What is a hospitalist?

By  |  February 2, 2010 | 

John Nelson writes…

If you’re a hospitalist, you’re probably asked periodically to describe what a hospitalist does, and have probably developed a fairly standard response.  When in a social setting my response is that I’m a doctor that provides non-surgical care of adult hospitalized patients, like those with pneumonia, heart failure, stroke and other such problems.  When asked by a patient or family in the hospital, I usually give an answer that is more customized to the patient’s particular medical problem.

In November 2009 the SHM Board of Directors approved a new definition of a hospitalist and Hospital Medicine. The former SHM definition of a hospitalist was built on a doctor whose primary professional focus was the general medical care of hospitalized patients along with some other elements.  But the new definition is much more explicit in specifying that not only do hospitalists take care of hospitalized patients, they also work on organizational issues like quality improvement, effective care transitions, efficient use of resources, etc.

If in a social setting you’re casually asked what a hospitalist is or what you do for a living, it probably isn’t necessary to say a lot about systems improvement work; it might be more than the questioner really wanted to know.  But all of us who think of ourselves as hospitalists should clearly understand that our job is more than just showing up to work and being a good doctor for the patients on our list today.  We also need to be working to make our hospital a better and safer place.  Regardless of how your job description is written, that sort of organizational or “systems” work is what the healthcare system expects of us.


  1. Mark Pyrc February 4, 2010 at 12:41 am - Reply

    I’m a physician recruiter who is assisting a local hospital with their Hospitalist recruiting efforts. Of course, the ‘target market’ knows exactly what a hospitalist is – and duties assigned. But I do appreciate sharing the newly approved SHM Board’s definition of the position. I’d like to paraphrase it in my marketing efforts. So thanks!

    And you’re absolutely right about the true meaning of the profession. I’ve spent the last three days visiting the hospital, learning first-hand the true value of hospitalists and the quality-improvement component incorporated to the position. I walked away impressed and grateful for their contributions. I salute you all!

  2. Mike February 10, 2010 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Here -Here.
    That’s a lot better than my current explanation of what I do:” I’m like that guy,Dr. Cox, on Scrubs.”
    Now if we could only get the George Clooney-ER equivalent of a hospitalist on a major TV show… that would be great PR!

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