What Does a Hospitalist Do and How Can I Become One?

A hospitalist at bedside with patient

If you feel called to pursue a career that would enable you to make a positive difference in the lives of others, you might consider a career in medicine. Not only are healthcare professionals needed, the field also provides many opportunities for specializing. For example, you might consider becoming a hospitalist.

What does a hospitalist do and how can you become one? Explore this career guide to find out!

In This Article:

What Does a Hospitalist Do?

People typically turn to their primary care providers for their routine healthcare needs, and to urgent care and emergency room (ER) doctors for more serious matters. When they are hospitalized, however, patients require the attention of a hospitalist. A hospitalist is a licensed medical doctor who bridges the gap between the ER and the primary care setting by providing medical care to hospital patients.

The hospitalist specialty is somewhat unusual in that these doctors specialize in providing a broad range of care to patients, who may be suffering from everything from a ruptured appendix to car accident-inflicted trauma. In contrast, many other healthcare professionals specialize in a particular condition (e.g., ear, nose and throat specialists) or patient population (e.g., pediatricians).

Providers with a hospitalist specialty are defined by their work with inpatient populations. Because hospitalists work with patients with a wide range of medical problems and co-morbidities, they need a considerable breadth of medical knowledge and clinical skills.

A Typical Hospitalist Job Description

On any given day, a hospitalist performs many different tasks. They make the rounds of their patients, reviewing their latest lab results and other medical information. You’ll typically find the following tasks listed on a hospitalist job description:

  • Evaluate each inpatient’s progress
  • Order and assess diagnostic tests
  • Prescribe medications and other medical treatments (e.g., respiratory therapy)
  • Coordinate the patient’s care among various providers
  • Educate the inpatient and their family, and answer their questions
  • Prepare the inpatient to transition to at-home care or to a long-term care facility

Like other doctors, hospitalists sometimes decide to pursue leadership roles within their healthcare system. Some of them prefer to initiate research projects or teach the next generation of healthcare providers.

Is a Hospitalist the Same as an Internist?

The hospitalist specialty is sometimes confused with that of the internist. An internist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions that affect the body’s internal organs and systems. This is a rather broad specialty, but some internists choose to subspecialize in a narrower area, such as cardiology or gastroenterology.

Although both hospitalists and internists have a broad specialty, internists may work with outpatients as well as inpatients. In contrast, hospitalists work only with inpatients. In addition, some internists provide patients with life-long care, whereas hospitalists work with patients only for the duration of their hospitalization.

Becoming a Hospitalist

If you’ve decided that the answer to the question, What does a hospitalist do? appeals to you, then it’s time to explore the career pathway. If you’re still in high school, talk to your guidance counselor about adding more science and mathematics classes. In particular, take any health-related courses that your school might offer.

Before you send out college applications, take some time to research medical schools. Choose a few medical schools that you think you’d like to attend, and scrutinize their admission requirements. Every medical school has slightly different admission requirements, so you’ll want to ensure that you choose a bachelor’s degree program that enables you to meet the requirements of a few medical schools you’d like to apply to in the future.

Ideally, you’ll want to select a bachelor’s degree in life sciences that has a pre-med emphasis. This will enable you to gain early exposure to important topics like human anatomy and physiology.

After earning your bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to take a standardized test before applying to the medical schools you’ve chosen. Once you’re accepted to a medical school, you’ll spend another four years studying to become a doctor. You’ll also need to complete residency training (usually about three years for aspiring hospitalists) and pass the medical licensing exam to become a hospitalist.

Earn Your Health Sciences Degree With a Pre-Med Emphasis

If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a hospitalist — or any other type of medical doctor — your first step is to earn a health sciences degree that has a pre-med emphasis. A pre-med health sciences degree should thoroughly prepare you to meet the requirements for entry into medical school. One great option to consider is a Bachelor of Science in Biology with an Emphasis in Pre-Medicine, as biology is a solid choice for an aspiring physician.

A biology degree with a pre-med emphasis will cover some fundamental medical topics in addition to general sciences and mathematics. Although the curriculum may vary from one school and program to the next, you can generally expect to study topics such as the following:

  • Medical terminology, including the definition, pronunciation, usage and origins of commonly used medical terms for symptoms, signs, diagnosis and treatments
  • The pathophysiology of various diseases and health states, with a look at their etiology, pathogenesis, morphology and clinical manifestations
  • Fundamentals of pharmacology, exploring the mechanisms of drug actions, the effects of drugs on organ systems and factors that affect drug absorption
  • Human anatomy and physiology, including the function and homeostasis of bodily tissues as well as the skeletal, nervous and muscular systems

While you’re working toward your bachelor’s degree, consider taking advantage of opportunities to complete internships and job shadowing visits at medical facilities in your local community. These temporary placements can help you get a better grasp on the various medical specialties and see how medical providers conduct themselves in the workplace.

