What is an Intensivist?

In the last few years, there has been a significant increase in the skills, knowledge, and related technology essential to treat critically ill patients. This in turn has led to the development of ICUs or Intensive Care Units. These are specially allocated areas within hospitals and infirmaries with the necessary expertise and appropriate infrastructure to treat critical illness. Severely ill patients are admitted and cared for in ICUs.

As an all-encompassing speciality, intensive care is headed by an intensivist medicine specialist or an Intensivist. This is a critical care physician and a board-certified doctor who provides specialized care for the critically ill. An intensivist usually has extensive advanced training and experience in treating patients with health complications.

What kind of training does an intensivist have?

An Intensivist, like any doctor, completes medical school and then a residency. Then, they proceed to obtain board certification in any speciality of their choosing. Surgery, internal medicine, paediatrics or pulmonary medicine are the most common specialities for intensivists. To stay abreast with the latest advancements, most intensivists opt for 2 to 3-year fellowships and additional certifications in critical care medicine. Consultant intensivists are trained to manage and operate both adult and pediatric ICUs.

How does an intensivist differ from other specialists who treat the critically ill?

In caring for patients in the ICU, the most basic difference between an intensivist and a specialist is that of a comprehensive approach. Instead of focusing on specific organ systems like pulmonologists who focus on the respiratory system or cardiologists who specialize in the vascular system, intensivists have a more wide-ranging, all-inclusive course of treatment.

The primary responsibility of the intensivist is to care for the patient in the ICU. Rather than acting as an advisor, as is common with consulting specialists. It is a position of acute responsibility and absolute pressure. Clarity and decisiveness, combined with a sense of fortitude and firm mental faculty make for a good intensivist. As the leader, the intensivist oversees and coordinates the countless decisions involved in the care of a critically ill patient. The intensivist heads a team of qualified caregivers who are experts in diverse specialities. They are also expected to supervise all other essential services the patient may need during treatment.

How does an intensivist improve the quality of care in the ICU?

n the most common setups about complex patient care, the patient is first admitted under a primary consultant before entering the ICU. If this primary consultant is not an Intensivist, they lack the skills relating to comprehensive critical care. Time, accuracy, and immediate action are elemental in the domain of healthcare and more so in critical care.

Misinformation, inexperience, and ignorance of the latest guidelines and practices could extract a hefty toll in the form of inopportune expenses, and inaccurate prognosis jeopardizing patient wellbeing. Especially, in the context of the critically ill. Therefore, a critical care specialist or an intensivist in such a setting is indispensable. The presence of an intensivist will conclusively enhance patient safety. It will also improve the wide-ranging outcomes in terms of accurate prognosis, mortality, and morbidity.

Intensivists follow evidence-based procedures and guidelines intended for intensive care. These strategies are established by the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM). The implementation of such guidelines has several well-documented patient benefits. Improved outcomes, including survival rates, higher medication safety, significantly reduced complications accompanied by shorter lengths of stay in the ICU, and diminished costs are some of the most noticeable improvements.


Intensive care involves saving lives. When done correctly, it could also save a patient’s quality of life. With time, medical professionals, and hospital managers have fostered a greater understanding of intensive care medicine. Even the general public has become receptive to the concept of intensive care as a speciality. However, recognition of the need for a consultant intensivist or a specialist in critical care is widely lacking. Also, acknowledgement of a role for doctors focusing on intensive care medicine has failed to gain such widespread acceptance.

There could be some reasons for this indifference. The fact that intensive care medicine is a relatively new speciality could have a hand. In many instances socio-political and economic factors also play a significant role in the broader acceptance of a consultant intensivist in the ICU. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly clear that the presence of an intensive care medicine specialist supervising an ICU improves patient outcomes in terms of previously enumerated quality indicators.