Who are all these people coming into my hospital room?

  • A wide variety of health care professionals will be caring for you during a hospital stay.

    A wide variety of health care professionals will be caring for you during a hospital stay. Stock Photo

By Teri Dreher
Posted8/14/2022 7:00 AM

During a hospital stay, you will likely have a parade of people coming into your room, many seemingly asking the same questions over and over.

They're all there for the same purpose: To care for you. Even so, it can get to be tedious. To help you better understand what's going on, here's a rundown of medical team members you are likely to encounter, and why they're there.


Whoever approaches your bedside, make sure they show you identification and introduce themselves.

Patient care technician (PCT): These folks work at patients' bedsides, taking care of basic needs such as meals and hygiene, similar to a certified nurse assistant (CNA) but with more training that may allow them to do some medical or medication-related tasks. They will get your vitals and ask why you're there.

Nurse: Nurses are the backbone of the U.S. health care system. As patient advocates and skilled care providers, their role has never been more important in meeting the health care needs of a growing number of patients. They will likely spend the most time with you and will share information with your doctor.

You may be seen by RNs (registered nurses) and LPNs (licensed practical nurses). The duties of an LPN include taking vitals, collecting samples, administering medications and ensuring your comfort. An RN's role is similar, but with an added layer of critical thinking and health care strategy.

Nurse practitioner (NP) or physician assistant (PA): Physician assistants practice with an emphasis on diagnosing, assessing and treating diseases. Nurse practitioners have similar responsibilities, but are generally more focused on health promotion and preventive care. They will collect your medical and medication history and pass it on to the doctor.

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Physician: The doctor will come in for two or three minutes after everyone else has told them your story, ask a few clarifying questions and give the order to admit you. When you answer the doctor's questions, be succinct in your answers and specific about how you feel and what you need or want.

Hospitalist: The term "hospitalist" is relatively new, having been coined in 1996. The need for these specialty practitioners -- usually internists, but they could be NPs or PAs -- emerged from the increasingly complex nature of hospital patient cases. The hospitalist is paid by the hospital to manage your care so your primary care physician (PCP) does not have to see you while you are in the hospital.

The hospitalist is supposed to keep your primary care doctor up to speed on your condition, but they often do not have time. As a consequence, your PCP has to read about it when you come to the office for your post-hospitalization appointment.

Specialists: Depending on your case, you may be seen by a cardiologist, nephrologist, pulmonologist, orthopedist, gynecologist, infectious disease specialist or any number of specialty doctors. Another specialist, should your condition be dire enough to land you in intensive care, is an intensivist, a board-certified physician who provides special care for critically ill patients. Also known as a critical care physician, the intensivist has advanced training and experience in treating this complex type of patient.


The specialists are being paid by your insurance for your care, but the hospitalist is the captain of the ship while you are in the hospital.

Social worker: The social worker is a health care professional trained in meeting your social needs; for example, if you need to arrange post-hospital care, the social worker may help you arrange it.

Physical therapist (PT): Your medical team will want to make sure you can function once you get home. The PT may help you learn to use a walker, wheelchair or crutches, for example.

Patient advocate: A patient advocate who works for the hospital is usually assigned to the risk management department and is charged with making sure the hospital can't be sued for anything they did or didn't do. If the patient advocate visits, answer his or her questions honestly and succinctly and do let them know if you have any complaints.

In an academic medical center, you may encounter residents and attending physicians. The attending physicians also function as teachers and may be leading medical students on rounds. When you're being seen by medical students, try to take it in stride -- you're doing your part to educate the next generation of doctors.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates (www.NorthShoreRN.com). She is offering a free phone consultation to Daily Herald readers; call her at (847) 612-6684.

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