What Does a Hospitalist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A hospitalist at work in a busy hospital
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When Steve Pantilat, M.D., a hospitalist and author of an article about this profession, describes his job to new acquaintances, he tells them he's “a doctor who is an expert in taking care of people in the hospital.” This is a simplified definition of this complex occupation.

A hospitalist is a medical doctor, either an M.D. or D.O., who specializes in hospital medicine, a subspecialty of internal medicine. Hospitalists coordinates a hospitalized patient's care with the other professionals who are part of the medical team. Having one physician responsible for an individual from admission to discharge ensures that the patient receives continuity of care.

The term "hospitalist" was first coined in 1996, and it's changed the way hospital care is provided. The field continues to grow.

Hospitalist Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally involves meeting the following responsibilities and performing the following duties:

  • Assess patient health by interviewing patients, performing physical examinations, obtaining, updating, and studying medical histories.
  • Provide diagnostic, preventative, and therapeutic health services to patients and family members in the hospital.
  • Evaluate and treat patients in consultation with or as the primary attending physician.
  • Coordinate the hospital's diagnostic, therapeutic and consultative resources.
  • Follow through on cases to ensure effectiveness and alter the course of treatment as indicated.

    Some hospitalists choose to specialize. For example, intensivists care for critically ill patients who are in intensive care units.

    Hospitalist Salary

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites salaries for internists in general. The median incomes for internists in 2017 were:

    • Median Annual Salary: $192,930 ($92.75/hour)
    • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $208,000 ($100.00/hour)
    • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $58,770 ($28.25/hour)

    Internists who work in specialty hospitals such as cancer institutes are the most highly compensated.

    Education, Training & Certification

    Those looking for career as hospitalists must dedicate themselves to extensive education and licensing requirements.

    • Education: You must first become a doctor. Expect to spend about 11 years in school after graduating from high school. You must first get your bachelor's degree, which will take about four years, then go to medical school where you will spend another four years earning either an M.D. as a medical doctor or a D.O., a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree. You will then spend three to eight years doing graduate medical education, also known as a medical internship or residency.
    • Licensure: You will have to become licensed to practice medicine in the state in which you want to work after completing your medical education. Those with M.D. degrees must pass all three parts of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Individuals with D.O. degrees must pass all three levels of the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).
    • Certification: Many employers require hospitalists to be board certified in internal medicine or family practice medicine. This certification is granted by The American Board of Internal Medicine, a member board of the American Board of Medical Specialties. 

    Hospitalist Skills & Competencies

    You should have several essential qualities to succeed as a hospitalist.

    • Communication skills: You can't do this job without excellent listening and speaking skills. Not only must hospitalists interact with patients, but they must also be able to understand and be understood by colleagues as they act as coordinators of patients' medical teams.
    • Interpersonal skills: Like all doctors, hospitalists need excellent interpersonal skills in order to establish rapport with patients and other healthcare professionals. They must be able to understand their patients' concerns and help guide them and their families.

    Job Outlook

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics anticipates job growth for physicians and surgeons in general at about 13% through 2026. This is faster than average for all occupations, and hospitalists should see even more job growth as the occupation becomes more established.

    Work Environment

    Hospitalists work in hospitals, but they might also work for larger group practices. This career involves a great deal of patient contact and requires patients, stress management, and empathy. You might be exposed to contagious illnesses.

    Work Schedule

    Expect to work long shifts. Hospitalists work 12 hours shifts for seven days in a row in some hospitals, then have a week off before going back to work. Those who work primarily overnight are called nocturnists.

    How to Get the Job


    The Society of Hospital Medicine offers networking possibilities and up-to-the-minute advancements in this comparatively new field.


    The Hospitalist provides interview tips and other guidance specifically for this position.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: