Visitors are not permitted at Sunnybrook. Read more »

Hospital  >  Departments  >  Critical Care Medicine  >  Navigating the ICU  >  Who is who in the ICU?  >  Who are all the doctors taking care of my loved one?

Who are all the doctors taking care of my loved one?

A staff intensivist (see our staff intensivists here Link will open in a new window) is a physician specialized in Intensive Care Medicine Link will open in a new window, who leads the team for a week period, from Monday morning to the following Monday morning. Although the staff intensivist is not routinely at the hospital during the night, the rest of the team has direct access to him or her 24 hours a day.

An ICU fellow is a physician who is already specialized in anesthesia, surgery, internal medicine, emergency medicine or intensive care, and is now doing further training in Intensive Care Medicine. Fellows assume medical responsibilities and decision-making under supervision of the staff intensivists. There is always a fellow on call in the ICU, 24 hours a day.

Residents are physicians who are training in different medical specialties, and working in the ICU for one or more months at a time. Residents are learning how to take care of critically ill patients. They are responsible for assessing patients, writing orders and performing procedures under the supervision of the fellows.

Medical students are usually in their last years of medical school and assume a similar role to the residents. However, there is closer supervision of how they assess patients and perform procedures.

How do I know which doctor is which?

At certain times of the day it is easier than usual to identify physicians:

  • During patient daily rounds, the healthcare providers stand in a circle at the bedside, discuss the patient’s problems, and make care decisions. The staff intensivist or fellow leads the team. The resident or medical student responsible for your loved one will be presenting the facts, and the other residents and students will surround him or her. Many other health-care professionals, responsible for your loved one’s care, will be participating at rounds, too.
  • Early in the morning before daily rounds, when the residents/medical students assess your loved one and write notes at the bedside.

There is no dress code for the medical team in the ICU. Some physicians will wear scrubs, just as the nurses do, and others prefer to wear their regular clothes.

Why do my doctors change all the time?

Working in an ICU is quite intense and stressful for everyone, including the physicians (see the data on burnout Link will open in a new window). Therefore, teamwork is important. To provide the best care for your loved one, a different staff intensivist will lead the team every week. Fellows are often scheduled for the whole week, and there is always a fellow and resident on call, 24 hours a day.

Changing physicians all the time can be difficult for family members, but it allows doctors to take care of your loved one with a fresh mind.

Do intensivists consult with other medical teams while a patient is in the ICU?

The staff intensivist is primarily responsible for the care of your loved one in the ICU. However, as patients’ medical conditions can be extremely complex, intensivists will always collaborate with other specialists who can provide consultation, and help conduct medical investigations and treatments. For example,

  • For patients with seizures, a neurologist will be involved;
  • For patients with head trauma, a neurosurgeon will be involved;
  • For patients requiring dialysis, a nephrologist will be involved;
  • The staff intensivists will also work very closely with other physicians, who have been providing care before admission to the ICU. In the case of surgical or cancer patients, the intensivists will collaborate with the surgeons and oncologists (cancer doctors) who already know your loved one and can provide important information.

When do the other physicians see my loved one in the ICU?

All the doctors have different schedules. For example:

  • Surgeons are usually working in the operating room during the daytime, and will come either very early in the morning or late in the day.
  • Medical team physicians are a bit more flexible, but may also have outpatient clinics and/or ward patients to attend during the day. So, they will come when they can.

What this means is that even if you are not seeing the consulting physicians in the ICU, they are following up on your loved one. Also, the ICU team members communicate frequently with the other physicians to discuss the best care for your loved one.

If you would like to meet with one of the consulting team members, please ask one of the nurses or physicians in the ICU.

Back to Main

Satisfaction survey


This is a family satisfaction with care in the ICU survey.

Take the survey >

Location and contact

Critical Care Medicine

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
2075 Bayview Avenue, 
D-wing, 1st floor
room D1 08
Toronto, ON M4N 3M5

Phone: 416-480-4522
Fax: 416-480-4999

For information about patients admitted to Sunnybrook's Intensive Care Units, please contact the unit through the hospital switchboard at 416-480-6100