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Who’s who in the hospital?
January 03, 2019
Who’s who in the hospital?

Understanding the roles in a hospital

The hospital can be a busy place, with many people coming and going. When it comes to quality care, each of these individuals is an important part of the team. This comprehensive approach ensures that care is provided for the whole child and family, not just a single body part or condition.

In an academic medical center in particular, a physician may be a specialist who has been practicing for decades or a new doctor in training. Depending on your child’s unique needs, there may be several doctors from different medical specialties who work in coordination with nurses, therapists and other health care professionals throughout the hospital stay.

This ‘cheat sheet’ can help you keep track of who’s who and what their role is in caring for your family.

Here are some of the team members with whom you may interact on an average day:


Attending physician
The doctor responsible for overseeing your child’s care while in the hospital. This term is typically used in teaching hospitals to differentiate between fully-credentialed physicians (attending physicians) and physicians who are still completing their training (fellows/residents).

Physician specialist
A doctor who specializes in a particular area of medicine, such as cardiology, neurology, surgery, etc.

A doctor who has completed their required training to practice medicine and has chosen to complete further specific training in a specialty area

A doctor training to become a pediatrician or another type of physician specialist

House staff
Another term for the resident physicians in the hospital who provide care under the direction of the attending physicians

All of the above individuals are called doctors, however, an attending physician always oversees the care provided by physicians in training.


Nurse practitioner
An advanced practice nurse who can order tests, diagnose conditions and prescribe medications

Nurse manager
A nurse responsible for supervising and ensuring the quality of nursing care

Registered nurse
A nurse who is actively involved in many aspects of your child’s care, including administering medications, preparing for a treatment, assisting with treatment and providing health-related education

Care partner
A non-licensed assistant who works closely with the nurse to gather supplies and lend a hand as needed


Physical therapist
A therapist who helps with mobility with the goal of helping your child move as independently as possible

Occupational therapist
A therapist who helps with tasks of everyday living, which may be challenging due to a developmental, neurological or other condition

Speech therapist
A therapist who helps with communication, chewing and/or swallowing challenges

Respiratory therapist
A specialist in monitoring for breathing disorders and caring for respiratory diseases and illnesses, such as asthma and cystic fibrosis. They have advanced knowledge of various respiratory equipment, like ventilators.

Mental health care providers

A medical doctor who specializes in the health, development and well-being of children and adolescents with mental health needs related to medical, emotional and/or behavioral issues. Like other medical doctors, psychiatrists can prescribe medication.

A specialist in helping children and adolescents with a variety of emotional, behavioral and developmental issues. They conduct assessments/testing and provide counseling and therapy.

Mental health partner
A non-licensed assistant who works closely with the providers and nursing team to offer emotional support and assist with the maintenance of a safe and therapeutic environment

Other team members

A specialist in assessing and treating nutritional and eating issues through screenings, medical nutrition therapy and counseling. The dietitian may plan special meals for your child based on their condition and health needs.

A professional who prepares prescribed medications and provides medication safety education as needed

Social worker
An integral part of the health care team, providing advocacy, problem-solving, counseling and resources to help your family cope with illness and make plans for returning to everyday life

Patient advocate
A health care professional who helps with access to care, education and any concerns that may arise

Child life specialist
A professional who specializes in helping children cope with the stress and uncertainty of illness, injury, pain, treatment or hospitalization with age-appropriate interventions. They can also help siblings understand the situation.

A professional who offers spiritual and emotional support for children and families of all cultures and beliefs

Music therapist
A professional who uses music-based interventions to provide emotional support, address pain management, increase coping skills, encourage self-expression and normalize the hospital environment.

Recreation therapist
A professional who helps to ensure children receive stimulation and recreation with an emphasis on teaching skills and ways to modify activities to meet your child’s specific needs

An education professional who works with children in the hospital to help them keep up with their school work and continue learning year-round

As an academic medical center, we’re honored to have the opportunity to train tomorrow’s health care providers. A variety of students learn from our experts each day. A trained professional supervises each student at all times.

Each person who enters the room should introduce themselves and explain their role. If you have questions at any time, don’t hesitate to ask. You know your child best and are the most important part of the team!


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