What does an Internist do?

What is an Internist?

Internal medicine physicians are specialists who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise in order to diagnose, treat, and practice compassionate care for adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness.

Simply put, internists are Doctors of Internal Medicine. You may see them referred to by several terms, including "general internists," "internists" and "doctors of internal medicine." They are not to be mistaken with "interns," who are doctors in their first year of residency training.

Internists are not "family physicians, although internists may act as primary care physicians", "general practitioners," or "family practitioners", whose training is not solely concentrated on adults and may include obstetrics, surgery and pediatrics.

What does an Internist do?

Internists are equipped to deal with whatever problem a patient brings, no matter how simple or complex, common or rare. They are specially trained to solve puzzling diagnostic problems and can handle chronic illnesses and situations where several different illnesses may be prevalent at the same time. They also bring to patients an understanding of wellness (the promotion of health and disease prevention), women's health, mental health, substance abuse, as well as effective treatment of common problems of the ears, eyes, skin, nervous system and reproductive organs.

Internists can choose to focus their practice on general internal medicine or take additional training to "subspecialize" in additional areas of internal medicine. There are 13 subspecialties of internal medicine:

  • Adolescent medicine
  • Allergy and immunology
  • Cardiology (heart)
  • Endocrinology (diabetes and other glandular disorders)
  • Gastroenterology (colon and intestinal tract)
  • Geriatrics (care of the elderly)
  • Hematology (blood)
  • Infectious disease
  • Nephrology (kidneys)
  • Oncology (cancer)
  • Pulmonology (lungs)
  • Rheumatology (arthritis)
  • Sports medicine

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How to become an Internist

An undergraduate degree is required before attending medical school. A B average or above in math and science courses in undergraduate study are needed to get into medical school. While in undergraduate school, preparation is needed for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). A score on the MCAT is required before entering graduate school. The first three years of medical school is concentrated on basic medical courses, while the last three years is largely clinical work. Once complete, residency work is required which is often an additional two to six years. Finally, a board test is required to receive board certification.

The training an internist receives to subspecialize in a particular medical area is both broad and deep (see the 13 subspecialties above). Subspecialty training (often called a "fellowship") usually requires an additional one to three years beyond the standard three year general internal medicine residency.

What is the workplace of an Internist like?

A doctor of internal medicine may work in a clinic, private office or hospital. Work in a clinic or hospital usually provides a salary or percentage of profit from clinic work. Usually, an office is provided when working in a clinic or hospital. Additionally, when working for a clinic or hospital, sufficient staff are available for billing, patient care and to assist with diagnostic testing. Opening a private office provides flexibility, however the doctor is responsible for providing staff to assist with patients and billing.