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Medical Titles a Common Source of Misunderstanding Among General Public, Per New Journal of Hospital Medicine Research

November 22, 2022

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The Journal of Hospital Medicine (JHM), the official peer-reviewed journal of the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM), recently published original research, What’s in a Name? Laypeople’s Understanding of Medical Roles and Titles, which found that laypeople lack a clear understanding of the names of medical specialties and the titles used to indicate seniority in medical training. The authors recommend that all medical professionals effectively describe their roles when introducing themselves to patients to minimize confusion.

“As physicians, we have stopped hearing all of the jargon that we use in our interactions with patients,” noted Emily Hause, MD, MPH, primary author of the study and a pediatric rheumatology fellow at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “This jargon starts from the moment we introduce ourselves, and we now know, from our research, that even our basic titles are commonly misunderstood.”

Hospitalists have the unique perspective of often being the liaison during consultations and can help to minimize confusion by providing a clear explanation of roles in the care team. Doing so could lead to fewer communication barriers and more productive conversations between patients and clinicians. Use of whiteboards and face cards can also complement these discussions.

Of note, 14 specialties were included in the survey, and only two were accurately identified by more than 90 percent of respondents: dermatology and cardiology. Additionally, nearly 75 percent of participants were unaware that the attending is the most senior member of the clinical team, identifying an area in which further research can be conducted to evaluate the impact on patient experience.

We try to provide residents autonomy during patient rounds, so it is reassuring, in some ways, that so many survey participants identified them as the most senior member of the team,” explained Samir S. Shah, MD, MSCE, MHM, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Hospital Medicine. “I have to wonder, however, if the word ‘senior’ in their title influenced how they were ranked for relative seniority.”

According to the authors of the study, this is the first dedicated study to survey a broader cohort of laypeople in a nonclinical setting regarding specialty names and training levels.

Read the full study in the Journal of Hospital Medicine here.

About the Journal of Hospital Medicine:
The Journal of Hospital Medicine is the premier, ISI-indexed publication for the specialty of hospital medicine and official journal of the Society of Hospital Medicine. Published by Wiley, the journal advances excellence in hospital medicine as a defined specialty through the dissemination of research, evidence-based clinical care, and advocacy of safe, effective care for hospitalized patients. For more information, please visit and follow the Journal of Hospital Medicine on Twitter @JHospMedicine.