What is a Hospitalist?
Table of Contents
A hospitalist is a physician whose focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. Their duties include patient care, teaching, research, and leadership related to hospital medicine. Hospitalists can come from any medical background. Most have completed a residency in internal medicine, family medicine, or pediatrics. However, there are now a growing number of "specialty" hospitalists practicing psychiatry, obstetrics, orthopedics, and general surgery all within the realms of the hospital.
Unlike primary care doctors, hospitalists generally have short-term relationships with their patients. Despite this, they benefit from the satisfaction of caring for people during some of the most difficult times of their lives. Hospitalist care is especially important for patients who don't have a family doctor to admit them or to visit them while in the hospital.
How to Become a Hospitalist
What does a Hospitalist do?
A typical physician will divide their time between the hospital and the office. Hospitalists, however, only specialize in the care of hospitalized patients, which has certain advantages. These physicians have more experience in caring for complicated hospitalized patients on a daily basis, and are more available during the day to meet with family members. They are also able to follow-up on tests, answer any questions the nurses may have, and deal with any problems that may arise. If need be, a hospitalist may see patients more than once a day to make sure that care is going according to plan, and to explain test results to patients and family members.
Hospitalists also coordinate the care of patients in the hospital by organizing the communication between different doctors caring for a patient, and serving as the point of contact for other doctors and nurses for questions, updates, and plan of care. They are also the main contact for family members to be updated on their loved ones.
Because hospitalists work on-site, they are able to look at test results and promptly order any necessary follow-up tests. Since their office is the hospital, they are more familiar with the hospital's policies and activities, and are involved in various hospital committees. They work behind the scenes to assist in improving efficiency, patient safety, patient care, medical errors, infection control, and fostering teamwork and communication between physicians and staff.
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How to become a Hospitalist
The pathway towards practicing hospital medicine begins in the same way as it does for any medical specialty.
Steps to becoming a hospitalist are as follows:
- Complete an undergraduate degree (four years)
- Complete medical school (four years)
- Complete a residency (three years)
- Become state-licensed
- Become board-certified (optional)
As hospitalists gain experience, they sometimes choose to take on administrative roles such as safety officer, directors of quality, or chief medical officers. Some will choose to leave clinical practice to become hospital executives and administrators. Teaching is another option, supervising residents and fellows in the clinical setting, or taking on professorships and research positions at medical schools.
What is the workplace of a Hospitalist like?
Hospitalists are typically employed by individual hospitals, larger medical networks, or multi-specialty group practices that provide staffing to their hospital clients. They may work a portion of their shifts in nursing homes and rehabilitation hospitals, which allows them to follow their patients from short to longer-term care. This provides patients with a smoother transition between settings.
Some hospitalists may choose to work seven 12-hour shifts in a row followed by a full week off, while others work Monday through Friday every week. Still others will work several 24-hours shifts each week. While this career involves long hours, scheduling flexibility is a perk for hospitalists. Within a group of hospitalists, they will be able to cover one another's patients when time off is needed. That being said, hospitalists should still expect to work their share of weekends and holidays.
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