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Hospitalist vs. Primary Care Physician: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Hospitalists and primary care physicians are both medical doctors who provide care to patients. However, there are several key differences between the two. If you’re interested in becoming a doctor, it’s important to understand the different types of medical practices and what each entails. In this article, we compare and contrast hospitalists and primary care physicians, and we provide information on what you can expect from each type of doctor.

What is a Hospitalist?

A hospitalist is a medical doctor who specializes in the care of hospitalized patients. Hospitalists coordinate a patient’s care during their hospital stay, working with the patient’s primary care physician and other specialists to ensure that the patient receives the best possible care. Hospitalists also provide education to patients and their families about their condition and the course of treatment. In some cases, hospitalists may also provide discharge planning services to ensure that the patient has the resources they need to recover at home.

What is a Primary Care Physician?

A Primary Care Physician (PCP) is a doctor who provides general medical care for their patients. They are often the first point of contact for patients when they have a medical concern or are feeling ill. PCPs can provide a variety of services, including physical exams, immunizations, screenings, diagnosis and treatment of common conditions, ordering and interpreting tests, and referring patients to specialists. They may also provide preventive care, such as health counseling and screenings.

Hospitalist vs. Primary Care Physician

Here are the main differences between a hospitalist and a primary care physician.

Job Duties

Hospitalists have a lot of responsibility, as they are caring for patients in the hospital on a regular basis. They must evaluate each patient and develop a treatment plan with the team. Hospitalists also need to communicate effectively with other members of the healthcare team, such as nurses and other physicians.

Primary care physicians have many responsibilities at work, but their days involve seeing lots of patients with a variety of needs. These needs may range from serious concerns to minor health issues. A primary care physician evaluates each patient and develops a treatment plan with them. They also need to communicate effectively with the patient about the plan and any follow-up appointments.

Job Requirements

To become a hospitalist, you must first complete medical school and earn your Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. After medical school, you will need to complete a residency program in internal medicine, which typically lasts three years. Some hospitalists also choose to pursue fellowship training in a subspecialty area, such as cardiology or infectious diseases. To practice medicine in the United States, you must obtain a license from the state in which you plan to work. You will also need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

Primary care physicians also need to complete medical school and earn an MD degree. However, they will complete a residency program in family medicine, pediatrics or another primary care specialty. Like hospitalists, primary care physicians must obtain a state medical license and pass the USMLE.

Work Environment

Hospitalists work in hospitals, where they treat patients who have been admitted for treatment. They may also provide care to patients who are being treated as outpatients or who have been discharged from the hospital but require follow-up care. Primary care physicians typically work in private practices and offices that serve a particular community. They may see patients on an outpatient basis or refer them to specialists if necessary.


Both hospitalists and primary care physicians need to have excellent clinical skills. This includes being able to gather patient histories, perform physical examinations, order and interpret diagnostic tests and develop treatment plans. They also both need to be able to effectively communicate with patients and their families about diagnoses, prognoses and treatment options.

Hospitalists tend to focus more on the management of acutely ill patients who are hospitalized, while primary care physicians provide continuing care for patients with chronic conditions. As a result, hospitalists may benefit from having more experience in managing complex cases and working with a team of specialists. Primary care physicians, on the other hand, may need to have more skills in disease prevention and health promotion. They also typically have stronger relationships with their patients, as they see them more often than hospitalists do.


The average salary for a hospitalist is $233,352 per year, while the average salary for a primary care physician is $175,991 per year. The average salary for both positions may vary depending on the location of the job, the size of the hospital or healthcare facility, the level of experience and the type of specialization.


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