Internists are medical doctors who only treat adults. They practice internal medicine, which broadly refers to conditions affecting the internal organs.
There are many different areas of medicine and various types of medical doctors, which can be confusing for people seeking care.
In this article, we explain what internists do, how they differ from general practitioners, and what education and training they require.
An internist is a medical doctor who specializes in internal medicine. This branch of medicine covers a wide range of conditions that affect the organs inside the body. Internists only work with adults and not with children or adolescents.
Internists treat a wide range of conditions in adults. However, some internists focus on specific areas of internal medicine within their specialty.
Examples of these subspecialties include:
- infectious disease
- pulmonary disease
Internists treat adults of all ages and are the first point of treatment for most people. They typically work in an office or clinic, but some might work at hospitals, such as in an intensive care unit.
Internal medicine is a broad field, so the work of an internist varies. For example, they could be treating one person with diabetes and another with an ear infection. Their job is to coordinate care and manage treatment, possibly over long periods.
Internists need a broad, comprehensive knowledge of medicine. Many people undergoing treatment develop multiple long-term conditions, especially as they age. To provide good care, an internist needs to have an in-depth understanding of each condition and the ways in which they interact.
The internist will monitor each condition carefully and, if necessary, update treatment approaches regularly to optimize the management of symptoms.
Internists may also conduct medical or academic research, which can involve many different tasks ranging from running clinical trials to analyzing healthcare records.
The training program to become an internist is similar to that in other areas of medicine. It starts with gaining entry to medical school.
Most medical schools require students to have an undergraduate degree before entering, but some will accept 3 years of college.
Although it is not essential, most medical schools prefer students to take subjects that are relevant to medicine, such as biology or chemistry.
Students will also need to pass a Medical College Admission Test to enter medical school. This test is a multiple-choice examination that evaluates the student’s suitability for both medical training and working as a doctor in the future. Top medical schools expect high scores on this test.
In medical school, students will undertake 4 years of medical training and education. This training will involve structured study and rotations in medical practices and hospitals.
After completing a medical degree, internists must take up a general internal medicine residency program, which will provide more hands-on training to prepare for life as a doctor.
The residency program is essential for doctors to practice medicine in the United States. These programs usually last at least 3 years, but they can be longer for specializations that include surgery.
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All doctors must pass a medical licensing examination during the first year of their residency. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education accredit these programs.
Following the completion of a residency, some internists may choose to specialize. They will do a fellowship in their area of specialization, which can take up to 3 years.
Some internists wish to develop more formal research skills, such as through a Ph.D. or a research fellowship. Having a good understanding of research methods and statistics is essential to keep up with new treatments. It is common for some doctors to spend a certain amount of their time on medical research.
Internists and general practitioners are similar and will often see many of the same patients. They are both primary care doctors, but there are key differences.
While internists work with adults, general practitioners provide care for people of all ages, including children and adolescents.
During their education, a general practitioner will train in both internal medicine and other types of medicine, including pediatric care for children.
Internists are medical doctors who treat a broad range of conditions in adults. They are most people’s first point of call for medicine and typically treat the same individuals over long periods.
The job of an internist is challenging, as they deal with many different types of conditions. Some people have multiple long-term conditions and require complex care.
Internists often work with other specialists to provide treatment. Some also engage in medical research.
Their training route involves 4 years of medical school and at least 3 years of residency.