Who’s Who in the Hospital


Your hospital care team includes doctors, nurses and other staff members. Why do you need all of these people? What are their roles? Get answers here.

Being a patient or having a friend or family member in the hospital usually causes plenty of unease on its own. But the dozens of health care professionals buzzing around can be overwhelming. Here’s a who’s who among the staff to help you rest assured that you’re in good care.


You will likely see several different doctors while in the hospital. This occurs for many reasons:

  • You might see specialists. You may have multiple problems or need care from different types of doctors. For example, you may see one type of doctor in the emergency room. Another may perform surgery, another may consult and yet another may be responsible for the day-to-day care you receive.
  • You’ll witness many shift changes. You may have one main doctor during the day and another one at night. You may not see your doctor for a few days when he or she has time off.
  • You’re in a teaching hospital. Teaching hospitals employ interns, residents and medical students who are supervised by a hospital staff doctor. Don’t fret if you’re seen by one of these providers. Studies have found that the quality of care in teaching hospitals is better than in nonteaching hospitals.

Here are some doctors who may care for you during your stay:

Attending physicians or hospital doctors or “staff” doctors are the doctors in charge of the patient’s care. The attending is a senior doctor in general medicine or in a medical or surgical area. An attending in a teaching hospital supervises interns, residents and medical students.

You can have more than one attending doctor. In the example above, both the emergency room doctor and cardiologist were attendings. Your regular doctor may be an attending, too.

Hospitalists are attending doctors who only work in the hospital. They do not have private offices. The hospitalist will stay in touch with your primary care doctor.

Fellows have completed medical school and residency. They are getting additional training in a certain field.

Residents recently finished medical school and are studying one specialty. They must clear all decisions with the attending doctor.

Interns are first-year residents. They typically observe or perform routine duties under the supervision of the attending doctor.

Medical students are not doctors yet. They often spend their last two years of school working in the field. They may be part of your care, but the attending will be in the room with them at all times.


Nurses serve as your caregiver and advocate. They protect your rights and help you cope with diagnoses and manage symptoms.

Nurses may have different specialties, too. For example, if you go to the emergency room, the triage nurse will see you first to assess your symptoms.

Nurses’ roles vary based on their specialty area, licenses and education.

Other providers

Many of the people who help you in the hospital are not doctors or nurses. You may see some or all of these people, depending on your condition:

Therapists provide specialized therapy in different areas, such as physical, speech, occupational or respiratory therapy.

Phlebotomists draw blood from you that is needed for certain tests.

Technicians work throughout the hospital in different areas. An x-ray technician will take your x-rays, and a pharmacy technician will help fill prescriptions.

Registered dieticians are trained, certified nutritionists who create diet plans based on your health condition.

Social workers help patients by connecting them with resources.

Patient advocates protect your rights. They communicate between you and the hospital staff.

Other hospital personnel. You’ll see many other people in the halls of the hospital. Some may be wearing scrubs, while others are in office attire. For example, stockers make sure there are enough supplies in your room. The administrative staff organizes patient information and answers phone calls. Volunteers help the hospital staff by transporting patients, running errands, cleaning or spending time with patients.

Your rights as a patient

All of these people work together to make sure you get the best care possible. If you do not know who someone is or wonder what your test results are, speak up. You have many rights as a patient, including the right to:

  • Be informed about the care you will receive
  • Make decisions about your care
  • Know who all of your care providers are
  • Be treated with respect and be listened to

If you have any concerns about your care, contact a patient advocate for help.

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