Getting hospitalized can be a very stressful experience. As if getting sick was not hard enough, being in the hospital can sometimes be a very confusing time. Of particular concern are the many different medical staff a patient engages with while in the hospital. There are different doctors that care for a patient and that can add to the overwhelming experience of being in the hospital. First, there are the ER doctors. These are different than the team that cares for the patient once they are admitted. Once admitted, a patient may receive medical care from a combination of different physicians, including specialists. The number and type of physicians depends upon the reason why the patient was brought into the hospital. It can be confusing identifying who is who and knowing which doctor is in charge.
This situation compounds itself when you are in a teaching hospital. A teaching hospital is a place where doctors get the final training they need before going out to practice on their own. In general terms, doctors training inside a hospital are called residents. Resident doctors work in teams that can be compared to a sports team, like basketball. The interesting comparison to a basketball team can go quite deep, such as when doctors work in the hospital, they are said to be “covering the floor.”
Teams are made up of residents with different levels of experience. During the very first year residents work in the hospital, they are called “interns”. Interns are fresh out of medical school, having just obtained their medical degrees. Because they are new, they do most of the day-to-day, hands-on work necessary to care for the patient and update other members of the team about what is happening. On a basketball team, an intern would be the ROOKIE point guard. He would be involved with every play; the one on the floor, spending most of his time handling the ball. He might not be the one calling the plays, but he is the most important one in carrying it out. One of the intern’s main responsibilities is to ensure orders and plans of care are followed to the letter.
Second and third year residents are simply called residents. Residents’responsibilities are slightly different than interns as they oversee the intern’s work. On that same basketball team, the resident would be the seasoned, veteran power-forward. He is the go to guy for the more difficult cases (someone for the intern to pass the ball to when things get tough). In addition to being in charge of the intern, the resident’s main responsibility is to see the sick patients that come into the hospital as they are admitted. Being the seasoned leader on the floor comes in handy when it is your job to call the shots on newly admitted patients.
Just like any sports team, there is always someone in charge. In basketball it’s the head coach, while in medicine the head doctor is called the “attending”. Similar to coaches, attending often dress differently and are usually not cloaked in a uniform like the interns and residents. The attending may wear a suit while the residents wear scrubs. The attending’s job is not to throw on sneakers and handle the minute to minute issues of patient care. Instead, attendings wear dress shoes and supervise from the side line. Attendings meet with the other members of the medical team during what are called rounds. As they do rounds, the team travels to the patient’s bedside in a traditional way. During rounds, the team discusses their cases and decide how to best treat the patients. The team works together and covers the floor, similar to their basketball counterparts.
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