Consider Earning a Master’s Degree

Aspiring medical doctors are not required to earn a master’s degree before moving on to medical school. They need only a bachelor’s degree that meets the admission requirements of their chosen medical school. However, you might want to consider earning a master’s degree, regardless.

It’s not unusual for aspiring doctors to take a gap year between undergraduate school and medical school. If you’re thinking about taking a little time before heading off to four years of intensive, rigorous studying at medical school, earning a master’s degree is a good way to keep your mind sharp.

In addition, keep in mind that medical school admissions are very competitive; not all applicants are accepted. Medical schools will accept only their top applicants. By earning a relevant master’s degree, you can turn yourself into a highly competitive, well-qualified applicant.

Apply to Medical School

In addition to demonstrating academic excellence, you can increase your chances of getting accepted to medical school by doing well on the MCAT®. The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is a standardized exam that is commonly required by medical schools in the U.S. Because this exam is administered to aspiring medical students, it doesn’t test clinical concepts such as calculating the correct dosage of medication for a patient.

Instead, the MCAT tests medical school applicants’ knowledge in general mathematics and science, including biology and chemistry. The MCAT is also a way to assess your critical thinking, analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills.

Although the MCAT doesn’t test clinical competencies, it is nonetheless quite a rigorous exam that lasts 7.5 hours. You’ll want to set aside plenty of time for studying so that you can score well on your first try. If you aren’t satisfied with your first score, you can retake the exam.

As important as your MCAT score is, it isn’t the only factor that will be considered by medical school admissions staff. They’ll also consider your extracurricular activities, academic awards, GPA and personal essay.

Graduate From Medical School

Once you’re accepted to medical school, you can expect to spend four years in intensive study. Initially, you’ll take classes and labs, followed later by clinical rotations. Although each medical school does things a little differently, a general schedule is as follows:

  • Year One: You’ll take general science courses, including anatomy and physiology. You’ll also complete lab components, including dissection. Expect to spend a lot of time studying and memorizing information. It’s tough to get caught up if you fall behind, so plan to spend hours studying each day.
  • Year Two: You’ll continue to complete general science classes. The subject material will move beyond the fundamentals and into the more complex, advanced concepts.
  • Year Three: You’ll begin completing clinical rotations as a third-year medical student. You’ll complete multiple clinical rotations across various specialty areas, and you’ll complete national exams at the end of your rotations to assess your progress.
  • Year Four: You’ll continue to complete clinical rotations.

Complete a Residency in a Hospital Setting

Your residency training is somewhat similar to clinical rotations in that you’ll be working directly with patients and other healthcare providers. However, unlike your clinical rotations, residency training gives you the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat. In other words, you’ll be responsible for interacting with, diagnosing, treating and managing patients, albeit under the supervision of licensed physicians.

Obtain Your Medical License

In order to obtain your medical license and officially become a medical doctor, you’ll need to complete the licensing exam (United States Medical Licensing Examination® or USMLE) in addition to your medical school and residency requirements. Unlike most licensing exams, however, you won’t wait to take it until you’ve completed the entirety of your training. You’ll actually begin taking this three-part exam as a student in medical school.

Here’s a look at a typical exam schedule:

  • Step 1: You’ll take the first part of the exam at the end of your second year as a medical student.
  • Step 2: Most medical students take the second part of the exam in their fourth year of medical school.
  • Step 3: The final part of the exam is usually taken at the end of the first year of residency training.

Each component of the USMLE is a rigorous exam. The first two parts require a full day of testing. The third is a two-day exam. All exams build on sequential knowledge, which means Step 1 tests basic science and medical science knowledge, while Step 3 focuses on clinical situations.

Consider Pursuing Fellowship Training

Even after you’ve completed your residency training and acquired your medical license, you may wish to pursue additional training opportunities. Fellowship training is a way to deepen your clinical knowledge and skills in a particular subspecialty. It’s not necessary for hospitalists who want to remain general hospitalists, but some hospitalists do decide to subspecialize in an area such as geriatrics.

You can take the first step toward pursuing a career as a hospitalist or other type of physician when you apply for enrollment at Grand Canyon University. We offer a number of health sciences degree options, including the Bachelor of Science in Biology with an Emphasis in Pre-Medicine degree. Complete the form on this page to learn more about joining our dynamic and supportive learning community.

Approved by the associate dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology on April 27, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

Scroll back to top