It’s a great time to be a ‘hospitalist.’ Here’s why

The term ‘hospitalist’ was coined in 1996. We spoke with the doc who coined the term and asked him why this specialty has grown exponentially since.

It’s a great time to be a ‘hospitalist.’ Here’s why

A patient comes into the hospital with pneumonia—a relatively common problem for a pulmonologist or even a primary care doctor to handle. But this patient is also experiencing kidney failure, or maybe even heart failure. Now it’s getting complicated.

Enter the hospitalist.

A hospitalist is a health care professional, usually an internist, who’s based in a hospital setting and who specializes in caring for patients with complex cases. From admission to discharge, they’re the primary overseer of care for a hospitalized patient. The hospitalist team—comprised of physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants—works around the clock, focusing on the patient’s condition and determining the best treatment plan.

In 2003, when the American Hospital Association first began tracking the specialty, the U.S. had about 10,000 hospitalists. Today—20 years since it was first introduced—the U.S. boasts more than 50,000, with approximately 75% of hospitals now employing hospitalists, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

And hospitalist growth is showing no signs of stopping. Monster recently spoke with professor and interim chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco Robert M. Wachter, He coined the term “hospitalist” in 1996, and he told Monster what the position entails, why it continues to grow and why it’s a great time to become a hospitalist.

You’d become a jack of all (health-related) trades

The hospitalist role combines generalist and internist work. As generalists, the hospitalist can gain a great deal of experience treating a broad array of problems they wouldn’t get if they focused on just one specialty. And with a hospital for an office, hospitalists become privy to the unique aspects of a patient’s needs.

“Hospitalists…like taking care of a broad array of problems, they like always being able to learn more because there are specialists around who can teach you,” Wachter said. “But they like being the person who oversees the whole thing and they also like taking care of sicker people and more acute problems.”

No two days are the same for a hospitalist. One day a patient might come in with pneumonia or sepsis, another day it might be a patient with a GI bleed. Wachter believes most patients who are in the hospital today tend to be even sicker and present more complex cases than in the past, making the health care professionals handling this type of work more necessary than ever before.

You won’t work in a hospital, you’d lead in a hospital

Hospitalists are typically employed by individual hospitals or by larger medical networks. Though patient care is the primary role of the hospitalist, the profession was founded on the premise that they would seek to improve the hospital system as well. Through this type of internal innovation, hospitalists lead committees and initiatives that improve efficiency, focus on quality improvement, promote infection control and foster teamwork between hospital departments.

While the job does involve long hours, Wachter says it’s less regimented and less predictable than in an office practice where you see new patients at 15-minute intervals. As a hospitalist, you and your team will work multiple days in row, focusing on a set group of patients, and then have multiple days off to catch your breath. Pay-wise, hospitalists earn a median annual wage of $249,458, according to data from Sullivan, Cotter and Associates.

How you can become a hospitalist

If the most recent reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics are any indication, now is the time to seek out a job inside a hospital. Serious gains have been made in the past four months, with an increase of more than 72,000 hospital jobs.

At the medical school level, most doctors train as residents in either general internal medicine or general pediatrics. But Wachter says a lot of people who become hospitalists transition from existing roles as primary care doctors. Although you may need to take a few refresher courses to “brush up” on hospital medicine, Wachter says the vast majority who have successfully made the transition have enjoyed the role.

Most hospitalist NPs are certified as acute care nurse practitioners. But Advance Healthcare says experience trumps certification. NPs who want to get on the hospitalist team should be experts in clinical workflow and the hospital model.

See all hospitalist jobs on Monster.