Specialty Overview

What does a pulmonary/critical care specialist do?

Pulmonary/critical care medicine encompasses a wide variety of patient care opportunities and offers a large spectrum of practice opportunities. The majority of pulmonary/critical care specialists enjoy a practice that provides care for both inpatients and outpatients.

Inpatient care involves critically ill patients with multiorgan system disease and requires the ability to synthesize large amounts of data (labs, test results, etc.) while also coordinating care with other disciplines, as caring for the critically ill is an interdisciplinary endeavor. While the majority of pulmonary/critical care practitioners work in general intensive care unit (ICU) settings, providing care for a wide variety of patients, some specialists choose to specialize even further and work primarily in neurological units, cardiac units, etc. More commonly, specialists alternate time caring for patients in the ICU with caring for inpatients with pulmonary diseases and also providing longitudinal care for a population of clinic patients with pulmonary disorders. Thus there are many options to tailor one’s practice to fit a desired work-life balance.

Some specialists transition from caring for ICU patients to doing more outpatient work as they progress in their careers. There is also the opportunity to further specialize in the outpatient arena, with some specialists focusing on asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sarcoidosis, interstitial lung disease, pulmonary hypertension, lung cancer and lung transplantation.

Pulmonary/critical care specialists enjoy performing procedures such as bronchoscopy, chest tube insertion, intubation, thoracentesis and central line placement. Interventional pulmonology is a growing field, with providers performing bronchoscopic removal of tumors via laser and other modalities, percutaneous tracheotomy placement in the ICU, and advanced pleural procedures such as insertion of pleural catheters to drain malignant effusions.

Related Training



American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST)
2595 Patriot Blvd.
Glenview, IL 60026
(224) 521-9800

President of Association
Clayton T. Cowl, MD, MS, FCCP

Mission of the CHEST
CHEST is the global leader in advancing best patient outcomes through innovative chest medicine education, clinical research, and team-based care. Its mission is to champion the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of chest diseases through education, communication, and research. It serves as an essential connection to clinical knowledge and resources for its 19,000+ members from around the world who provide patient care in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine. 

American Thoracic Society
25 Broadway, 18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
(212) 315-8600