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What's It Like to Stay in the Hospital?

Medically reviewed by: Rebecca L. Gill, MD

Thinking about an upcoming hospital stay can make people feel a little worried. But if you need to go to the hospital, knowing what to expect before you get there can make things a little easier.

Why Do People Go to the Hospital?

People need to go to the hospital for different reasons. Some may be admitted to the hospital through the emergency department for problems that need immediate medical treatment. Others are scheduled for admission to have surgery, special medication, or other treatments prescribed by their doctors.

What Happens When I Get There?

If you do need to stay in the hospital, you'll first go through the admissions process. The admissions staff will take some information about you and fill in paperwork. Then you'll be taken to your room in the inpatient area.

Many hospitals have floors or areas just for hospitalized kids and teens, with staff that better understand younger people and have special training in working with them. Other hospitals, called pediatric hospitals, specialize in the care of kids and teens.

What Are Hospital Rooms Like?

In many ways, a hospital room is a lot like any bedroom. You'll have the typical furniture, like a bed, a bedside table, and a chair. Your room will probably also have a window, and usually a phone and TV. Most hospital rooms have bathrooms within the room.

You may have to share your room with another patient, but private rooms are sometimes available. If you share a room, you will probably be rooming with someone close to your own age.

Some hospitals also let a parent sleep in their kid's room. If you'd like a parent's company overnight, check with the hospital staff in advance to find out if they can arrange this.

Who Will I See in the Hospital?

In most cases, it won't be just one doctor, or just the doctor you're used to, taking care of you in the hospital.

In many larger hospitals — especially children's hospitals — nurses, nurse's aides, and therapists will also take part in your care. In some hospitals, doctors also work with medical students who are training to be doctors, and resident doctors who are getting additional training in a specialty, like pediatrics. You're likely to meet hospital volunteers as well.


Nurses are often the first people you meet when you get to the hospital. When you arrive, a nurse will ask you questions about your medical history and any symptoms you may have. He or she will get you settled into your hospital room and take your vital signs, which include your temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Nurses will also help you during your stay, and they can offer you some great tips on how to take care of yourself both during and after your stay — they might recommend stuff like putting a plastic bag over a cast when you shower to protect it. When you first arrive in your room, find out where the call button is so you can contact a nurse for assistance if you need help.


A doctor will supervise the care you receive while you're in the hospital, working closely with other caregivers. Your doctor might be a general pediatrician or a family doctor, who treats many kinds of medical problems that kids and teens have. Or your doctor may be a specialist with extra training in specific problems, like heart or kidney problems. The kind of doctor you'll have depends on the reason why you're in the hospital.

Here are a few of the medical personnel or specialists you might encounter:

  • Anesthesiologist: An anesthesiologist or certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) administers medicine just before surgery to keep you asleep during the procedure. The anesthesiologist is present during the operation to watch over you and make sure you have no pain.
  • Surgeon: A surgeon is the person who operates on you if you are having surgery.
  • Specialists: Some doctors are experts in specific fields, like cardiology (the heart and circulatory system), pulmonology (the lungs), or oncology (cancer care).
  • Child life specialist: A child life specialist is trained to talk to kids and teens about medical procedures and other parts of the hospital stay. They comfort patients if they are upset about something or need some extra support, and organize "play time" for hospitalized kids and teens to get together and hang out.
  • Medical student, intern, or resident: These are doctors-in-training or doctors who are learning a specialty such as pediatrics or surgery.
  • IV team and phlebotomists: Many hospitals have an IV team that does IV placement (an IV is a small straw-like tube that is placed into a vein under the skin to directly give someone fluids or medicines) or phlebotomists who draw any blood that is needed for tests.

Some specialists aren't doctors, but have training in specific areas of health care. A respiratory therapist, for example, helps teens who are having trouble breathing by giving breathing treatments or providing oxygen.

If you have to have a special diet while you're in the hospital, a dietitian will plan balanced meals to meet your nutritional needs. A physical therapist may help you move your joints and muscles and develop strength after surgery or an accident.


What Medical Tests Might I Have?

Many of the medical tests you'll have in the hospital are less painful than a 10-question pop quiz.

If a nurse asks you to pee in a cup, don't be surprised — your urine may be checked for bacteria, protein, sugar, and other things you probably never thought much about before. You may have your blood drawn so laboratory technicians can test it to evaluate whether there are any problems. Other samples may be taken and tested, depending on the reason you are in the hospital.

Several tests are used to create images of the body. One common type of imaging test is an X-ray. X-rays use small amounts of radiation to penetrate the body and form an images of your bones and organs on film.

Other common imaging tests include:

  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan: This uses special X-rays and computer enhancement to create a more detailed 3-D-like image of body parts, especially internal organs.
  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound study uses sound waves to produce images of internal organs like the kidneys or liver. Ultrasounds can look for fluid inside the belly and are commonly used to monitor an unborn baby's growth during pregnancy.
  • Echocardiogram: This special ultrasound test uses sound waves to examine the heart in detail.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI uses magnets and radio waves to produce extremely clear, detailed images of body organs, including the brain. MRIs are often used to diagnose sports injuries, especially those involving muscles and ligaments (the tough tissue that connects bones).

Looking Ahead

Some teens with serious illnesses or injuries may have to stay in the hospital for weeks, months, or even longer. This means a person's school life, relationships with friends, and extracurricular activities may be interrupted so they can receive extensive medical treatment. But these interruptions don't mean your life has to be put on hold.

Many hospitals, especially those that treat only kids and teens, have classes available to patients. Through these hospital schools, you can receive academic credit for your attendance and achievement. You'll still have homework, but the school will often provide teachers, tutors, computer access, and other tools you need to complete your education. In addition, the hospital's school program will often help you make the transition back into your school when your doctor says you may return.

Despite the support of your family and doctors, you may still feel sad and lonely sometimes. Teens who spend a lot of time in the hospital have a lot to deal with, so being frustrated, upset, and even angry is completely understandable.

One of the hardest things about being in the hospital for a while is that people miss out on social activities with their friends. Although people who have long hospital stays may be able to stay in touch with friends via phone, social media, and email, sometimes it just isn't the same.

Here are a few coping strategies:

  • Have a party at your place. Your friends may not understand that you want them to visit you in the hospital. After checking with your nurse, invite them to visit you and play cards, watch videos, or just hang out. Maybe they could even bring in a pizza (if your doctor or nurse says it’s OK for you to eat it!).
  • Make some new friends. Ask your child life specialists for names of secure online bulletin boards, chat rooms, and networking sites for teens with your medical condition.
  • Try the Teen Room. Many pediatric hospitals have special rooms or lounges just for teens. Teen rooms are often stocked with magazines, video games, art supplies, and music.
  • Find your release. Whether it's drawing, keeping a journal, making music, or talking, everyone needs a way to relieve stress. Find your own way to de-stress and do it daily.
Medically reviewed by: Rebecca L. Gill, MD
Date reviewed: November 2017