Who Works at a Hospital?

Who works at a hos­pi­tal? (Again, just indulge me for now.)

Doc­tors. If you’re a patient at a teach­ing hos­pi­tal, this includes med­ical stu­dents (peo­ple in school to become doc­tors), interns and res­i­dents (peo­ple who have earned the title of “doc­tor”, but who are still learn­ing their craft), and attend­ings (peo­ple who have com­pleted their for­mal train­ing as physi­cians). If you’re not at a teach­ing hos­pi­tal, it’s less likely you’ll see med­ical stu­dents and other trainees (the army of white coats tromp­ing through the hall­ways). Instead, you’ll see lone attend­ing physicians.

Nurses. Nurses play vital roles in patient care; with­out them, hos­pi­tals sim­ply would not work. Nurses arguably spend the most time with patients. They mon­i­tor and observe patients around the clock. As a result, they’re often the first to real­ize that some­thing has changed and thus have the respon­si­bil­ity to do some­thing about it.

There are dif­fer­ent kinds of nurses, such as reg­is­tered nurses, licensed prac­ti­cal nurses, and cer­ti­fied nurs­ing assis­tants. Their roles dif­fer in terms of their train­ing, skill sets, and respon­si­bil­i­ties, but they all serve to observe and mon­i­tor patients and their conditions.

Ther­a­pists. Not the talky kind. There are res­pi­ra­tory ther­a­pists, speech ther­a­pists, phys­i­cal ther­a­pists, and occu­pa­tional ther­a­pists. They focus on skills and func­tion: How can we help this patient walk? How can we help this patient talk with less dif­fi­culty? How can we retrain the mus­cles in this patient’s hand so he can write again?

Tech­ni­cians. Radi­ol­ogy tech­ni­cians, phar­macy tech­ni­cians, sur­gi­cal tech­ni­cians, elec­troen­cephalo­gram tech­ni­cians, patient care tech­ni­cians… the list is long. They assist other pro­fes­sion­als in the hos­pi­tal in their duties and may have more con­tact with patients that the pro­fes­sion­als themselves.

Con­sider an ultra­sound tech­ni­cian. A physi­cian may order the ultra­sound, but it is the tech­ni­cian who will explain to the patient what an ultra­sound is and per­form the pro­ce­dure. A radi­ol­o­gist will inter­pret the results.

A spe­cial note about patient care tech­ni­cians (PCTs): These indi­vid­u­als often spend the most time with patients and are often a trea­sure trove of data for nurses and physi­cians. If you are a physi­cian work­ing in a hos­pi­tal, make a point of talk­ing with the PCTs. They’re the ones who will know if the patient slept, went to a pro­ce­dure, has a change in men­tal sta­tus, etc.

Jan­i­to­r­ial staff. These indi­vid­u­als have one of the most impor­tant jobs in the hos­pi­tal: They help with hospital-wide infec­tion con­trol. They help pre­vent peo­ple from get­ting more sick. If you work in a hos­pi­tal, thank a jan­i­tor today for what they do.

Cler­i­cal staff. This includes the clerks who serve as recep­tion­ists for the hos­pi­tal units (not an easy job: imag­ine jug­gling phone calls from patients, man­ag­ing the anx­i­ety of fam­ily mem­bers of patients, pag­ing physi­cians mul­ti­ple times because they don’t call back…), hos­pi­tal oper­a­tors, all the peo­ple work­ing in med­ical records, and the staff who work with the hos­pi­tal admin­is­tra­tors. Hos­pi­tals gen­er­ate a lot of data. Some­one has to help man­age and orga­nize all that data.

Infor­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy staff. Elec­tronic health records now hold patient infor­ma­tion. The net­works fails. The mouse doesn’t work. There aren’t enough ter­mi­nals. Some­one can’t remem­ber their pass­word. The radi­ol­ogy images aren’t show­ing up. The orders didn’t go through. The IT depart­ment gets a lot of pres­sure to get it all right.

Food ser­vices staff. There are all the peo­ple who cook hos­pi­tal meals, trans­port and deliver the meals to each patient, and wash the left­over dishes. These peo­ple also pre­pare the food in the hos­pi­tal cafe­te­ria, which feeds the rest of us who are well enough to get it on our own.

Peo­ple want to eat and they want to eat food that tastes good. In the hos­pi­tal it is hard to please all of the peo­ple all of the time.

Envi­ron­men­tal ser­vices staff. These are the plumbers, elec­tri­cians, HVAC experts, etc. who make sure that the elec­tric­ity stays on, that there are backup gen­er­a­tors avail­able, that the water tem­per­a­tures are sat­is­fac­tory, that the ambi­ent tem­per­a­tures are within a cer­tain range, that the win­dows seal tight, etc. If the build­ing doesn’t “work”, then the hos­pi­tal doesn’t work.

Phar­macy staff. I don’t know how many thou­sands of med­ica­tions are avail­able, but the phar­macy takes care of all of them. Whether they are amaz­ing antibi­otics that will drip through an IV or car­tons of chicken soup (yes, doc­tors can order chicken soup), the phar­macy takes all of those orders and fills them. They ensure that med­ica­tions are avail­able in every sin­gle hos­pi­tal unit and pre­pare med­ica­tions for patients to take with them when they leave the hos­pi­tal. And they have to make sure that they fill the right drug at the right dose at the right time for the right person.

There are many more peo­ple who work in hos­pi­tals; I do not omit them will­fully. We often take for granted all the peo­ple who make a hos­pi­tal work.

If you are a patient (or some­one vis­it­ing a patient) in a hos­pi­tal, I encour­age you to thank all the peo­ple who have helped you. Hos­pi­tal staff appre­ci­ate hear­ing that and want to know that their actions made a difference.

If you work in a hos­pi­tal (espe­cially physi­cians), I encour­age you to thank your col­leagues, par­tic­u­larly those who have a com­pletely dif­fer­ent job from yours. They are doing some­thing to help you do your work. Let them know that you appre­ci­ate it.

Next time: The “rules” of the hospital.