What is a teaching hospital?

Did you know that there are different types of hospitals? Does it matter to you or your loved ones what type of hospital you end up going to? If you didn’t, you should. Hospitals come in many varieties, just like cheese. Depending on your needs – from a fiscal standpoint to an emotional and physical standpoint, there is much to be considered when choosing a hospital.

Is a teaching hospital right for you?

One hospital many people are familiar with are teaching hospitals. These are the types of hospitals you mostly see in the media – from the soapy and dramatic Grey’s Anatomy to the hilarious and goofy Scrubs sitcom. Teaching hospitals, which are also known as academic medical centers, are usually affiliated with a particular medical school. For example, in Arizona, Banner University in downtown Phoenix is associated with University of Arizona Medical School and the Master’s Entry to Nursing Program.  This means that medical students and nursing students from those programs care for patients at that specific hospital.

Advantages of a teaching hospital:

Many of these teaching hospitals are focused on teaching, which means that most times, these types of hospitals have heightened advantages in areas of education and research. What does this mean for you as a patient or if you’re someone caring for a loved one in a hospital? Some advantages include:

  • Emphasis on research means innovative treatments or procedures
  • Specialized surgeries or experimental medical procedures done by top specialists who are involved with research
  • State-of-the-art equipment and technologies
  • Physicians and surgeons available 24-hours a day

The cons of a teaching hospital:

There are great things about being a patient in a teaching hospital, but there are also cons, which should be carefully considered when choosing a surgeon to complete your surgery at a particular hospital.

  • Invasive or unnecessary diagnostics or treatments

Since these teaching hospitals have teams of providers including interns, NPs, PAs, residents, having high-tech equipment that is state of the art pushes clinicians to order unnecessary diagnostics or treatments. Patients may have more tests ordered than otherwise necessary, and unfortunately, some of these tests may be highly invasive, and can cause more issues than solve them.

  • Cutting edge/progressive treatments or procedures do not always equate to long term effectiveness

Just because something is highly innovative does not always mean that it is an effective treatment for your particular situation as a patient. Many innovative treatments being completed at academic medical centers are so new that they have not yet been written in journals. This means that they have not yet been proven to provide long term effectiveness. This can be a frustrating issue for patients and families.

  • Physicians and surgeons available 24-hours a day

I know, I know. This point was listed above in the pros section, so why is it listed here as well? Simply because it is both a pro and a con. Although a patient at a teaching hospital is assured to have a clinician available 24-hours a day, it’s possible that the clinician may be an intern who just graduated from medical school 3 months ago, or a nurse practitioner who has little hands on experience in dealing with an emergency or a specific disease process.

  • Less privacy

If you’ve ever been to a teaching hospital, you may have experienced a hoard of students following an attending. It can feel intimidating to be the center of attention, and it can be strange to have others talk to you or examine you, which can make you feel like a lab rat. If you’re modest due to religious reasons or if you feel uncomfortable at all, you can always let the providers know that you prefer not having a gaggle of students examine you. You always have a choice on who can examine you. Remember, you also (often times) have a choice in not being admitted to a teaching hospital in order to avoid groups of students or teams.


An academic medical center is often times the epicenter of innovative and cutting edge treatments. Being a patient at a teaching hospital means that you’ll be receiving care from medical students, residents, clinicians who attended physician assistant school or nurse practitioner school, specialists, registered nurses, dietitians, and many others under the umbrella of care of an attending. These types of hospitals emphasize research and improvement of healthcare through learning, and many of them partner with medical and nursing schools. Teaching hospitals have benefits, both positive and negative, and should be carefully considered before being admitted.

If you’re having a surgery, check which hospital your surgeon is affiliated with.  And be sure to take these considerations seriously when making your hospital election.

Lastly, if you don’t have a healthcare background or a loved one to help you while you’re hospitalized, Navi has nurse advocates to help you in your hospital journey, whether you’re a teaching hospital or not. Get peace of mind with an expert registered nurse by your side.

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