According to the American Hospital Association (www.aha.org), over half of U.S. hospitals have programs in hospital medicine, the discipline that focuses on the care of patients while they are in the hospital.
Healthcare providers who specialize in hospital medicine are known as "hospitalists." Most are physicians. But an increasing number are nurse practitioners (NPs). In fact, in 2005, about 20 percent of hospital medicine groups included NPs, according to the Society of Hospital Medicine (www.hospitalmedicine.org).
As hospitalists, NPs work collaboratively with physicians to care for inpatients. This may include taking histories and performing physicals, diagnosing and treating, interpreting lab results, writing prescriptions, rounding, communicating with the patient's primary care physician and participating in discharge planning.
Sally Heusinkvelt, an acute care NP and hospitalist at Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org), began her career as a medical-surgical nurse. After finishing a bachelor's degree in nursing, she moved to critical care. By the time she finished a master's degree, she had eight years experience as a hospital nurse. "Becoming a hospitalist was the next logical step," she says.
She believes that NPs bring unique strengths to the hospitalist role. "Our hands-on experience caring for patients allows us to anticipate and intervene early in issues that may influence a patient's recovery. Our responsibilities in the inpatient setting also include disease prevention, management and patient education about acute and chronic disease," she says. "Plus we have a system-wide understanding of the hospital setting."
Challenge And Variety
Heusinkvelt enjoys the variety and the challenge of caring for patients with acute needs. On a given day, she might care for a patient with a pulmonary embolism, a geriatric patient with a severe urinary tract infection, or a patient recovering from a hip replacement.
"I love working in a learning environment where I'm able to use all my skills and knowledge," she says.
Nancy Giguere is a freelance writer from St. Paul who has written about healthcare since 1995.