Get to Know Your Care Team
Your hospital care team includes doctors, nurses and other staff members. What are their roles?

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Get to Know Your Care Team

Hospitals are filled with health care staff members. Your care team could include many of them. Here's a guide to help you identify your team.

Attending physicians are fully trained doctors who are primarily responsible for your medical care. They examine patients, diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses, prescribe medications and offer lifestyle counsel. They may oversee a team consisting of:

  • Fellows are doctors getting additional training in a specific field of medicine or surgery. They have finished medical school and residency.
  • Residents have finished medical school. They are getting their training at a hospital.
  • Medical students are working toward their medical degree. They often spend their last two years of school seeing patients at a hospital.

Fellows, residents and medical students work in teaching hospitals and may be part of your care team. They will all work under the supervision of your physician.

Physician assistants are supervised by a physician. They examine patients, diagnose minor illnesses and write prescriptions. They can provide preventive health care counseling and help in surgery.

Hospitalists are doctors who work only in the hospital. They don't have private practices. They usually specialize in family practice, internal medicine or pediatrics.

Specialists are physicians who focus on one area of medicine. Depending on your health condition, you may see a specialist.

Surgeons are physicians who have training which allows them to operate on patients, when needed, to treat injuries and other health conditions. There are general and specialized surgeons. Depending on your health condition, you might see a surgeon.

Several types of nurses are on your care team. Nurses have different specialties and levels of training:

  • Registered nurses help provide and coordinate patient care. They have graduated from a nursing program. They can give you medication and perform certain procedures like drawing blood.
  • Advanced practice nurses (APNs) are RNs who have masters training. Types of APNs include nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists.
  • Nurse practitioners, a type of APN, have additional training in one area, such as family practice. They can diagnose illnesses in their specialty and may prescribe medication.
  • Licensed practical nurses provide basic care and assistance to patients like bathing and taking vital signs.
  • Nursing assistants typically provide basic care for patients who need help with basic living activities like eating and bathing.

Phlebotomists draw blood. They may draw your blood for tests, research, blood donations or transfusions.

Pharmacists provide medicine for patients, communicating with care teams about the quality and safety of treatment related to medications. Hospital pharmacists usually do not interact with patients directly.

Registered dietitians or nutritionists advise patients on the best meal plans for certain health conditions. They can help you create a healthy eating plan.

Physical, speech, respiratory and occupational therapists may also be part of your care team:

  • Physical therapists work with patients to improve mobility and strength through exercises, stretching and other treatments.
  • Speech-language therapists help those who have difficulty speaking or swallowing.
  • Occupational therapists help patients regain necessary skills to get back to everyday activities.
  • Respiratory therapists work with patients who suffer from breathing and heart problems that affect the lungs.

Social workers provide counseling to help patients cope with issues such as death, addiction and stress. They also help in the planning of patient's needs after they leave the hospital.

Patient advocates provide support during your care. They also help you get the level of care you need, help you make decisions, and can get information and ask questions when you can't.

Health educators teach patients about specific health conditions and how to manage them. You could see a health educator about diabetes or asthma, for example.

There may be other members on your care team not covered here. Don't be afraid to ask them what they do, or any member of your care team for that matter. They're all there to help you!

Lucy M. Casale contributed to this report.

By Amanda Welshons, Contributing Writer
Created on 02/03/2005
Updated on 04/25/2014
Sources:
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational outlook handbook. Nursing assistants and orderlies.
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational outlook handbook. Physicians and surgeons.
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational outlook handbook. Registered nurses.
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