9 Things to Expect During a Hospital Stay

  • Doctor and senior patient talking in hospital room
    Prepare for Your Hospital Stay
    If you’ve never been hospitalized before, you might be a bit intimidated, overwhelmed and scared. These emotions are completely normal! A hospital is an unfamiliar place, full of all sorts of unusual sounds and smells. Learning a bit more about what to expect during your stay may ease your mind. Whether you’re planning a procedure or have an unexpected hospital admission, this overview will help you prepare for your hospital stay.
  • doctor-consulting-patient-husband-and-wife-in-hospital
    1. You’ll be asked lots of questions.
    When you’re first admitted to the hospital, you’ll go through the admissions process. In most cases, a clerk will ask for your insurance information. A nurse or doctor will ask you a lot of questions about your medical history, current health, and medication regimen. As you answer, they will probably type your answers into a computer.

    You may be asked some of the same questions more than once during your hospital stay—often, because staff want to know if anything has changed.
  • Closeup of woman's hands packing suitcase
    2. The hospital will provide essential supplies.
    You don’t need to bring anything to the hospital; you’ll be given a gown to wear and the hospital will provide basic toiletries and meals, as ordered by your healthcare provider. However, you’ll probably be a lot more comfortable if you bring some items from home. Consider packing some clean underwear, comfy socks, non-skid slippers and a robe; you may also want to bring some loose-fitting pajamas.

    Be sure to bring any necessary personal supplies, including glasses, dentures and hearing aids.
  • Two patients in shared hospital room
    3. You may need to share a room.
    Many hospitals now feature single-patient rooms, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll have a private room. If there are other patients in your room, you can expect curtains between each bed. These curtains may be open during the day or pulled for privacy, depending on your preference.

    Hospital staff will work to protect your privacy at all times, even if you’re sharing a room. Your care team can also help you figure out how to get the quiet time and rest you need to recover.
  • Nurse Examining Patient Lying On Bed In Hospital
    4. Many different healthcare providers will be involved in your care.
    Healthcare is a team effort. In addition to your doctor and a rotating cast of nurses, you’ll also see certified nursing assistants, dietary aids, laboratory technicians, housekeepers, and therapists. If you are in a large teaching hospital, you may also see medical students, resident doctors, and student nurses.

    Everyone who comes into your room should introduce themselves and tell you their role in your care. If they do not, feel free to ask. You have a right to know who is involved in your care.
  • radiologist preparing young patient for MRI
    5. You may need some tests.
    Medical tests help healthcare providers understand what’s going on in your body. Common tests include X-rays, CT (computed tomography, or CAT) scans, ultrasounds, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Each of these tests allows the medical team to visualize specific parts within the body in detail.

    Blood and urine tests are also common. A nurse may ask you to provide a urine sample. Technicians may come to your room to draw blood from your arm.
  • Midsection Of Woman in Hospital With Food On Table
    6. You’ll be on a special diet.
    When you enter the hospital, your doctor will prescribe a special diet for you, based on your condition and physical needs. If you’re having serious digestive problems or may need surgery in the near future, you might not be allowed any food or drink for a while. After surgery, patients may be restricted to a clear liquid diet at first, until staff are sure that your body is able to handle solid foods.

    It is not a good idea to bring food from home, unless your medical team has said it’s OK to do so.
  • Patient lying in hospital bed asleep
    7. You won’t sleep as well as you do at home.
    On average, patients sleep about two hours less per night in the hospital than they do at home. Some of that sleep loss is unavoidable—it’s difficult to rest when you’re uncomfortable and in an unfamiliar environment. And, staff may need to check on you or administer medication during the night.

    You can increase your odds of a good night’s sleep by bringing your pillow from home. Ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones are also helpful to block out noise.
  • Smiling female doctor consulting with senior male patient and adult daughter in exam room
    8. You make decisions about your care.
    You may feel a little disoriented and overwhelmed in the hospital. Healthcare providers tend to use a lot of clinical words and jargon, and sometimes they forget that most people don’t understand those terms or what they describe. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t understand what your doctor or nurse says, ask them to explain it again in terms you can understand.

    Ultimately, you have the right to make decisions about your care. You should be fully informed of the potential benefits and risks of all suggested procedures and treatments.
  • Hospital-staff-with-disable-patient-in-wheelchair
    9. Discharge planning begins almost immediately.
    Staff members may begin asking you questions about your post-hospital plans on your first day in the hospital. They’re not trying to push you through the system; they want to understand your current living arrangement and anticipate any needs you may have upon discharge. They may ask, for example, if you have to climb stairs to get into your home, especially if you’re there for a knee or hip replacement.

    Your nurse and doctor will work with you and your family to establish a plan for your continued care after hospitalization.
9 Things to Expect During a Hospital Stay | Hospital Admission Tips

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men.
  1. What’s It Like to Stay in the Hospital? Nemours Foundation. https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/hospital-stay.html
  2. Hospital Check-In. Stanford Health. https://stanfordhealthcare.org/for-patients-visitors/hospital-check-in.html
  3. What to Expect as a Patient. Yale New Haven Health. https://www.ynhh.org/childrens-hospital/patients-visitors/what-to-expect.aspx
  4. What to Expect From Your Hospital Stay. British Heart Foundation. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/wellbeing/what-to-expect-from-your-hospital-stay
  5. What to Expect. University of Rochester Medical Center. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/strong-memorial/patients-families/hospital-stay/what-to-expect.aspx#HomecookedFood
  6. Getting Sleep in the Hospital. Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/getting-sleep-in-the-hospital-2019123118571
  7. Wesselius H, van den Ende E, Alsma J, et al. (2018). Quality and Quantity of Sleep and Factors Associated With Sleep Disturbance in Hospitalized Patients. JAMA Internal Medicine, 178(9), 1201. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.2669. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2687528
  8. Hospital Discharge Planning: A Guide for Families and Caregivers. Family Caregiver Alliance. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/getting-sleep-in-the-hospital-2019123118571
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 May 5
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.