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How to Be a Great Inpatient Consultant in 7 Easy Steps

Leah Croll, MD

Disclosures

October 18, 2021

Admit it: The sound of your pager going off often triggers a sinking feeling. Like virtually everyone else in the hospital, you are busy and tired. You're dreading the idea of a new consult.

That's normal. But you also know that complex patients frequently require multiple eyes on their case, especially from specialists. And being a good inpatient consultant is so much more than cultivating expertise in your chosen field. Here's what it takes to be a great inpatient consultant.

1. Accessibility

A good consultant is easy to reach. Their colleagues in the hospital can rely on them to return pages and calls as soon as possible. They make themselves approachable and available.

2. Professionalism

When it comes to inpatient practice, phone etiquette is everything. It's human nature to feel frustrated with endless consults, but a true professional doesn't allow that frustration to intrude on decorum. They remember what it feels like to be on the other end of the line, especially as a medical student or intern. It's simply unhelpful to snap at a colleague who is just asking for your help.

3. Patience

This is a tough one, but it's so true. A truly exceptional consultant resists the urge to judge a consult question too quickly. They understand that most of the time, the people calling with a question are doing so because they don't know the answer and genuinely want to do the right thing for their patient. Sometimes the primary team recognizes that something is wrong, but they may lack the specialty knowledge to articulate exactly what's going on. That's okay. It's easy to dismiss "stupid" questions. It's much harder to remind yourself that no questions are stupid when we all have one goal in common: to deliver the best care we can.

4. Communication

Communication is far and away the most important skill for consultants to master. It's essential that they can deliver verbal recommendations in a clear and concise fashion and then write a similarly strong note. Complete, timely guidance is meaningless if it is not effectively communicated to the other providers on a patient's team.

5. Thoughtfulness

Phoning it in usually isn't very helpful to the patient or the primary team. On the other end of the spectrum, consultants who put a lot of thought into their patients can add so much depth to the care that is offered. Their role as a specialist comes with invaluable opportunities to teach patients, family members, and primary teams.

6. Presence

Consultants are a vital part of the care team. It's important that they talk to patients and family members directly — people want to hear from the expert! They should be present throughout the hospitalization and available to discuss the case in any capacity. That's especially true for family meetings and any other occasions that might entail answering tough questions about the case.

7. Advocacy

In some cases, the primary team may need help advocating for the patient to get the diagnostics and therapeutics that are recommended. A good consultant is proactive about ensuring that the patient is receiving the care that they deserve. They understand that patient care is a team effort, and they take their position on the team very seriously.

These tips will take a conscious effort but after a while they will become second nature. Please share your tips in the comments.

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About Dr. Leah Croll
Leah Croll, MD, is a neurovascular fellow at NYU Langone Health. She was also a neurology resident at NYU. Prior to that, she graduated from NYU Grossman School of Medicine. She is a contributor to the ABC News medical unit. In her free time, she is working on trying all the pastries in New York City, one bakery at a time.
Reach her on Twitter @DrLeahCroll

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