-on” nature of the unpaid work experience, referred to in Sweden by the acronym prao (praktisk arbetslivsorientering – ‘practical work-life orientation’).
“I don’t know how deeply the prao cut, of it was a mere scrape or a cut several millimetres deep,” Per Ekström, the supervisor of the attending doctor at Skåne University Hospital, told the Sydsvenskan newspaper..
According to Ekström, the doctor has since expressed regret over letting the untrained teenager handle a scalpel in an operating room.
The woman into whom the 15-year-old cut was aware that the student would be present for the operation, but had not been informed about the student’s very active role in the surgery.
As she was under regional epidural anesthetic, the patient was awake when the student was given the opportunity to cut into her, but was unable to see exactly who was making the incision.
Ekström said the woman still doesn’t know that the 15-year-old held the scalpel during her operation and she won’t likely be informed.
“I don’t think it would benefit anyone,” he told the newspaper.
According to the hospital’s regulations, no prao students under the age of 18 are allowed to be in an operating room.
However, other medical personnel in the operating room during the surgery didn’t react negatively to the 15-year-old’s presence.
“The staff thought it was pleasant that the prao was there and had an interest in the operation,” said Ekström.
Nevertheless, the hospital does take the incident seriously, admitting that such incidents can harm people’s faith in the Swedish healthcare system.
In addition, the hospital believes it has a responsibility to not place work experience students at the hospital in difficult situations.
But the hospital maintains the woman was never put at risk during the procedure, and thus has no plans to report the incident to the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen).
“What happened lacked judgment but the patient wasn’t hurt or put at risk for injury,” the hospital’s chief doctor, Eva Ranklev Twetman, told Sydsvenskan.