What Does a Hospitalist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A day in the life of a hospitalist: Assess patient health through interview, physical examination and medical record; provide diagnosis, preventative and therapeutic health services; coordinate the hospital's resources, follow through on cases to ensure effectiveness

The Balance / Jo Zhou

A hospitalist is a medical doctor, either an M.D. or D.O., who specializes in hospital medicine, a subspecialty of internal medicine. Hospitalists coordinate a hospitalized patient's care with the other professionals who are part of the medical team. Having one physician responsible for an individual from admission to discharge ensures that the patient receives continuity of care.

The term "hospitalist" was first coined in 1996, and it's changed the way hospital care is provided. The field continues to grow.

Hospitalist Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally involves meeting the following responsibilities and performing the following duties:

  • Assess patient health by interviewing patients, performing physical examinations, updating patient records, and studying medical histories.
  • Provide diagnostic, preventative, and therapeutic health services to patients and family members in the hospital.
  • Evaluate and treat patients in consultation with or as the primary attending physician.
  • Coordinate the hospital's diagnostic, therapeutic, and consultative resources.
  • Follow through on cases to ensure effectiveness and alter the course of treatment as indicated.

Some hospitalists choose to specialize. For example, intensivists care for critically ill patients who are in intensive care units.

According to Danielle Scheurer, writing for The Hospitalist, these responsibilities are of utmost importance because "The surgeons need sharp and skillful partners. The ED physicians need reliable receivers. The quality department needs informed observers. The admitting department needs sensible triagers. The utilization review department needs thorough documenters. The primary-care doctor needs discharge coordinators. We have been all of those things and more."

Hospitalist Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites salaries for internists in general. Internists who work in specialty hospitals such as cancer institutes are the most highly compensated. The incomes for internists in 2018 were:

  • Median Annual Salary: $194,500 ($93.51/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $208,000 ($100.00/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $57,420 ($27.61/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training, & Certification

Those looking for a career as hospitalists must dedicate themselves to extensive education and licensing requirements.

  • Education: Hospitalists must first become a doctor. This takes about 11 years in school after graduating from high school. They first get a bachelor's degree, which takes about four years. Then they go to medical school where they spend four years earning either an M.D. as a medical doctor or a D.O., a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree. They then spend three to eight years doing graduate medical education, also known as a medical internship or residency.
  • Licensure: Hospitalists must be licensed to practice medicine in the state in which they want to work after completing their medical education. Those with M.D. degrees must pass all three parts of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Individuals with D.O. degrees must pass all three levels of the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).
  • Certification: Many employers require hospitalists to be board certified in internal medicine or family practice medicine. This certification is granted by The American Board of Internal Medicine, a member board of the American Board of Medical Specialties. 

Hospitalist Skills & Competencies

You should have several essential qualities to succeed as a hospitalist.

  • Communication skills: Excellent listening and speaking skills are a requirement. Not only must hospitalists interact with patients, but they must also be able to understand and be understood by colleagues as they act as coordinators of patients' medical teams.
  • Interpersonal skills: Like all doctors, hospitalists need excellent interpersonal skills to establish rapport with patients and other healthcare professionals. They must be able to understand their patients' concerns and help guide them and their families.
  • Problem-solving: Hospitalists must be able to quickly identify problems and find solutions to them using critical thinking skills.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics anticipates job growth for physicians and surgeons in general at about 13% through 2026. This is faster than average for all occupations, and hospitalists should see even more job growth as the occupation becomes more established.

Work Environment

Hospitalists work in hospitals, but they also work for larger group practices. This career involves a great deal of patient contact and requires patience, stress management, and empathy. They may be exposed to contagious illnesses.

Work Schedule

Hospitalists work 12 hours shifts for seven days in a row in some hospitals, then have a week off before going back to work. Those who work primarily overnight are called nocturnists.

How to Get the Job


The Society of Hospital Medicine offers networking possibilities and up-to-the-minute advancements in this comparatively new field.


The Hospitalist provides interview tips and other guidance specifically for this position.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: 

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018