Patient Care

Pediatric Hospital Medicine Aims to Define Itself


Legend has it that Alexander the Great once was confronted with an intricate knot tying up a sacred ox cart in the palace of the Phrygians, whom he was trying to conquer. When his attempts to untie the knot proved unsuccessful, he drew his sword and sliced it in half, thus providing a rapid if inelegant solution.

Pediatric hospital medicine (PHM) now finds itself facing a similar dilemma in its attempts to define its “kingdom.” The question: Who will become citizens of this kingdom—and who will be left outside the gates? And will this intricate knot be unraveled or simply cut?

In some ways, the mere posing of this question signifies the success PHM has forged for itself over the past decade. At its core, the question of how to define the identity, and thus the training, of a pediatric hospitalist is rooted in noble ideals: excellence in the management of hospitalized children, robust training in quality improvement, patient safety, and cost-effective care.1 Yet this question also stirs up more base feelings frequently articulated in many a physician lounge: territoriality, inadequacy, feeling excluded.

In some ways, the mere posing of this question signifies the success PHM has forged for itself over the past decade. At its core, the question of how to define the identity, and thus the training, of a pediatric hospitalist is rooted in noble ideals.

Nevertheless, the question must be answered.

In many ways, the situation in which PHM finds itself mirrors the dilemma facing pediatrics itself in its infancy. As Borden Veeder, the first president of the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP), wrote in the 1930s, “There were no legal or medical requirements relating to the training and education of specialists—all a man licensed to practice medicine had to do was to announce himself as a surgeon, internist, pediatrician, etc., as he preferred.”2 In 1933, the ABP was incorporated, with representatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA) section on pediatrics, and the American Pediatric Society.

Facing a similar state of confusion, hospitalist leaders of the PHM community in 2010 formed the Strategic Planning Committee (STP) to evaluate training and certification options for PHM as a distinct discipline.3 Co-chairs of the STP Committee were chosen by consensus from a group composed of one representative each from the AAP Section on Hospital Medicine (AAP SOHM), the Academic Pediatric Association (APA), and SHM. The STP identified various training and/or certification options that could define PHM as a subspecialty. A survey with these options was distributed to the PHM community via the listservs of the APA, the AAP SOHM, and the AAP. The results:3

  • 33% of respondents preferred Recognition of Focused Practice through the American Board of Internal Medicine’s (ABIM) Maintenance of Certification (MOC);
  • 30% preferred a two-year fellowship; and
  • 17% suggested an HM track within pediatric residency.

Yet at the PHM Leaders Conference in Chapel Hill, N.C., in April, “there was overwhelming consensus that an MOC program could not provide the rigor to insure [sic] that all pediatric hospitalists would meet a standard.”4 Further, “there was overwhelming consensus that a standardized training program resulting in certification was the best option to assure adequate training in the PHM Core Competencies and provide the public with a meaningful definition of a pediatric hospitalist” and “that the duration of such training should be two years.” Why, one might ask, would those present feel so strongly that the MOC model would be inadequate?

Many concerns regarding MOC were voiced, including whether MOC addresses a knowledge gap after residency (which it does to some extent through ongoing recertification requirements), whether it ensures public trust (but it had “positive potential”), and whether it addressed core competencies (to which the leadership present answered “yes, if rigorous”).4

The perception that the Focused Practice in Hospital Medicine (FPHM) MOC was “not a successful model so far in adult hospital medicine” seemed to weigh heavily on the minds of those in attendance. This perception may have arisen from data showing a somewhat low number of adult hospitalists (363 completed, 527 in process) having successfully completed the FPHM MOC to date. Of note, the possibility of a FPHM MOC for PHM was considered a “non-starter” by the ABP representatives, who in turn attributed this determination to the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).5

There are, of course, many reasons for the low turnout for adult FPHM MOC. Candidates must have been previously certified in internal medicine of family medicine, and thus entry into the FPHM MOC would only arise at recertification or if one decided to seek FPHM certification “early”—that is, prior to the need for recertification. Being not only a Procrastination Club president but also a client, I was not among the 67 virtuous hospitalists who were among the first class of FPHM diplomates in 2011.6 The FPHM MOC also initially was more rigorous than the traditional IM recertification, in that it required completion of a practice-improvement module (PIM) every three years versus every 10 years (in 2014, both the traditional IM and FPHM MOC programs will require PIM completion every 5 years). Without a clearly mandated requirement from most HM groups, at the inception of the FPHM MOC one would be entering a more rigorous recertification process without a clear benefit.

This lack of a requirement from adult HM groups for completion or entry into the FPHM MOC, in turn, arises from a straightforward issue: workforce. Requiring all hospitalists in your HM group to have completed or entered FPHM MOC is a bar most directors and chiefs are not prepared to raise given its potential to shrink their applicant pool. With only 32 to 35 graduates of pediatric HM fellowship programs yearly, workforce issues should clearly be of concern to the PHM community given the current estimates that pediatric hospitalists number anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000.6,7

Is the adult FPHM MOC process perfect? Nothing created by so many committees and professional societies could ever be, but as a first iteration, it certainly created a relatively sturdy straw man. Could the PHM community create a FPHM MOC upon this model that was refined and tailored to their needs? Creating and requiring completion of a robust PHM-specific curriculum via required self-evaluation modules, requiring not only patient encounter thresholds but also evidence of quality care, and developing PIMs specific to PHM would all go a long way to making a FPHM MOC an acceptable alternative for pediatric hospitalist “designation.”

In any case, the gauntlet seems to have been thrown down already in Chapel Hill in favor of a two-year fellowship leading to certification. I admire those present for advocating a training and certification that provides the least compromise in defining the path of future pediatric hospitalists. But I suspect that the answer to the problem of PHM’s future may not be so simple as a single sharp-edged solution and might lie in a more complex array of options for future pediatric hospitalists.

Dr. Chang is pediatric editor of The Hospitalist. He is associate clinical professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, and a hospitalist at both UCSD Medical Center and Rady Children’s Hospital. Send comments and questions to [email protected].


  1. Maniscalco J, Fisher ES. Pediatric hospital medicine and education: why we can’t stand still. JAMA Pediatr. 2013;167:412-413.
  2. Brownlee RC. The American Board of Pediatrics: its origin and early history. Pediatrics. 1994;94:732-735.
  3. Maloney CG, Mendez SS, Quinonez RA, et al. The Strategic Planning Committee report: the first step in a journey to recognize pediatric hospital medicine as a distinct discipline. Hospital Pediatrics. 2012;2:187-190.
  4. Strategic Planning Committee. Strategic planning for the future of pediatric hospital medicine. Strategic Planning Committee website. Available at: Accessed July 4, 2013.
  5. Fisher ES. (2013) Email sent to Chang WW. 25 June.
  6. Carris J. Defining moment: focused practice in HM. The Hospitalist website. Available at: Accessed June 15, 2013.
  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. PHM fellowship info. American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: Accessed June 15, 2013.
  8. Rauch DA, Lye PS, Carlson D, et al. Pediatric hospital medicine: a strategic planning roundtable to chart the future. J Hosp Med. 2012;7:329-334.

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