Whither the Pulmonary Ward Attending? Preserving Subspecialty Exposure in United States Internal Medicine Residency Training

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Twenty years ago, the term “hospitalist” was coined at the University of California-San Francisco (San Francisco, CA), heralding a new specialty focused on the care of inpatients. There are now more than 50,000 hospitalists practicing in the United States. At many academic medical centers, hospitalists are largely replacing subspecialists as attendings on the inpatient medicine wards. At University of California-San Francisco, this has been accompanied by declining percentages of residency graduates who enter subspecialty training in internal medicine. The decline in subspecialty medicine interest can be attributed to many factors, including differences in compensation, decreased subspecialist exposure, and a changing research funding landscape. Although there has not been systematic documentation of this trend in pulmonary and critical care medicine, we have noted previously pulmonary and critical care-bound trainees switching to hospital medicine instead. With our broad, multiorgan system perspective, pulmonary and critical care faculty should embrace teaching general medicine. Residency programs have instituted creative solutions to encourage more internal medicine residents to pursue careers in subspecialty medicine. Some solutions include creating rotations that promote more contact with subspecialists and physician-scientists, creating clinician-educator tracks within fellowship programs, and appointing subspecialists to internal medicine residency leadership positions. We need more rigorous research to track the trends and implications of the generalist-specialist balance of inpatient ward teams on resident career choices, and learn what interventions affect those choices.

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