What is an Internist?

An internist is a medical doctor who specializes in internal medicine, a branch of medicine that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and non-surgical treatment of diseases and disorders affecting adults. Internists provide comprehensive medical care to adult patients, often referred to as "internally" or non-surgically treated conditions. They possess a deep understanding of the complex interactions and interconnectedness of various organ systems within the adult body, allowing them to diagnose and manage a wide range of illnesses, chronic diseases, and health conditions.

Internists often serve as primary care physicians, coordinating overall healthcare and referring patients to specialists when necessary. Due to their expertise in internal medicine, internists play an important role in promoting preventive care, managing chronic conditions, and improving the overall health and well-being of adult patients.

What does an Internist do?

An internist speaking with one of his patients.

Duties and Responsibilities
Internists have a wide range of duties and responsibilities focused on providing comprehensive medical care to adult patients. Here are their key duties and responsibilities:

  • Diagnosis and Treatment: Internists are responsible for diagnosing and treating a variety of medical conditions and diseases in adult patients. They conduct thorough physical examinations, review medical histories, and order and interpret diagnostic tests to identify health issues accurately.
  • Chronic Disease Management: Internists specialize in managing chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, asthma, and arthritis. They create personalized treatment plans, prescribe medications, and monitor patients' progress to help manage these conditions effectively.
  • Preventive Care: Internists emphasize preventive healthcare measures. They provide immunizations, screenings, and counseling to help prevent diseases and promote overall health. They also advise patients on lifestyle modifications, including diet, exercise, and stress management, to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  • Acute Illness Management: Internists diagnose and treat acute illnesses and infections, such as respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, and gastrointestinal disorders. They may prescribe medications, recommend rest, or, if necessary, refer patients to specialists for further evaluation and treatment.
  • Collaboration with Specialists: When patients require specialized care, internists refer them to appropriate specialists, coordinate consultations, and ensure seamless communication between different healthcare providers. They also manage the overall healthcare of patients with multiple medical conditions, coordinating treatments from various specialists.
  • Medical Research and Education: Many internists engage in medical research and education. They stay updated on the latest advancements in internal medicine, incorporating evidence-based practices into their patient care. Some internists may also teach medical students, residents, and fellows.
  • Hospital Care: Internists often provide care for hospitalized patients, known as hospitalists. They manage patients' medical conditions during their hospital stay, collaborate with other healthcare professionals, and coordinate the transition of care upon discharge.
  • Communication with Patients: Effective communication with patients is crucial. Internists explain medical conditions, treatment options, and potential outcomes in a clear and understandable manner. They address patients' concerns, answer questions, and ensure that patients are actively involved in their healthcare decisions.
  • Ethical and Legal Compliance: Internists adhere to ethical standards and legal regulations related to patient care, confidentiality, and informed consent. They maintain accurate medical records, ensure patient privacy, and follow guidelines and protocols established by medical governing bodies.

Types of Internists
Within the field of internal medicine, there are several subspecialties, each focusing on specific organ systems, diseases, or patient populations. Here are some common types of internists:

  • Cardiologist: Cardiologists specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases and conditions of the heart and cardiovascular system. They manage heart-related issues such as heart attacks, heart failure, arrhythmias, and hypertension.
  • Endocrinologist: Endocrinologists focus on disorders of the endocrine system, which includes hormones and glands. They manage conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, hormonal imbalances, and metabolic disorders.
  • Gastroenterologist: Gastroenterologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the digestive system, including the esophagus, stomach, liver, intestines, and pancreas. They address issues such as gastrointestinal bleeding, irritable bowel syndrome, and liver diseases.
  • Pulmonologist: Pulmonologists specialize in diseases of the respiratory system, including the lungs and airways. They manage conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, and sleep apnea.
  • Rheumatologist: Rheumatologists focus on autoimmune and inflammatory diseases that affect joints, muscles, and bones. They diagnose and treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and osteoarthritis.
  • Infectious Disease Specialist: Infectious disease specialists diagnose and manage infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. They treat conditions such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and various tropical diseases.
  • Nephrologist: Nephrologists specialize in diseases of the kidneys and the urinary system. They manage conditions such as chronic kidney disease, kidney stones, and renal failure.
  • Hematologist: Hematologists focus on disorders related to the blood, bone marrow, and lymphatic system. They diagnose and treat conditions such as anemia, blood cancers (e.g., leukemia, lymphoma), and bleeding disorders.
  • Geriatrician: Geriatricians specialize in the healthcare of older adults. They address the unique healthcare needs of elderly patients, including managing chronic conditions, cognitive impairment, and age-related diseases.
  • Oncologist: Oncologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. They may focus on medical oncology (using chemotherapy and targeted therapies), radiation oncology (using radiation therapy), or surgical oncology (performing cancer surgeries).

