Internists are doctors who often work as general practitioners but also advanced training, lasting from three to more years after medical school, so that they have become specifically skilled in treating diseases inside the body or as it relates to one or more body systems. A number of internists choose to specialize in a specific system or organ, and there are internists who are cardiologists, gastroenterologists and others. Alternately, they can train to work with a population of people and might be geriatric medicine practitioners or pediatricians. The big difference between a person who simply calls himself an internist and a cardiologist is that the internist will see people for regular medical care too, and not just for their area of specialty.
For example, geriatric medicine relates to diseases that affect people as they age. Most internists that specialize in geriatric medicine would have a population of patients who are elderly, but they wouldn’t only seem them for age related conditions. They would see them for all conditions including for a bout of strep throat or an ear infection. Similarly an internist specializing in gastroenterology doesn’t just work with patients when they have trouble with gastrointestinal function, he’d work with them when they have a case of pink eye, the flu, or bronchitis.
Many people prefer to work with an internist because this doctor functions as the primary care doctor and has specialty training. Anyone with serious illness in one of the body’s systems might feel more comfortable finding a doctor who has specialized in this system and who is also trained to treat common illnesses. Of course, it isn’t always possible to find an internist specializing in the area that people need. Others choose an internist as their primary doctor even if they don’t have illnesses, which the doctor is especially trained to treat.
This brings up an interesting point. Though an internist may have a sub-specialty, not all of these doctors do. Some merely complete a three-year residency after medical school in internal medicine.
Once this residency is successfully completed, doctors can simply get certification, if in the US, through the American Board of Internal Medicine. It is not necessary to take further residencies or fellowships in the field. Training already leads to strong expertise in diagnosing and treating diseases of the body’s systems and especially internal organs. This additional training beyond medical school makes the internist particularly attractive to some patients, and most who have health coverage and must choose a primary physician can choose internists if they prefer.