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” (What Is a Hospitalist? The Hospitalist, Society of Hospital Medicine, February 2006). That is a simplified definition of this complex occupation.
A hospitalist is a medical doctor (M.D. or D.O.) who specializes in hospital medicine, a subspecialty of internal medicine. He or she coordinates a hospitalized patient's care with the other professionals who are part of the medical team. Because one physician is responsible for an individual from admission to discharge, it ensures he or she receives continuity of care.
Some hospitalists choose to specialize. Those who work primarily overnight are called nocturnists. Intensivists care for critically ill patients who are in the intensive care unit (I.C.U.).
- Hospitalists earn a median annual salary of $278,746 (2016, Society of Hospital Medicine).
- There are approximately 44,000 people practicing hospital medicine (Royster, Sara, Hospitalist, Career Outlook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).
- The term "Hospitalist" was first coined in 1996. It has changed the way hospital care is provided. The field continues to grow (History of Hospital Medicine, Society of Hospital Medicine)
- Hospitalists work in hospitals and large group practices.
A Day in a Hospitalist's Life
These duties were listed in job announcements on Indeed.com:
- "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 throughout the hospital in consultation or as the primary attending physician"
- "Coordinate the hospital's resources (diagnostic, therapeutic and consultative)"
- "Follow through on cases to ensure effectiveness and alter course of treatment as indicated"
How to Become a Hospitalist
To become a hospitalist, you must first become a doctor. Expect to spend about 11 years in school after graduating from high school. First get your bachelor's degree, which will take about four years, and then go to medical school where you will spend another four years earning either an M.D. (Medical Doctor) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) degree. Following that, you will spend three to eight years doing graduate medical education, also known as a medical internship or residency.
After completing your medical education, you will have to become licensed to practice medicine in the state in which you want to work. For those with an M.D. degree, this will mean passing all three parts of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Individuals with a D.O. degree need to pass all three levels of the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).
According to the American College of Physicians, a professional organization for internal medicine specialists and sub-specialists, "the vast majority of hospitalists are trained in internal medicine, usually general internal medicine" (Hospital Medicine: The Discipline. American College of Physicians)." Many employers require hospitalists to be Board Certified in Internal Medicine/Family Practice Medicine. This certification is granted by The American Board of Internal Medicine, a member board of the American Board of Medical Specialties.
What Soft Skills Do You Need?
Communication Skills: Without excellent listening and speaking skills one cannot do this job. Not only must hospitalists interact with patients, but as coordinator of those patients' medical teams, they must be able to understand, and be understood by their colleagues.
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.
Physical Stamina: Expect to work long shifts. In many hospitals, hospitalists work 12 hours shifts for seven days in a row. They then have a week off before going back to work.
What Employers Will Expect From You
According to job announcements on Indeed.com, here are the qualities employers say they want in hospitalists:
- "Demonstrate effective interpersonal skills and an understanding of the interdependent roles of various health professions in providing care to the hospitalized patient populations"
- "Able to adapt and be flexible to new CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] regulations"
- "Friendly and compassionate disposition"
- "Outstanding clinical and teaching skills and a strong commitment to patient care"