Are you suited to be an internist?

Internists have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also social, meaning they’re kind, generous, cooperative, patient, caring, helpful, empathetic, tactful, and friendly.

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What is the workplace of an Internist like?

Internists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, private practices, and other healthcare facilities. The workplace of an internist can vary depending on their specialty and the type of facility where they work.

One of the most common workplaces for internists is a hospital. In this setting, they typically work in the internal medicine department, which is responsible for providing comprehensive care to adult patients with a wide range of medical conditions. They work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as nurses, physician assistants, and other physicians, to provide the best possible care to their patients.

In addition to hospitals, internists may also work in outpatient clinics. These clinics provide care to patients who do not require hospitalization but still need medical attention. Internists in clinics may specialize in certain areas, such as cardiology or gastroenterology, and work with other specialists to provide coordinated care to their patients.

Some internists also work in private practices, where they have their own patient base and manage their own schedules. In this setting, they may provide primary care services, such as annual check-ups and preventive care, as well as more specialized care for patients with complex medical conditions.

Regardless of the setting, internists typically spend a significant amount of time interacting with patients. They take detailed medical histories, perform physical exams, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and develop treatment plans based on their findings. They also spend time documenting patient care in medical records and communicating with other healthcare professionals to coordinate care for their patients.

Frequently Asked Questions

Doctor Specializations and Degrees

The following is a comprehensive list of the various specializations that a doctor can pursue and a brief summary of each specialization:

