Patient Care

Why Required Pediatric Hospital Medicine Fellowships Are Unnecessary


The Joint Council of Pediatric Hospital Medicine (JCPHM), successor to the Strategic Planning (STP) Committee, recently recommended submitting a petition for two-year pediatric hospital medicine (PHM) fellowship certification to the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP), which was completed in 2014. In December 2015, the ABP Board of Directors voted to (1) approve the proposal for a two-year PHM fellowship incorporating scholarly activity with the provision that entrustable professional activities (EPAs) be used as the framework for assessing competencies and (2) not require those who achieve and maintain PHM certification to maintain general pediatrics certification. The proposal for certification of a two-year PHM fellowship will now be submitted to the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). Concerns regarding the formal certification of PHM as an ABMS-recognized subspecialty have been raised by many stakeholders, including community pediatric hospitalists, pediatric residency program directors, and med-peds physicians.

We feel that the “first, do no harm” guiding principle seems to have been forgotten by the ABP as it attempts to formalize the training of pediatric hospitalists. In December 2015, the ABP voted in favor of a two-year ACGME-accredited PHM fellowship. The intent was to “assure the best care of hospitalized children,” “assure the public,” “accelerate improvements and innovation in quality improvement,” and “raise the level of care of all hospitalized children by establishing best practices in clinical care.” To be clear, these goals are shared by all of us (although there is no indication that the public is seeking additional assurance). Prior to launching broad-scale, time-intensive, and financially costly initiatives, we should ensure that our efforts would achieve—rather than obstruct—their intended aims. In addition to a lack of evidence supporting that subspecialty certification will advance our path toward achieving these goals, there are numerous reasons a required PHM fellowship is unnecessary and potentially even harmful to the hospitalist workforce. The negative unintended consequences need to be weighed heavily.

We have found no data to support that children would receive inferior inpatient care from pediatric hospitalists due to lack of formal certification. Hospital medicine physicians are paving the way in quality improvement, high-value care, medical education, palliative care, and global health, supported in part through training in various non-accredited hospital medicine fellowships. There is nothing stopping pediatric hospitalists from establishing and disseminating best practices in clinical care. Hospitalists are already making strides in providing high-quality care at low costs, as demonstrated by the abundant PHM scholarly work described in the ABP application to the ABMS. The alleged problem of needing to build trust within the community is yet to be demonstrated, as we have leaders at local, regional, and national levels. The chief medical officer of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is a hospitalist as is our surgeon general. Hospital medicine is the fastest-growing specialty in the history of medicine,1 and we should seek to propel rather than fetter our future colleagues.

Below are our reasons for opposing this formal certification.

We already have a fellowship system.

As we all know, advanced training opportunities already exist for those interested in pursuing extra research and quality improvement training. Similar to other pediatric subspecialty fellowships, these PHM fellowships are undersubscribed (20% of PHM fellowships did not fill in 2016),2 with the majority of graduating pediatric residents transitioning to hospitalists opting not to pursue fellowship training. We should continue to let graduating pediatric residents vote with their feet without the undue influence of subspecialty certification.

Subspecialization has opportunity costs that may reduce the PHM pipeline.

Even if we assume an adequate number of fellowship programs could be developed and funded, our fear is that the decision to turn PHM into an accredited subspecialty could paradoxically reduce the pipeline of inpatient providers. Residency is already a three- to four-year endeavor (pediatrics and med-peds) that is poorly compensated and time-intensive. In the absence of evidence supporting the value of additional training, tacking on another two years seems unreasonable in the face of the student loan debt crisis, reduced compensation, and lost time for career advancement. These are significant opportunity costs. While most specialties lead to a significant pay raise to compensate for the added training time, pediatrics remains the lowest-paid physician specialty.3 Should PHM follow the trend of most pediatric subspecialties, pursuit of fellowship training would be a negative financial decision for residency graduates.4 For the health system, increasing debt-to-income ratios runs the risk of creating a medical education bubble market.5

