What is a hospitalist?

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In the midst of a surgical procedure in a Tanzanian hospital. Hospital medicine is a relative new specialty area of medicine that offers physicians a chance to care for patients with various conditions. A simple definition of a hospitalist is a doctor who provides comprehensive medical care to hospitalized patients. A hospitalist leads the rest of the medical team by coordinating the patient’s care.

What does a hospitalist do?

Hospitalists provide general medical care for a patient while he or she is in the hospital.  This care may include ordering and reviewing diagnostic tests in order to make a diagnosis. Hospitalists will also develop treatment plans, teach patients about their conditions and consult with other physicians in various specialties to determine the best care for their patients. 

Day-to-day responsibilities may include examining patients as they are admitted and reviewing lab tests, x-rays and other diagnostic tests performed. A hospitalist may also order medications, treatments and services, such as physical or respiratory therapy. 

Doctors in many types of medical specialties may see patients in the hospital, but they may also see patients in their offices. This means some specialists may not always be available in the hospital. Hospitalists are different because they spend all of their time in the hospital and are readily available.

Patient care can be very complex. Many hospitalized patients have multiple medical issues. Although hospitalists have broad medical knowledge, they are not specialists in any one organ system, such as the lungs, heart or brain. Part of the job of a hospitalist is to recognize when a patient needs to be evaluated and possibly treated by a specialist, such as a cardiologist or neurologist. 

A large majority of hospitals throughout the Unites States are now utilizing hospitalists in their facilities. Opportunities are available for hospitalists in hospitals and medical centers of various sizes. The hours worked will vary, but most facilities have one or more hospitalists available around the clock, seven days a week. This means some doctors will work nights and weekend shifts.

Training needed to become a hospitalist

The steps to becoming a hospitalist start similarly to other medical specialties. Earning a bachelor’s degree is the first step, followed by graduating from medical school. Completion of a residency is then required. Most hospitalists complete a residency in internal medicine, family practice or emergency medicine. Board certification in hospital medicine is offered through the American Board of Physician Specialties after completion of a written exam.  

Is it right for you?

If you are interested in treating a large variety of patients with different conditions, working as a hospitalist may be a good fit. For example, you may see patients with heart, intestinal and neurological conditions one day and the next you are seeing patients with infections or rare diseases. There is a lot of variety, which can keep the job interesting.

Most hospitalists work for a hospital or medical center as opposed to going into private practice. If working for yourself in your own practice and seeing patients in your office is important to you, becoming a hospitalist may not be the best fit. 

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