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Hospital Care Team Members

By Oren Traub, MD, PhD, Departments of Internal Medicine and Adult Hospital Medicine, Pacific Medical Centers

Depending on the care that is needed, a person staying in the hospital may interact with many different staff members every day. If health care practitioners do not introduce themselves and explain their role, the person or family members should ask them to do so.

A hospital care team includes many different practitioners.

Attending physician

The attending physician is the leader of team and has responsibility for all decisions made that affect a person's care, including diagnosis, treatments, and supervision of the remainder of the team.

Based on the problem that brought the person to the hospital, the attending physician may be a hospitalist (a doctor who is trained in internal medicine and works only with people who are hospitalized) or a surgeon. In smaller communities, the person's primary care doctor may act as the attending physician.

Residents, interns, and medical students (house staff)

Some hospitals are designated as teaching hospitals. That is, the hospital team includes medical students who are at various stages of education and who are supervised by the attending physician.

A resident or intern is a fully licensed doctor who is engaged in further training after graduating from medical school.

Although these team members are not attending physicians, they are often active members of the team.


When people have complex or serious medical problems, the attending physician sometimes requests that a specialist evaluate the person and recommend how to best diagnose and treat the problems. For example, the specialist may be a doctor who is extensively trained in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the heart (cardiologist), kidneys (nephrologist), or cancer (oncologist). In other cases, the specialist may be a surgeon who has particular expertise in one area, such as the brain, spine, and nerves (neurosurgeon) or muscles, bones, and joints (orthopedic surgeon).

Registered nurses

People usually have more contact with the registered nurses (RNs) assigned to their care than any other member of the team. RNs give drugs to people and monitor and evaluate their physical and emotional needs. When a person's condition suddenly changes, RNs are often the first to detect the change. RNs then report the change to the attending physician or house staff.

Licensed practical nurses

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are supervised by RNs and provide basic medical and nursing care. For example, LPNs check blood pressure, insert catheters, and help people bathe and dress. LPNs also talk to people about their health care, answer their questions, and report how they are doing to RNs and doctors.

Nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants

Nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants (PAs) work closely with the attending physician to coordinate a person's daily care. They also help with doing physical examinations and ordering drugs and treatments when people have more common or routine medical or surgical problems. Although nurse practitioners and PAs are not doctors, they have advanced training in diagnosis and treatment. Nurse practitioners and PAs are supervised by doctors.

Patient care technicians

Traditionally called nurse’s aides, patient care technicians help nurses with people's care. Their duties may include

  • Obtaining vital signs (measuring blood pressure and temperature)

  • Moving people to and from a bed or wheelchair

  • Helping people with walking

  • Providing items for people's comfort (such as pillows and blankets)

  • Sometimes helping feed people who cannot feed themselves

Physical therapists

Physical therapists evaluate and treat people who have difficulty functioning—for example, difficulty walking, changing positions, or transferring from a bed to a chair. These problems may develop or worsen in the hospital because people have to stay in bed a long time (bed rest), as may occur after surgery, or because their disorder worsens.

Physical therapists assess people's strength, endurance, and coordination and design brief in-hospital exercise programs to help people function better physically and become more independent. Often, physical therapists help doctors determine whether people are likely to be able to function on their own at home after they are discharged from the hospital or whether they may need help at home or need to stay at a skilled nursing facility for additional physical therapy.

Occupational therapists

Occupational therapists assess people's ability to do their daily activities. These activities include eating, dressing, grooming, bathing, using the toilet, cooking, and cleaning.

Occupational therapists can recommend strategies and devices to help people function more independently.

Speech pathologists

These practitioners specialize in evaluating and treating disorders that interfere with swallowing and/or communication. They also evaluate the thought processes involved in communication. Speech pathologists work closely with people who have had a stroke or who have another disorder that interferes with swallowing or communication. For example, if a stroke causes problems with swallowing, speech pathologists recommend that the person eat foods with certain textures. They also suggest ways to swallow that can prevent food from going into the lungs instead of the stomach.

Hospital pharmacists

Pharmacists specialize in how drugs work and interact with each other. Hospitals have pharmacists on their staff who supervise the use of drugs in the hospital. If needed, hospital pharmacists teach people how to safely and effectively take the drugs prescribed for them. For example, pharmacists may advise people to avoid specific foods that interact with their prescribed drugs or teach people how to inject drugs (such as insulin) at home.

Social workers

Social workers provide support, information, and education. They help people prepare for discharge from the hospital by identifying and arranging helpful services that can be provided in the home and community. For example, they may refer people to a skilled nursing facility if people are not well enough to return home and need ongoing care and therapy after discharge from the hospital. Social workers also coordinate certain home health care needs, including a visiting nurse or physical therapist and medical equipment such as wheelchairs and hospital beds.


Registered dietitians have specialized nutritional and medical training that helps them determine a person's dietary needs and plan the person's meals in and out of the hospital, as requested by the attending physician. When planning meals, dieticians consider the person's personal, cultural, and religious food preferences.

Certain medical conditions have very specific dietary requirements. For example, people with diabetes need a low-sugar diet, and some people with kidney problems need a low-potassium diet. Dieticians can advise people about which foods satisfy these requirements and which foods they should avoid.

Interpreter services

For deaf or hard-of-hearing people and for people whose first language is not English, hospitals provide an interpreter who has special skills in medical terminology. Sometimes the interpreter is present in person, and sometimes, the interpreter is available by telephone or video conference in the person's hospital room.

Other team members

Other staff members may be involved in a person's hospital care. They may include a radiologist and radiology technician, a respiratory therapist for people with breathing problems, staff members to help transport people within the hospital, clergy, and hospital volunteers.