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Joanna Bonsall

Joanna Bonsall, MD, PhDName:

Joanna Bonsall, MD, PhD


Undergrad Institution; Degree and Major:

Emory University, BS in Biology

Medical School:

Emory University SOM (MD/PhD Program)

In practice since:


Your Specialty:

Hospital Medicine

Where and for how many years did you train AFTER medical school:

Emory Internal Medicine Residency Program – 3 years

How did you choose your specialty?

After spending my graduate years doing research in a very narrowly focused field, I found the breadth of internal medicine to be very refreshing - I wanted to know it all! I enjoyed the relationships I formed with patients, and I loved the problem-solving.

During residency, I was most drawn to acutely ill patients. I liked the relationships I had with my clinic patients (and actually kept my clinic for a while after becoming a hospitalist, mainly because I couldn’t say goodbye to them!), but was intellectually drawn to the problems clinicians see in the hospital. I even tried to choose a subspecialty – but always came back to wanting the variety of general medicine.

What do you like MOST, and like LEAST, about your specialty?

I love the acute problem-solving that you have to do in the hospital. I like being the “first-line” clinician for the hospitalized patient – I can choose who and when I ask for help, if I need it. Although we don’t often have longitudinal relationships with our patients, we do have very intense relationships – we’re frequently seeing patients at the time of their greatest physical and emotional needs. I feel that I am often not just there for the patient – but also for their families as well.

I also love that there are so many opportunities outside of clinical practice. Hospitalists frequently gravitate towards leadership positions – including hospital Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) or even hospital CEOs. We can be educators, we can do clinical research, we can work on improving hospital care from a systems-level. I’ve been able to create my career in the way that I’ve wanted. Every day is different for me.

That said, the long and intense shifts are not for everybody. Most schedules are built around a variation of working 7 12-hour shifts, followed by 7 days off. You have to be good at managing your life around the “on/off” lifestyle – you’re frequently off in the middle of the week, when everybody is working, and if you’re a full-time clinical hospitalist, you work every other weekend, when the rest of your friends and family are playing.

In addition, hospitalists sometimes have the reputation of being the “worker bees”, rather than the experts in the care of hospitalized patients. That misconception is something that many of us are working to overcome.

In your opinion, what attributes are important in anyone choosing this specialty?

I think you must be a “problem-solver” to be drawn to Internal Medicine, and to Hospital Medicine in particular. You should be compelled by medical mysteries and want to figure them out – even if that mystery is “why does this patient keep coming back to the hospital?” You should also be willing to see yourself as just part of the bigger healthcare whole, and be able to work well in a team environment.

Hobbies/special interests:

Family life is front and center for me now – my kids are 8 and 13, and are involved in a lot of activities. We like camping and traveling, and are trying to find time to do some sailing.