Years ago, patients who became sick enough for a stay in the hospital were usually seen each day by their regular family or primary care doctor. Today however, shifts in scheduling and demanding patient loads in the office have made it nearly impossible for primary care doctors to see everyone and hospitalists have joined medical centers across the country to provide and coordinate quality care in their place.
Hospitalists can be board-certified medical doctors, physician assistants, or nurse practitioners who work for a hospital treating only admitted patients. Working together as a group, most hospitals employ a network of hospitalists who work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in rotating shifts and serve as a patient’s physician as long as they are in the hospital. Job growth for this field has expanded rapidly. With just a few hundred hospitals nationwide utilizing hospitalists in 1996, numbers have blossomed and experts look for employment to reach 30,000 or more over the next several years.
The main duties of a hospitalist are to assess, diagnose and treat acutely ill patients while they are in the hospital. Hospitalists also coordinate additional care like rehab or community services for patients and request the help of specialists when needed. He or she will also communicate with the patient’s family doctor when they are discharged from the hospital.
Hospitalists are members of a medical facility’s regular staff and often divide their work time between direct patient care and administrative duties like serving on committees, doing research, and implementing quality and safety programs.
The personal qualities of a hospitalist are not very different from those of any medical professional. The ability to manage multiple patients and tasks at one time is essential. Proper organization and good communication skills are also needed. Hospitalists should be able to work well with other medical disciplines to coordinate patient care as needed and feel comfortable speaking with patients and answering questions. Thanks to administrative roles, hospitalists should be able to problem solve and think critically as they work to improve safety and quality, and promote a more efficient healthcare system.
After years of medical training, no one wants to discover that the hospitalist job they wanted is not right for them. Here are a few key factors about being a hospitalist to consider.
Education for hospitalists depends on how you enter. For doctors, you are able to start practicing as a hospitalist after you have completed a residency—usually in internal medicine. For physician assistants and nurse practitioners, the path will vary. Of course you must complete bachelor’s degrees plus master’s programs in your field of study and may need to have a couple of years of adult or internal medicine experience under your belt before applying to work as a hospitalist. Some facilities may only hire MDs so make sure to find out before you set your sights on the job.
The demand for hospitalists has been driven up thanks to the Affordable Care Act. To save money, hospitals are looking for ways to prevent patient readmissions for conditions that have been recently treated and this is best done through the seamless coordinated care offered by hospitalists. For this reason, hospitalists usually make more than other community-based primary care or internal medicine physicians, and can expect a salary of $190,000 to $220,000 per year starting out. Some facilities will also offer lucrative relocation packages and sign-on bonuses. If you are working for a facility that’s paying to relocate you, expect a slightly smaller sign-on bonus in exchange. Bonuses can range from $5,000 to even $40,000 or more. PAs and NPs can expect to make around $85,000 per year depending on years of experience and geographic location.
The duties of a hospitalist are similar to any other doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant who sees patients in the hospital with one clear distinction: they ONLY see patients in the hospital. They don’t have an office, they don’t work in a clinic. Their office is the hospital they work for and they admit and manage any patient that needs them while they are in the hospital. Once they are discharged, that patient goes back to the care of their primary doctor or regular specialist. Hospitalists hold the same medical degrees, same advanced nursing or physician assistant degrees you would find from any “regular” doctor.
Hospitalists are in high demand and traveling practice is a result. For hospitalists interested in seeing the country and working in some of the best medical facilities in the U.S. traveling offers new opportunities and benefits. Traveling hospitalists receive paid housing and travel stipends, and higher than average pay to compensate for working in an unfamiliar setting with unfamiliar people. Travel practice does not offer on the job training, so hospitalists should be comfortable with their medical skills and be able to make decisions independently.
By Rachel Ballard RNC, BSN
Rachel Ballard is a certified registered nurse and owner of the medical writing company iHealth Communications. iHealth teams with healthcare leaders to create written content that boosts revenue and builds relationships. Learn more about Rachel on Google+
Salary sources: *Bureau of Labor Statistics ** CNN Money