Who’s who in healthcare: your guide to your hospital stay

Being a patient in the hospital is tough when you’re not sick. Try navigating the hospital when you are sick.

Frequently, I’m asked to clarify who’s who in the academic hospital. So say you are admitted as a patient to an academic hospital, and you haven’t picked up the lingo from TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, House or Scrubs.

You might be faced with the following caretakers (especially in an academic hospital):

Attending physician (the “attending”) – the leader of the team or consulting service who oversees training physicians.
Fellow – a physician who has finished residency and is pursuing further specialized training.
Resident physician (the “resident”) – a physician who is in training to gain expertise, usually in a specific field where they will be able to become board certified. This individual may oversee interns.
Intern physician (the “intern”) – a 1st-year physician in training who graduated from medical school the previous year. This may be the physician who you have the most contact with.
Medical student (the “student doctor”) – This individual is still in medical school and is not a physician yet.
Sub-intern medical student (the “sub-I”) – This is a medical student in his/her latter years of training and who is given more responsibility for your care than other medical students.
Physicians assistant (“PA”) – Physician assistants have attended post-graduate PA school and can function as physician extenders.
Nurse practitioner (“NP”) – Nurse practitioners can function as physician extenders as well.
Nurse – Of all the above members of your team, you will likely have the most contact with your nurse. Your nurse may monitor daily progress, your vital signs, administer medications and help you communicate with your team.

Other common term(s):
House officers – These refer to residents and interns.

Your team may be split up as the following:

The primary team – Your primary team serves as the point persons for your medical care.
Consulting teams/services/physicians – These individuals offer specialized knowledge in their area of expertise. They are often specialists (e.g. dermatology, oncology, infectious disease, rheumatology, gastroenterology…)

Bottom line, though, is that should you have any question about who someone is, ask!

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