Practice Economics

Square Peg, Square Hole


I encounter a lot of hospitalists who complain that the other doctors at their hospital think of hospitalists as second-class citizens, as sort of like career residents. HM program directors need to make sure that is not the case for the hospitalists in their practice.

SHM has worked with the AMA’s Organized Medical Staff Section to assess the perception of hospitalists by primary-care physicians (PCPs) and hospitalists themselves. When asked in a 2009 survey, “Do you agree or disagree that hospitalists are respected members of the medical staff at a hospital?” only 3 out of 4 respondents agreed or highly agreed. That percentage is up slightly from the same survey conducted in 2007, and we don’t have data regarding how the responses would have been different if the question had been asked about other specialties. But I still find it concerning that about 25% of PCPs and hospitalists don’t see hospitalists as respected members of a medical staff. (If you are wondering, there wasn’t much of a difference between how hospitalists and PCPs answered the question.)

Use First Names

In the 1980s, I left residency and entered private practice as a hospitalist in a nonteaching, suburban hospital. I had a really hard time calling other doctors by their first names, especially the highly regarded senior internist who was my former roommate’s dad. He had always been Dr. McCollough to me, and I insisted calling him “Doctor” until we had been peers on the same medical staff for about a year.

Finally, in a somewhat annoyed voice, he told me I had to start calling him “Bob,” and that I should call all the doctors by their first names. It took a while, but using first names began to feel normal. Looking back on it, I think Dr. McCollough Bob taught me an important lesson about fitting in.

So make sure the hospitalists in your group call other doctors by their first names, too.

Work to ensure a member of your group always sits on the medical staff executive committee, and seek out leadership positions like chief of medicine or chief of staff. Don’t simply assume you are too young or too inexperienced. ... Few doctors have a broader view than hospitalists.

Dress the Part

I’ve come to believe that there are a number of things some hospitalists do to sabotage their own interest in being respected by the medical staff at their hospital. To my surprise, I’ve worked with a number of hospitalist groups in which most dress and act like residents, then complain that other doctors at their hospital treat them like residents. I think the way we dress, especially early in our careers, is a pretty big deal. If you’re similar in age to residents, then you’ll sure look like a resident if you dress like them. So don’t wear scrubs and Skechers unless all of the doctors in your hospital wear scrubs and Skechers.

The best advice is to dress the way the respected doctors dress. Follow the lead on things like neckties, dresses, and the white coat (the latter is almost unheard of at my hospital unless it is used to cover up scrubs). Fortunately, few doctors dress formally anymore (e.g., suit, and tie or sport coat for men). Emerging research might push all of us toward shedding ties, long sleeves, and the white coat before long.

Of course, you should keep in mind the way patients would like to see you dress. You can find information about patient expectations through a simple Internet search or by asking the person in charge of patient satisfaction at your hospital.

Seek Social Connections

Just like the issue of dress, I’ve encountered a number of hospitalist groups that have a habit of sneaking into the physician lunchroom, grabbing food in a “to go” container, and heading back to their office to eat together. These hospitalists are missing a valuable opportunity to enjoy social conversation with physicians of all specialties. If your hospital has a physician lunch room that is crowded with doctors, take advantage of the opportunity to build social networks.

You don’t need to eat there every day. (For a number of years, I enjoyed having lunch with the social workers in our main cafeteria.) But you should eat there more frequently than sneaking back to your office to eat only with other hospitalists. (If you don’t have time for lunch, then we need to talk about workload and efficiency issues.)

Look for other opportunities to make connections with other doctors through service on hospital committees, participation in social events at the hospital, or speaking at grand rounds. Although any single activity might not have significant impact, if you do these things regularly, you will form better relationships and be less likely to be or feel “dumped on,” and if it does happen, you’re in a much better position to address it if the dumping doctor is a friend.

Leadership Positions

Work to ensure a member of your group always sits on the medical staff executive committee, and seek out leadership positions like chief of medicine or chief of staff. Don’t simply assume you are too young or too inexperienced. Your hospital really needs the leadership of doctors who have a broad view of hospital operations and medical staff affairs. Few doctors have a broader view than hospitalists.

And if you have an interest in medical staff leadership, think about whether you’d like to serve as your hospital’s chief medical officer (aka vice president of medical affairs). All of these activities are important ways to influence what happens at your hospital, but aside from that, they are an excellent way to build relationships and gain respect from throughout the medical staff.

Worthwhile Effort

Ensuring that the hospitalists in your group feel respected and valued by other doctors and everyone they work with is important. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that working on this is just about stroking hospitalists’ egos.

I coauthored a 2001 research study on hospitalist burnout that failed to show a correlation between workload and burnout, but the study found that things like poor occupational solidarity are associated with burnout.1

Feeling like you fit in and are a respected member of your peer group (medical staff) is important and worth working on diligently. TH

Dr. Nelson has been a practicing hospitalist since 1988 and is cofounder and past president of SHM. He is a principal in Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants, a national hospitalist practice management consulting firm ( He is course co-director and faculty for SHM’s “Best Practices in Managing a Hospital Medicine Program” course. This column represents his views and is not intended to reflect an official position of SHM.


  1. Hoff T, Whitcomb WF, Nelson JR. Thriving and surviving in a new medical career: the case of hospitalist physicians. Jrl Health Social Behavior. 2001;43:72-91.

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