Who Are All These People?

You may find that a lot of health-care personnel are parading through your hospital room, sometimes in groups. Who are all these people? It pays to know the background and responsibilities of the various health-care personnel you meet in a hospital.

Let’s start with the doctors. The attending physician is the doctor who is in charge of your overall care. He or she may be your primary-care physician or a physician on staff at the hospital. Residents are doctors who are receiving specialized training after graduating from medical school. Interns are first-year residents. Fellows are doctors who are receiving specialized training after their residency. At the beginning of your stay, your attending physician should introduce any residents or fellows who will be working with you.

Nurses are responsible for much of your “hands-on” care, which includes taking your vital signs, providing medication and other treatments, and teaching you self-care. Within each nursing unit (for example, the surgical unit, the rehabilitation unit), the clinical nurse manager or head nurse is responsible for coordinating the care for each patient.

In addition to the doctors and nurses, you may visit or be visited by several types of therapists. Physical therapists use exercise, heat, cold, or water therapy to help patients gain or maintain strength, mobility, and coordination. Occupational therapists work with patients to improve their ability to handle activities of daily living, such as cooking, eating, bathing, and dressing. Respiratory therapists may teach patients exercises to help them correct breathing problems or even prevent lung infections after surgery.

Dietitians can help plan specialized menus for patients. Social workers offer support for patients and their families, helping them learn about home care, support groups, and other services available to them. Discharge planners can help patients arrange for health and home care after they leave the hospital.

You may also interact with various technicians, who carry out tests under the supervision and direction of a physician. Medical technologists perform chemical, microscopic, or bacteriologic tests on blood, tissue, and fluids. And radiographers take x-rays and other scans.

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