Why SHM won’t be saying “allied health” anymore

Imagine for a second that, instead of being defined by what you are at work, you were defined by what you aren’t.

What if hospitalists were called “non-executive caregivers” or “non-janitorial staff?”

Confusing, at best. And potentially even demeaning, depending on the context.

That’s what happens to lots of nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists and other valuable members of the hospital care team all the time. Instead of being called by the titles that they’ve worked hard to earn, some in the hospital use terms that define them by what they aren’t, like “non-physician provider,” “allied health provider,” “physician extender,” or “mid-level.” More to the point, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and pharmacists are a critical part of the hospitalist teams that work to deliver exceptional care to hospitalized patients.

This is not a fringe issue. Today, nearly 800 SHM members identify themselves as NPs, PAs, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, registered nurses, registered dietitians, physical therapists, research managers or program coordinators.

That’s why, effective this month, SHM has begun to phase out and not use any of the following terms in its future materials:

  • “Allied health”
  • “Non-physician provider”
  • “Physician extender”
  • “Mid-level”

Instead, we plan to use the names for individual groups, like “physician assistants,” “nurse practitioners,” or “pharmacists.”

For first-hand perspective on how deeply these kinds of terms are felt by NPs and PAs, please read SHM NP/PA Committee Chair Tracy Cardin’s recent blog post on The Hospital Leader.

Admittedly there may be times when using terms like “allied health” are more expedient, but the potential for alienating members of the hospitalist family outweighs the need for convenience. And it will take some time for us to fully adjust some of our internal nomenclature (in things like our databases and meeting registration systems) to the change.

SHM is committed to properly identifying all of SHM’s members. Identity is important in medicine – both to the caregivers and their patients. Just 18 years ago, Bob Wachter coined the word “hospitalist”; since then, the term now applies to more than 44,000 in healthcare.

Today, we’re taking one step toward helping everyone in healthcare better describe the value and expertise of the members of the hospitalist team.

How do you use your titles to convey your contribution to patient care? Let us know in the comments or join the conversation on HMX.

Brendon Shank is the Associate Vice President of the Society of Hospital Medicine and is a member of the PRSA Health Academy Executive Committee. You can find him on Twitter, @BShank.


  1. Megan on February 26, 2014 at 12:42 am

    Bravo SHM! Thank you for helping squelch these nebulous “non-specific” antiquated terminologies. This means so much to all of us “non-doctors”!

  2. Sharon Kulesz on February 27, 2014 at 8:41 am

    Fantastic ! As physician assistant and a big SHM supporter, I cannot tell you how much more respect I have for the organization with this new adoption. PAs, NPs, and other healthcare professionals deserve to be recognizd for who they are. I spent many years beating this drum. Thank you for hearing the music!

  3. Harrison Reed on February 27, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Proper respect for clinicians AND a blow against lazy and inaccurate communication. Sounds like a win-win. Way to stay on the right side of progress! Kudos!

  4. Amber Garwood on March 7, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Thank you so much, I have fought for my institution to remove physician extender from our job postings. After 2 1/2 years it is now gone! We are all providers and it is great to finally be recognized as such.

Leave a Comment