Hospitalist vs. Internist

Both hospitalists and internists assess patients’ concerns, identify health conditions and develop treatment plans to support and enhance their well-being. While these two types of providers have comparable roles, a few key distinctions differentiate one from the other.

If you are mapping out your career as a physician, understanding the role of an internist versus a hospitalist can help you choose which specialty best suits you. Read on to learn what hospitalists and internists are and how the two careers differ.


What Is a Hospitalist?

Hospitalists are medically-trained individuals who treat patients in hospital settings. Being an attending hospitalist means you have completed a residency program and are board-certified to practice hospital medicine. This medical specialty focuses on the treatment of acutely ill hospitalized patients. Rather than maintaining a separate practice, hospitalists work only in hospitals to care for the inpatients admitted there.

The treatments and services a hospitalist provides depend on their specialty. Many hospitalists specialize in internal medicine, which is the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of a broad range of diseases affecting internal organs. However, others may work in focused areas like obstetrics, pulmonology, cardiology, orthopedics or nephrology.

Hospitalists order diagnostic tests, prescribe medications and track health statuses to form appropriate treatment plans.


What Is an Internist?

Internists are physicians trained to treat diseases, disorders and injuries of the internal organs, including the heart, kidneys, liver and lungs. Internists provide care to patients in outpatient settings such as doctor’s offices. These providers are often the first point of treatment for people seeking medical care.

Internists also provide ongoing care to adults before, during and after hospital stays. While they may visit their patients in the hospital when needed, the majority of their work takes place in private practices.

The types of conditions internists commonly treat include:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Lung disease


Hospitalist vs. Internal Medicine Careers

Hospitalists and internists have similar roles, but there are a few key differences. If you’re considering pursuing a career as a hospitalist or an internist, examining these distinctions can help you decide which career path fits your needs and desires.

Primary Job Responsibilities

Hospitalists have the challenging task of treating patients who are acutely ill and require hospitalization. A hospitalist’s primary responsibilities include the following:

  • Treating an array of internal diseases and disorders
  • Organizing and assessing patient medical records to develop effective treatment plans
  • Explaining diagnostic findings and treatment options to patients and their loved ones
  • Training medical students and new graduates

An internist’s job is complex because they must develop individualized plans to treat many different health conditions. The following are among an internist’s primary responsibilities:

  • Examining patient medical records to determine appropriate diagnoses
  • Monitoring patient conditions and adjusting treatment plans when necessary
  • Referring patients to specialists when needed
  • Guiding the actions of nurses and other patient care providers


Hospitalists and internists make similar earnings, though internal medicine providers typically have a higher yearly salary. Hospitalists in the U.S. make an average of $282,679 per year, while internists earn an average of $292,733 per year.

Hospitalist vs. internist salary can also vary by:

  • The provider’s level of education.
  • Whether or not they specialize and in what concentration.
  • Their geographic location.
  • Their employer.

Work Schedules

Because hospitals operate around the clock every day of the year, hospitalists work in shifts that may take place during days, nights, weekends and holidays. Some have set on and off days, while others have schedules that vary from week to week.

Internists have more traditional work schedules. Their private practices typically operate during regular weekday office hours and are closed at night and on weekends and holidays. However, some internists do visit their patients in the hospital after hours.

Places of Employment

Hospitalists work in hospitals to treat patients admitted to receive inpatient care. Depending on their specialty and the size of the hospital, they may work in special units or cover the entire medical complex.

Hospitalists work with patients for relatively short periods to address the problems that brought them to the hospital. The patient’s medical chart helps them determine treatment interventions. Upon discharge, hospitalists refer patients to an internist for continuing care.

Internists treat their patients in an outpatient setting, such as an office or clinic.

Patient Demographics

Hospitalists and internists each treat male and female patients, but the ages of the patients they work with can vary. Internists only provide care to adults, often starting in early adulthood and continuing throughout their lives. Internal medicine hospitalists also treat adults unless they specialize in pediatrics.

Goals of Treatment

While hospitalists and internists share many of the same skills and responsibilities, their approaches to care are different. Treating hospitalized patients versus those in an outpatient setting involves distinct care dynamics.

Hospitalists encounter new patients with varying health concerns each day. They must often react to rare or unexpected conditions with fast and effective treatment measures. A hospitalist’s goal is to improve the health of the entire patient population in a hospital or department.

Internists have the opportunity to get to know their patients on a more personal level and explore their medical histories. Their goal is to formulate individualized treatment plans for their patients.

Education and Certification

As with all physicians, hospitalists and internists must each earn a four-year bachelor’s degree before completing an additional four years of medical school.

Following medical school, hospitalists undergo several years of graduate medical education, including a year-long internship and three years of residency. Many hospitalist residency programs work to address aspects specific to hospital medicine. These aspects often include quality assessment and improvement and transitioning from inpatient to outpatient care.

Once internists complete medical school, they embark on a three-year residency in internal medicine. During this time, candidates practice internal medicine under the direction and supervision of attending physicians. An internal medicine residency may include time in:

  • University or teaching hospitals.
  • Intensive care units.
  • Subspecialty clinics.
  • Outpatient settings.
  • Community medical centers.

After completing their residencies and passing licensing exams, hospitalists and internists must pass a board certification exam to be eligible to practice. Boards such as the American Board of Hospital Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine offer these exams.

Join the Team of Respected Providers at First Docs

If you are a newly certified hospitalist or internist with the desire to provide individualized, holistic, patient-centric care, First Docs may be the perfect partner for you. Our physicians are among the best and brightest and are dedicated to delivering compassionate, exceptional care. Contact First Docs today to schedule a time to speak with one of our recruiters!

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