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What Is an Internal Medicine Hospitalist?

By Synthia L. Rose
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An internal medicine hospitalist is a physician who solely devotes professional time to caring for hospitalized patients who have been afflicted with any adult disease that affects the internal organs and systems, such as diseases of the bladder, liver, intestines and stomach. Unlike a regular internal medicine doctor who might own a private practice and makes hospital visits only to see assigned patients, hospitalists in the internal medicine field have no private patients or clinics and instead spend their days diagnosing and treating patients of other doctors, whether during short-term and long-term facility stays. Usually having completed seven to eight years of graduate training to specialize in internal medicine, these internal medicine hospitalists, also known as internists, might also practice a subspecialty such as nephrology, hematology, cardiology or immunology, giving them both broad and niche knowledge. The skills and insight of an internal medicine hospitalist generally are considered so expert that, in addition to treating general patients and those in their subspecialty, an internist who works full-time at a hospital might also counsel fellow doctors and train medical interns and residents.

Daily duties of an internal medicine hospitalist include admitting patients and going on medical rounds during which the internist consults on care for patients, recommends treatment and manages issues that arise from these treatments, even if that means answering a call to come immediately to the hospital on weekends or in the middle of the night because of a sudden complication. Some research credits the advanced skills of internal medicine hospitalists with helping acutely ill patients receive better treatment and recover faster than they would with other physicians. Another advantage of a hospital having an internal medicine physician as a full-time staff member is that internists who have private offices do not have to waste time making trips to the hospital to see about their clients; they instead hand off the patients to someone who has equivalent or greater knowledge. Finally, after a patient’s condition has stabilized or been cured, the internal medicine hospitalist is the main staff member responsible for approving the patient for discharge.

Career statistics suggest that a majority of hospitalists are in fact internal medicine hospitalists. One reason for this is because much of the training to become a licensed internal medicine physician involves working with inpatients at hospitals and learning to treat serious illnesses. The shift to being a full-time hospitalist is, therefore, easier because they are accustomed to the intensity, unpredictability and 24-hour demand for their services. Also, these doctors can usually draw much higher salaries as hospitalists than as private internal medicine physicians. To meet the future need for internal specialists at the hospital level, many schools of internal medicine have expanded their curriculum with hospitalist internships and academic pathways to becoming an internal medicine hospitalist immediately after completing medical residency and before pursuing a subspecialty.

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