What is Internal Medicine

Why Have an Internal Medicine Physician as your Primary Care Physician?

By Denise Grimes

There seems to be a considerable amount of confusion over just what internal medicine is. A doctor of internal medicine is called an internist. Don’t mistake them with “interns,” who are doctors right out of medical school and in their first year of residency training.

Doctors of internal medicine focus on adult medicine and have had special study and training focusing on the prevention and treatment of adult diseases. At least three of their seven or more years of medical school and postgraduate training are dedicated to learning how to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases that affect adults. Internists are sometimes referred to as the “doctor’s doctor,” because they are often called upon to act as consultants to other physicians to help solve puzzling diagnostic problems.

Simply put, internists are doctors of internal medicine or doctors for adults. Although internists may act as primary care physicians, they are not “family physicians,” “family practitioners,” or “general practitioners,” whose training is not solely concentrated on adults and may include surgery, obstetrics, and pediatrics.

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

In today’s complex medical environment, internists take pride in caring for their patients for life––in the office or clinic, during hospitalization and intensive care, and in nursing homes. When other medical specialists, such as surgeons or obstetricians, are involved, they coordinate their patient’s care and manage difficult medical problems associated with that care.

Internists can choose to focus their practice on general internal medicine, or may take additional training to “subspecialize” in one or more of the dozen or so subspecialties of internal medicine. cardiology (heart), pulmonology (lungs), endocrinology (diseases of endocrine glands like diabetes and thyroid), geriatrics (aging), and neurology (brain and nervous system) are just a few examples of these subspecialties. The training an internist receives to subspecialize 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.

Upon completion of internal medicine training, the internist takes their internal medicine board examinations. This consists of a written examination to demonstrate their competency in internal medicine. After successfully completing the board examinations, the internist is referred to as being board certified in internal medicine.