More than 25% of med-peds graduates pursue careers in hospital medicine, a percentage that continues to grow, accounting for more than 100 new hospitalists per year.6 As a result, med-peds-trained hospitalists constitute more than 10% of the pediatric hospitalist workforce.6 Requiring PHM fellowship training may reduce this crucial pipeline of practitioners. In a 2014 unpublished survey of 225 med-peds practitioners, 78% of residents and 96% of attendings responded that they would not consider pursuing an ACGME-accredited PHM fellowship.7 This is compounded by a lack of parity with the practice of adult hospital medicine both in compensation and required training and is heightened by the fact that the training in question does not incorporate care for adult patients. There is clear consensus by 96% of med-peds hospitalists that the creation of an ACGME-certified PHM subspecialty will negatively affect the likelihood of med-peds providers pursuing PHM.7

Certification will pose a potential risk to specific patient populations.

We are also concerned that a reduced PHM workforce could disproportionately impact young adults with special healthcare needs and those children cared for in rural or community-based hospitals. Med-peds training equips providers to care for children with chronic diseases that then transition into adulthood; more than 25% provide care for young adults with special healthcare needs.6 With the increasing number of children with chronic health conditions surviving into adulthood,8 med-peds hospitalists serve essential roles in providing care and coordination for this vulnerable population. Furthermore, hospital medicine groups in medical systems that cannot support a full-time categorical pediatric hospitalist tend to employ med-peds physicians or family practitioners. Concerns with PHM certification are thus extended to those family medicine physicians who practice PHM.

Pediatric residency trains pediatricians in inpatient care.

We feel that the decision to move forward on PHM subspecialty certification calls into question the value of pediatric residency training. There is no evidence that clinical inpatient training in pediatrics residency is inadequate. If one leaves residency trained to do anything, it is practicing hospital medicine. A significant portion of residency takes place inpatient, both on wards and in the intensive care units. The 2009 ABP Foundation–funded study of PHM reported that 94% of pediatric hospitalist respondents rated their training in general clinical skills during residency as fully adequate, 85% rated their training in communication skills as fully adequate, and 73% did not believe any additional training beyond residency should be required.9 With respect to med-peds graduates, more than 90% feel equipped to care for children and adults upon residency completion.10 If the ABMS carries forward with this decision, the only clinical work one would be “certified” to do after residency is primary care. However, after completion of residency training, most of us feel at least as comfortable, if not more comfortable, caring for children in the inpatient setting.

Primary care should require subspecialty certification as well.

Furthermore, the decision to create a certified subspecialty begs the question as to why fellowship should not be mandated for those entering the field of primary care. Does the field of primary care not require research to move it forward? Does the field of primary care not require providers who can adeptly apply quality improvement methodologies to improve primary-care delivery? Does the public not require the same type of assurance? By these measures, primary care should require subspecialty certification as well. These arguments could easily be construed as an indictment of residency training.

The target should be residency training.

The PHM ABMS application describes a clinical curriculum consisting of eight core clinical rotations in various settings. That small number emphasizes the fact that extra clinical training is really not needed and that we do not require a complete overhaul of the current training system. The skills in question for the accredited PHM fellowship include communication, negotiation, leadership, quality improvement, pain management, sedation, procedures, transport, billing/coding, autonomous decision making, and scholarly practice. Are most of these not skills that we should foster in all practicing pediatricians? If graduating pediatric residents lack competence in core pediatric skills (e.g., communication, pain management, autonomous decision making), we should target improvements in residency education rather than require years of further training. Pediatrics residency training already requires training in quality improvement and is incorporating “tracks” that target areas of perceived deficiency. Those physicians who actually require specialized hospital-based skills (e.g., sedation, procedures, and transport) could receive core training during residency (e.g., through PHM tracks or electives) and further hone these skills through faculty development efforts. While non-PhD researchers may benefit from additional training in research methodologies, this training comes at the expense of time spent caring for patients on the wards and should not be required training for the majority of pediatric hospitalists pursuing purely clinical roles.

Broad-based support for a PHM subspecialty has not been demonstrated.

