What Is a Hospitalist? Understanding This Dynamic Role in Medicine


Medicine has always been your ultimate goal—and you’ve had your eye on the prize for quite some time now. You’ve been gearing up for medical school by a packing your schedule with advanced courses and meticulously staying on top of your extracurriculars, because you know it will all pay off one day.

But medicine is such a wide umbrella. There’s so many practice areas—which one will you land in? You want to choose a specialty that will offer you the challenges and work life you desire.

While exploring the different areas of medicine, one specialty caught your eye. But you need some clarification.

Just what is a hospitalist? How do they help save lives? Would this path be a good fit for you and your career goals?

Keep reading to learn more about this intriguing and relatively new area of medicine. It may be the ideal specialty for your dream career.

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What is a hospitalist?

A hospitalist is a licensed physician who practices in a hospital and treats an array of conditions. These doctors work to treat patients staying in the hospital due to a variety of illnesses and injuries.

The term “hospitalist” is actually relatively new, first coined in 1996. The hospitalist model of care quickly showed value in proving both efficiency and improved patient outcomes. Studies have even shown how hospitalists helped reduce the length of patient stays.

The need for hospitalists emerged from increasingly complex hospital patient cases. These cases needed dedicated physicians, rather than clinicians also managing ambulatory care and other clinical obligations. Hospitalists emerged from this gap in the medical workforce, and this specialized area of medicine was born.

What does a hospitalist do?

Hospitalists provide general medical care to hospitalized patients. They lead the hospital medical team, coordinating care for inpatients. They may examine individuals as they’re admitted, ordering x-rays, diagnostic tests, and other lab work. Hospitalists examine test results, order treatments and medical services, and prescribe medications. For example, a hospitalist may order respiratory therapy for a patient with pneumonia. They may prescribe antibiotics for a patient with a kidney infection.

Many patients that end up in the hospital have complicated cases. They could have multiple health conditions occurring at once, making hospitalists incredibly important. Unlike specialists that work solely with one organ system or a certain patient demographic, hospitalists see it all. But they also refer patients to specialists when needed. Aside from clinical care, hospitalists may also pursue other endeavors like research, teaching, and performing additional leadership duties.

How does a hospitalist differ from an internist?

Hospitalists are commonly confused with internists. This may be because hospital medicine falls under the larger umbrella of internal medicine. In fact, the vast majority of hospitalists train as internists. The scope of training internists receive correlates with the duties of a hospitalist, but hospitalists and internists are not the same.

Internists practice in both hospitals and outpatient settings, while hospitalists do not. Another difference between these two professions is the duration of involvement with patients. Internists may work with their patients all throughout their adult lives. This means an internist can develop a long-term relationship with their patients.

On the other hand, hospitalists see patients for the duration of a hospital stay. If the patient has a chronic condition that requires multiple stays, the hospitalist may see them more frequently. But the overall scope of a hospitalist is to treat the conditions resulting in hospitalization, not ongoing patient management.

Why is this a great career choice for medical students?

If you’re set on a career in medicine, consider specializing in hospital medicine. It’s a great choice for aspiring doctors, promising a challenging, engaging, and fulfilling practice. Most hospitals employ hospitalists around the clock, meaning night and weekend shifts could be a part of your schedule. If you seek more predictable practice hours, hospital medicine may not be the niche for you.

But if you’re interested in a medical specialty that will offer you a range of conditions and diverse cases in your day-to-day work, hospital medicine could be a great fit. They treat patients with conditions affecting everything from the heart to the lungs to the brain, and they can see both common and rare cases. No two days will ever be the same.

Move ahead on your medical journey

So, what is a hospitalist? You can see there’s no quick answer. Hospitalists have wide-ranging duties and must be comfortable treating an array of patients. Hospital medicine is critical and challenging, but the way in which they help their patients makes it all the more rewarding.

Before you can become a hospitalist, you’ll first need a medical education. No matter your specialty, the journey to becoming a doctor is long and harrowed. Only those with the grit and perseverance to match their medical mastery see it through.

If you’re intrigued by the possibility of a career in medicine, prepare yourself by hearing some firsthand accounts. Check out our article, “12 Things No One Tells You About Pursuing a Career in Medicine,” to learn more.

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