Dear Dr. Goodhook,

I was wondering if you could tell me what it’s like to be a hospitalist. I’m a second year resident starting to think more seriously about my physician career options, and a hospitalist position seems appealing because of the flexible schedule. Spending time with my family is important to me, so this would be a definite plus.

What do you think? Any words of wisdom?

Sincerely,

Curious in Cambridge

Dear Curious,

Smart you are, already considering more than just money at an early stage in your physician career. A balanced life is golden — even more so than gold itself.

And you’re correct — most hospitalists have schedules that allow them plenty of time for personal fulfillment and enjoyment.

Though not a hospitalist myself, I know plenty of their ilk, and asked for their general thoughts on what it’s like to be a hospitalist. I’ve summarized their feedback into several points below:

Hospitalists’ Schedules Allow Plenty of Flexibility

Aside from locum tenens physicians, hospitalists probably enjoy the most flexible schedules.

The most popular schedule is seven days on, seven days off, though others work on 24-hour shifts. For instance, many hospitalists have schedules that require them to work at least 15 shifts a month, with the other 15 or 16 days off.

But it’s not all candy and balloons, young resident! A 24-hour shift is much different than an eight-hour shift. And though the seven day block schedule may sound appealing, you might ask yourself how many of your days off you will spend sleeping to catch up.

On second thought, it seems like perpetual jet lag to me. I suppose we all have our own tastes.

Prepare to be a Night Owl

If you choose a physician career as a hospitalist, be prepared to take on a few night shifts a month. Many hospitals (though not all) require you to work some of your shifts as night shifts, so this is something you should be prepared for.

Though the hospitalists I’ve talked to say they don’t necessarily look forward to night shifts, they’ve also commented that their patient load is typically heavier, which helps the time go by faster. Plus, you can usually make more loot on a night shift. Everything is a trade off, young resident.

Can You Thrive in an Intense, Fast-Paced Environment?

Unlike outpatient care, hospitalists only handle inpatient care, which can be quite demanding. Prepare to be on your toes! If you thrive in an ever-changing, intense environment where you’re expected to make decisions quickly, a physician career as a hospitalist may be right for you.

This isn’t to say that all physicians don’t have to think quickly and deal with stress — we all do. The nature of the job requires you to be even quicker on your feet, however. (A reason, I suspect, they give you all that time off — you must sleep to recover your full capabilities!)

Hospitalist Salaries are on the Rise

Hospitalists are in demand — in fact, they’re the third most sought-after physicians, following family medicine practitioners and internal medicine specialists. As a bonus, compensation for hospitalists is trending upward.

According to a 2009 survey, hospitalists’ average salaries rose 11 percent in 2008 and 2009. Keep in mind, however, that physician compensation varies depending on geographic location.

I hope you found these answers satisfactory. Keep fighting the good fight!

-Dr. Goodhook

Would you consider a physician career as a hospitalist?          

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