In November 2019, more than 1,500 pediatric hospitalists will be first to take the subspecialty exam approved by the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP) for certification in pediatric hospital medicine (PHM). This landmark signifies the recognition of hospital medicine as an essential component of the health care landscape and further acknowledges the importance of our expanding field.
But recent controversy over the requirements set by the ABP to sit for the exam has highlighted the new considerations for practice management that will be associated with this change. The need to analyze and understand how PHM programs function has never been more important for hospital medicine groups that care for children. This information is essential if they are to remain nimble in their approach to the changes that will occur in the years ahead.
To understand the impact that the new subspecialty board exam will have on groups that care for children, we need to first understand the criteria for eligibility. As for all ABP subspecialty boards, applicants must be Pediatric Board certified. The ABP has established three pathways by which practitioners can attain eligibility to sit for the PHM exam.1 Most currently practicing hospitalists have applied to take the exam under the “practice pathway,” which will be available temporarily to allow candidates to apply for the certifying exam based on experience rather than fellowship training. This temporary period will span the first three examination cycles (2019, 2021, 2023). The requirements for inclusion via this pathway, recently modified by the ABP in response to concerns voiced by the PHM community at large,2 consist of the following:
1. Practice period of 4 years (with a start date of July 2015 to be eligible for the November 2019 exam.
2. Work hours for all PHM professional activities of more than 900-1000 hours/year.
3. Patient care hours in PHM of more than 450-500 hours per year, every year for the preceding 4 years.
4. Scope of practice covering the full range of hospitalized children.
5. Practice experience and hours acquired in the United States or Canada.
This set of criteria raises several questions about the eligibility of the physicians currently caring for children in the hospital setting. The State of Hospital Medicine Report is an excellent source of information about hospital medicine trends in staffing and much more. While the response to the survey is more robust from practices that care for adults only, important information can be gleaned from the participant groups that care for children.
Question 1: How many clinicians that care for children in the hospital are trained in pediatrics, thereby meeting the first criteria to sit for the boards?
Based on the 2018 State of Hospital Medicine Report, 100% of groups that treat only children had physicians trained in pediatrics, 41.7% employed physicians trained in med/peds, and 5.6% had clinicians trained in internal medicine.
In groups that treat both children and adults the variation in practitioner type was much broader. While 85.7% of groups reported employing physicians trained in internal medicine and 64.3% employed family medicine practitioners, only 35.7% reported employing physicians trained in pediatrics and 46.4% with training in med/peds. A smattering of other clinician types was also noted, most of which were not likely to be pediatrics trained.
If information based on this relatively small number of respondents is generalizable, it means that a large number of the practitioners currently caring for hospitalized children are not pediatrics board-certified and therefore will not be eligible to sit for the subspecialty exam.