Feel like you need a traffic controller to keep up with all the people coming in and out of your hospital room when you’re undergoing treatment? Here’s a short guide for recognizing who’s who so you can better direct your questions next time you or a loved one are in the hospital.
If you are in a teaching hospital, the first person to interrupt your sleep and ask you questions in the wee hours in the morning is the medical student. Lowest on the food chain, these individuals are easily distinguishable by their short white coats and slightly terrified looks on their faces (just kidding). These students have already completed the bulk of their basic sciences and theoretical course work and are just starting to see patients for the first time. Part of their duties are pre-rounding, or collecting basic information on how the patient perceives his or her situation or symptoms fared throughout the night. The medical student will then report this back to their team which is comprised of interns, residents and an attending physician.
These individuals are medical school graduates and may be dressed in a white coat or scrubs depending on their service. Interns are traditionally responsible for pre-rounding when medical students aren’t around, and while some may be able to answer basic questions you may have, most of the time they will have to defer to someone higher up on the food chain. Think Season 1 on Grey’s Anatomy, only dressed in less form-fitting scrubs.
Called residents because historically they spend so much time in the hospital that they reside there, these men and women are doctors who have finished their intern year and are now completing training in a particular specialty. It is generally up to the resident to check up on you throughout the course of the day to monitor your condition. He or she will be more knowledgeable and will probably be able to answer your questions with confidence, but may still defer to their attending physician. Be aware that while your residents are the ones who you will be communicating with on a daily basis, he or she may be switching services during the course of your stay. In that case, you’ll get another resident with whom you will have to establish communication lines.
These physicians have completed their residency training and are experienced in their field. While your attending physician is the doctor who “calls the shots,” your attending actually may only see you once a day. If your attending splits time between different hospitals or a clinic, he or she may round with you even less. Don’t worry if you have a question or concern — just tell your resident, and he or she will contact your attending for you.
In some cases, your attending physician may employ the use of a physician assistant. PAs have completed at least two years of training and are licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician. Working closely with their attending physicians, they may check in daily to see how you are doing and will act as a liaison between you and your attending.
Nurses are the licensed health care providers who are responsible for managing all of the orders given by your doctors from different teams. They are in charge of dispensing prescription medication, administering IVs, collecting samples and checking in on you several times a day. Hospital nurses are usually on 12-hour shifts, so you’ll meet many during your stay. If you have a question about your case management, they can also contact an intern, resident or attending physician on your behalf.
Depending on the nature of your condition, you may have nurse assistants come through several times a day to assess your vital signs and help you with any daily living activities. Like nurses, they work on shifts, but be friendly to them you’ll be able to hit them up for extra blankets 🙂
Did I miss anyone? Let me know in the comments!