The Many Facets of Internal Medicine

Despite the generic-sounding title, doctors of internal medicine are often specialists in specific bodily systems. In fact, these doctors are typically known by the name associated with their specialties instead of the umbrella term. One reason for this is that the umbrella term often causes confusion. Here are a couple of things that often need to be cleared up:

  • Internists are not interns. The word “internist” is another term for a doctor of internal medicine. Despite its sound, it has nothing to do with the word intern, which refers to someone working while undergoing training. Further confusion is caused by the fact that many hospitals have both internists and interns in their employ.
  • An internist can be a primary care physician, but he or she isn’t a family doctor or general practitioner.


Even though these doctors can serve as primary care physicians, the majority of patients encounter them after getting a referral from a different doctor. That’s because of the specialization aspect. This specialization is also why most patients won’t refer to them as internists, but instead, by the word(s) associated with the specialty. For example, patients may talk of seeing cardiologists, endocrinologists, nephrologists, or oncologists. These are just a few of the many specialties that exist.

Some internists do take care of more generalized patient care. In many cases, even this has a bit of a specialization aspect. In these cases, the care is specialized according to the unique needs of certain age groups. Gerontologists, who focus on treating the elderly, are one subset of this category. Doctors of adolescent medicine catch part of the other side of the timeline. Teenage bodies and elderly ones each have unique, age-related factors that must be considered. Specialists have focused on these differences in order to better tailor care for their patients.

Thanks to increasing awareness of problems that are specific to hospitals, a new specialty has emerged. The hospitalist focuses on patients that are in this setting as well as working on improving efficiency, overall sanitation, and other hospital-specific issues. This type of doctor is now specifically trained in spotting and taking care of problems that aren’t focused on in general residency programs. Therefore, hospitalized patients may find that they gain an additional doctor just by checking in.

As this shows, there are many facets to internal medicine. If there is any doubt about which specialist to see, a generalist will be sure to point the way.

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