Do You Know Your Medical Team?
By Rahul Khare, MD, Emergency MedicineEmergency Medicine and Trauma June 27, 2012
- Attending physician – The attending physician is much like the manager of a baseball team. This is a physician who has finished residency and supervises the fellows, residents and medical students who may be participating in your care. Your attending physician oversees your care and has final responsibility for decision-making. Unlike some hospitals, board-certification is a must for attending physicians at Northwestern Memorial. This ensures that physicians are well qualified to take care of your condition. Furthermore, to work at Northwestern Memorial, attending physicians are also faculty at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, so they often teach or do research at the medical school.
- Resident physician – At an academic medical center like Northwestern Memorial, your medical team will include physicians who are still in training. Resident physicians have their medical licenses, but practice under the supervision of an attending physician. Having completed medical school, these physicians are now continuing with in-depth training in the specialty of their choice. For example, if the ER, the residents have chosen to specialize in emergency medicine. Other physicians in training who you may encounter include fellows, who have completed their residency and are in extended training for their specialty.
- Medical students - Your medical team may also include medical students, who observe and participate in patient care, but are not licensed in the field of medicine. They may often be the first provider you see, but you will always see a physician who will review what you told the medical student.
- Nursing staff – Many people do not realize that nursing accounts for the largest group of health care professionals. Among this group are registered nurses (RN), advanced practice nurses (APN), and licensed practical nurses (LPN). Nurses check your vitals, assess your condition, administer medications and help you understand your care. Nurses are an integral part of the entire healthcare system and often the first person the patient sees and talks to at the hospital. Northwestern Memorial has achieved Magnet* status for nursing, which recognizes organizations that demonstrate excellence in nursing practice, exemplary quality outcomes, and an environment that fosters shared leadership and decision-making.
Along with your physicians and nurses, you may also encounter other health professionals who play key roles in your care. Among them may be the technicians who administer diagnostic testing such as EKGs, MRIs, ultrasounds, or CT scans; phlebotomists who are specially trained to draw blood for blood tests; transporters who move you safely from your hospital room to other areas of the hospital for tests, procedures or surgeries; physician assistants who are licensed to practice medicine with oversight from a physicians and may contribute to your diagnosis or prescribing of medications; or physical therapists who help you regain mobility and get moving again following a surgery. Depending on the type of treatment you are receiving and the length of your hospital stay, the members of your medical team may vary, but you can always count on a group of specially trained professionals who all share one goal: assuring you receive the best care possible.
While in the hospital, you may receive pain medications, have had a lack of sleep, and have other medical issues, all of which may make you easily distracted and not thinking straight. These, along with the many different types of providers you encounter in the hospital system, make it easy to be confused about who you are seeing or what is happening. In the emergency room, for example, you will often tell your “story” four times: once to the triage nurse, then to the ER room nurse, to the resident, and finally to the attending physician. Although it can be frustrating to repeat yourself, it is important to know that each provider is getting different information from you that helps each of us in our different roles. During your stay in the ER, you may encounter four other healthcare professionals, including an EKG technician, radiology technician who does your x-rays, phlebotomist to draw your blood and registration representatives who assures your name and address are properly in the system. That being said, we all have the same goal: to make sure you are comfortable and get the healthcare you need in a prompt and professional manner.
At Northwestern Memorial, our healthcare professionals dress in color-coded apparel to help patient easily recognize each individual’s role in their care. To learn more, visit our website. Despite the uniforms, it may still be confusing to identify the members of your medical team; it is okay to stop and ask the person in your room who they are and what their role is in your care. Like a good baseball team, we all strive to work together to make a good team and to give you the healthcare you need.