What is an Internist?

An Internist is a specialized type of Doctor. Also known as: General Internist, Doctor of Internal Medicine, Primary Care Physician.

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.

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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 "sub-specialize" 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

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 sub-specialize in a particular medical area is both broad and deep. Subspecialty training (often called a "fellowship") usually requires an additional one to three years beyond the standard three year general internal medicine residency.

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Further Reading

  • A Look At Five Career Options In Internal Medicine

    A panel of internists spoke candidly to residents about the pros and cons of several career choices. Here's what they had to say about five different internal medicine practice settings.

  • A Day In The Life Of An Internist

    Internists are doctors who diagnose and treat adult patients at all stages of health. They're usually the first doctor you'll see if you have a general issue and aren't sure which specialist to go to.

  • A Day In The Life Of An Internist

    I feel that a good doctor is a good teacher, and one of my obligations is to educate my patients as well as possible.

  • General Practitioner Vs. Internist

    Some physicians prefer to practice medicine in a broader sense, providing across-the-board primary care to a consistent group of patients over their career. Internists and general practitioners are two of the common types of primary care physicians.

  • Internal Medicine Physician Career Profile

    Internists are typically generalists who cover a broad scope of medicine to include total body wellness, disease prevention, and management of chronic conditions and illnesses. Internists typically treat adults, some adolescents, and elderly as well.

  • What's An "Internist"?

    Internal medicine physicians are specialists who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness.

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