While approximately 40 pediatric hospitalists originated the PHM certification petition, we have not seen clear support for subspecialty certification from the community. PHM certification runs the risk of alienating the general pediatrics community, as many outpatient pediatricians continue to care for their patients in the inpatient setting. Furthermore, at tertiary-care medical centers, pediatric subspecialists often serve as hospitalists, yet this stakeholder group has not entered into this conversation. Importantly, the Association of Pediatric Program Directors (APPD) did not endorse this proposal. Many of the APPD members were quite concerned about the harm this certification could cause. While the APA Board and the AAP Board of Directors support PHM subspecialty certification, it is not clear that the rank-and-file members do. The Society of Hospital Medicine did not support or oppose certification. In an era of controversy surrounding certification requirements, prior to making a decision that will alter the direction of an entire field and impact all future residency graduates interested in entering that field, we should ensure there is broad-based support for this decision.

An alternative path has already been established and validated.

A more prudent, cost-effective, and universally acceptable approach would be to follow in the footsteps of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) and American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) in establishing a Focused Practice in Pediatric Hospital Medicine program. This approach respects the unique body of knowledge required of those who care for hospitalized children while maintaining the required flexibility to nurture and help to mature existing training pipelines. Core hospital medicine skills should be further honed through residency curricular changes and faculty development efforts, while hospital-based physicians interested in developing niche skills could still do so via already existing fellowships.

When it comes to pediatric hospital medicine, first, do no harm.

Pediatric hospitalists are inpatient generalists by training and clinical approach. Our practices vary from large academic medical centers with every imaginable subspecialty consult service available to remote rural settings that require hospitalists to possess unique and specific skills. Some pediatric hospitalists participate in newborn care, some perform sedations, and some perform a variety of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. The current system is meeting the needs of the vast majority of our PHM community. Changes to the residency curriculum that are already under way can address any clinical and quality improvement gaps. More than enough PHM fellowships are available to those who choose to pursue them. The public is not requesting reassurance, and the field is already advancing at a rapid rate both clinically and scholarly. Subspecialty recognition is not necessary and will likely lead to negative unintended consequences. Given the financial constraints on our current system and the need for pediatric hospitalists to be stewards of high-value care, we should make collective decisions that will clearly benefit our patients and health system. As medical professionals, our priority should always be first, do no harm.

Weijen W. Chang, MD, is chief of the Division of Pediatric Hospital Medicine at Baystate Children’s Hospital and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Leonard Samuel Feldman, MD, is director of the Medicine-Pediatrics Urban Health Residency Program and associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Bradley Monash, MD, is associate chief of medicine at University of California, San Francisco and assistant clinical professor of medicine and pediatrics at UCSF School of Medicine.

Archna Eniasivam, MD, is assistant clinical professor of medicine at UCSF School of Medicine.


  1. Chen C, Eagle S. “Should Pediatric HM Pursue Subspecialty Certification, Required Fellowship Training?” The Hospitalist. July 31, 2012
  2. Results and Data: Specialties Matching Service 2016 Appointment Year. National Resident Matching Program website. Accessed May 15, 2016.
  3. Medscape Pediatrician Compensation Report 2015. Medscape website. Accessed April 29, 2016.
  4. Rochlin JM, Simon HK. Does fellowship pay: what is the long-term financial impact of subspecialty training in pediatrics? Pediatrics. 2001;127(2):254-260.
  5. Asch DA, Nicholson S, Vujicic M. Are we in a medical education bubble market? N Engl J Med. 2013;369(21):1973-1975.
  6. O’Toole JK, Friedland AR, Gonzaga AM, et al. The practice patterns of recently graduated internal medicine-pediatric hospitalists. Hosp Pediatr. 2015;5(6):309-314.
  7. Society of Hospital Medicine: Survey of Med-Peds Physicians about PHM Certification. May 2014 (unpublished).
  8. Goodman DM, Hall M, Levin A, et al. Adults with chronic health conditions originating in childhood: inpatient experience in children’s hospitals. Pediatrics. 2011;128(1):5-13.
  9. Freed GL, Dunham KM, Research Advisory Committee of the American Board of P. Pediatric hospitalists: training, current practice, and career goals. J Hosp Med. 2009;4(3):179-186.
  10. Donnelly MJ, Lubrano L, Radabaugh CL, Lukela MP, Friedland AR, Ruch-Ross HS. The med-peds hospitalist workforce: results from the American Academy of Pediatrics Workforce Survey. Hosp Pediatr. 2015;5(11):574-579.

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