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What Is an Internal Medicine Specialist?

By Erin Oxendine
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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An internal medicine specialist is a doctor who primarily concentrates on treating and diagnosing diseases in adults. These professionals treat the whole body, not just the internal organs, in order to improve a person’s condition. Doctors who specialize in internal medicine are known as internists and often work as general practitioners. These specialists and their staff emphasize preventative medicine and patient education as a way of helping people take better care of themselves.

One of the responsibilities of a doctor in this field is to treat a variety of conditions and complaints. Some of the medical conditions an internal medicine specialist treats are cardiovascular disorders, respiratory diseases and acute illnesses. Most internists also see patients with illness such as anemia, ulcers, and obesity.

There are different services that an internal medicine doctor provides when seeing patients. Services include diagnostic testing on organs, monitoring vital functions and performing physicals for school sports. Doctors also perform preventative measures ranging from vision and hearing tests to cancer screenings. Most specialists have additional options including weight loss consultations and administering travel vaccines.

When a patient is hospitalized due to a chronic illness or emergency, the internal medicine specialist will attend to the patient at the hospital. The doctor will update the patient’s medical records and order necessary tests and treatment. If the patient has been under the care of another physician at the hospital, the internist will coordinate care with the other medical staff.

Besides medical duties, an internal medicine specialist also has to oversee his or practice to ensure the office is run effectively. The doctor may schedule monthly meetings with the staff or send out survey cards to the patients to check on the quality of patient care. Physicians might also allot a certain amount of time each week to meet with pharmaceutical representatives. Doctors who have their own practice also have to keep on a budget by monitoring office expenses and patient receivables.

Individuals who choose to work as an internal medicine specialist must have an undergraduate degree, a medical degree, and have completed a residency in internal medicine. It is also highly recommended that the doctor be board certified in internal medicine. Often, doctors attend ongoing training and seminars to get educated on the latest advancements in medicine. It is also important that the specialist be a good communicator and listener as well as sympathetic to the needs of his patients and staff.

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Discussion Comments
By EdRick — On Jun 03, 2011

@dfoster85 - Assuming you're an adult, yes, an internist would be a great choice for a primary care doctor. My primary care doctor is an internist and I've been really happy with her.

There's nothing wrong with a general practice doctor, of course. That's a great way to go if you have kids and want one doctor to see the whole family. But an internist will have focused his or her whole training on adults, while a general or family practitioner will have studied a lot of other areas as well (e.g., pediatrics). I would assume that leaves less time for adult diseases. (But that's just training--a really smart, up-to-date family practice doc is always going to know more than am internist who graduated at the bottom of their class and hates to read journal articles.)

By dfoster85 — On Jun 02, 2011

I need to find a primary care physician and I'm not sure what specialties I should be considering. I used to use my OB-GYN as my primary care physician, but my new insurance won't allow that. Would an internist be an appropriate primary care doctor? Are they considered primary care? What are the benefits of choosing internal medicine vs. general practice?

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