  • Allergist: An allergist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies, asthma, and related conditions. Allergists have specialized training in the recognition and management of allergic reactions.
  • Anesthesiologist: An anesthesiologist keeps a patient comfortable, safe and pain-free during surgery by administering local or general anesthetic.
  • Cardiologist: A cardiologist specializes in finding, treating, and preventing diseases that affect the heart, the arteries, and the veins.
  • Cardiothoracic Surgeon: A cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in surgical procedures inside the thorax (the chest), which may involve the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest. As well as performing surgery, they also diagnose and treat diseases of these organs.
  • Chiropractic Neurologist: A chiropractic neurologist is a specialized type of chiropractor who has undergone additional training in the field of neurology. They diagnose and treat conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system.
  • Chiropractor: A chiropractor, or doctor of chiropractic medicine, specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system, especially in the spine. Treatment is usually physical manipulation of the joints and the spine to bring them back into alignment. A chiropractor does not perform surgery or prescribe medication.
  • Colorectal Surgeon: A colorectal surgeon specializes in diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus, as well as the entire gastric tract. These surgeons work closely with urologists, who handle the urogenital tract in males and the urinary tract of women, gynecologists, who deal with specific female issues, and gastroenterologists, who deal with diseases of the gut.
  • Doctor: An general overview of what a doctor does and how to become one.
  • Dentist: Dentists identify potential oral health issues such as gum disease, as well as examine patients, order medical tests and determine the correct diagnosis and treatment. They also perform oral surgery and remove teeth or address other dental health problems.
  • Dermatologist: A dermatologist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions affecting skin, hair, sweat and oil glands, nails, and mucus membranes (inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids) which can include cancer.
  • Emergency Medicine Physician: An emergency medicine physician works in emergency departments, hospitals, and urgent care clinics, and is often the first medical professional that patients see when they are in need of urgent medical care.
  • Endocrinologist: An endocrinologist specializes in diagnosing conditions and diseases related to the glands and hormones. While primary care doctors know a lot about the human body, for conditions and diseases directly related to glands and hormones they will typically send a patient to an endocrinologist.
  • Family Practitioner: A family practitioner specializes in caring for the entire family. Patients can be children, adults, and the elderly, and are treated for a wide array of medical issues.
  • Forensic Pathologist: A forensic pathologist investigates the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths, and is able to determine how a person died by performing an autopsy and studying tissue and laboratory results. These doctors are often called upon to provide evidence in court regarding the cause and time of such deaths.
  • Gastroenterologist: A gastroenterologist has specific training in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This may include diseases and disorders that affect the the biliary system (liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts), as well as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (colon).
  • Geriatrician: A geriatrician specializes in the care of elderly patients, and often works with patients who have multiple chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as age-related cognitive and functional impairments.
  • Gynecologist: A gynecologist specializes in women's reproductive systems. Gynecologists are also sometimes certified as obstetricians, and will monitor the health of the mother and the fetus during a pregnancy.
  • Hematologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders, such as anemia and leukemia.
  • Hospitalist: A hospitalist is a physician whose focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. Their duties include patient care, teaching, research, and leadership related to hospital medicine.
  • Immunologist: An immunologist specializes in managing problems related to the immune system, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases. A smaller number of immunologists are strictly researchers seeking to better understand how the immune system works and to help develop better ways of diagnosing and providing treatment for many immunological conditions.
  • Infectious Disease Specialist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.
  • Internist: An internist is a 'doctor of internal medicine' who can diagnose, treat, and practice compassionate care for adults across the spectrum, from health to complex illness. They are not to be mistaken with "interns," who are doctors in their first year of residency training.
  • Medical Examiner: Medical examiners are responsible for performing autopsies and collecting evidence related to the circumstances of a death, including medical history, physical examination findings, and toxicology tests.
  • Naturopathic Physician: A naturopathic physician blends modern scientific medical practice and knowledge with natural and traditional forms of medical treatment. The goal is to treat the underlying causes of disease while stimulating the body's own healing abilities.
  • Nephrologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases. They treat conditions such as chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, kidney stones, hypertension, and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Neurologist: A neurologist specializes in treating diseases that affect the human nervous system. It is a very prestigious and difficult medical specialty due to the complexity of the nervous system, which consists of the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves.
  • Neurosurgeon: A neurosurgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system. This includes congenital anomalies, trauma, tumours, vascular disorders, infections of the brain or spine, stroke, or degenerative diseases of the spine.
  • Obstetrician: An obstetrician is a medical doctor who specializes in caring for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
  • Occupational Physician: Occupational medicine is focused on keeping individuals well at work, both mentally and physically. As workplaces become more complex, occupational physicians play an important role in advising people on how their work can affect their health.
  • Oncologist: An oncologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The three primary types of oncologists are: medical oncologists that specialize in the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells; surgical oncologists that perform surgical procedures to identify and remove cancerous tumors; and radiation oncologists that treat cancer with radiation therapy.
  • Ophthalmologist: An ophthalmologist is a specialist that deals specifically with the structure, function, diseases, and treatment of the eye. Due to the complexities and the importance of the eye as a special sense that provides vision, the discipline of ophthalmology is dedicated solely to this organ.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: An oral and maxillofacial surgeon treats dental and medical problems involving the oral cavity and the maxillofacial area. The maxillofacial area includes the bones of the forehead, face, cheekbones and the soft tissues. Treatment often involves performing surgery and related procedures to treat diseases, defects, or injuries, and to improve function or appearance.
  • Orthopaedic Surgeon / Orthopedist: An orthopaedic surgeon (or orthopedist) examines, diagnoses, and treats diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. This system includes the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.
  • Orthodontist: An orthodontist specializes in how the jaws and teeth are aligned. They help people whose teeth are misaligned or require some kind of correction – those with an improper bite, or malocclusion.
  • Osteopath: Osteopaths have attended and graduated from an osteopathic medical school and practise the system of healthcare known as osteopathy. They consider all aspects of the patient, not just the symptoms they exhibit. They see the integrated nature of the body’s organ systems and its capacity for self-regulation and self-healing.
  • Otolaryngologist: Otolaryngologists (or ENT physicians) are specialists trained in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck. These specialists are trained in both medicine and surgery.
  • Pathologist: A pathologist studies the causes, nature, and effects of disease. The field of pathology is broad with concentrations on changes in cells, tissues, and organs that are the result of a disease.
  • Pediatrician: A pediatrician specializes in providing medical care to infants, children and teenagers by administering treatments, therapies, medications and vaccinations to treat illness, disorders or injuries.
  • Periodontist: A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in oral inflammation, and who knows how to prevent, diagnose, and treat periodontal disease.
  • Plastic Surgeon: A plastic surgeon specializes in reshaping healthy body parts for aesthetic reasons, and also in repairing or replacing body parts damaged by accidents, illness or malformation.
  • Podiatrist: A podiatrist practices podiatric medicine, which is a branch of science devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and study of medical disorders of the foot, ankle, lower leg and lower back. In the U.S. and Canada, podiatry is practiced as a specialty.
  • Prosthodontist: A prosthodontist specializes in restoring the look, function, comfort, and health of a patient's oral cavity with artificial materials. These artificial materials are made up of a wide variety of restorations that include fillings, dentures, veneers, crowns, bridges and oral implants.
  • Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are physicians who evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who are affected by a temporary or chronic mental health problem.
  • Pulmonologist: A pulmonologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary (lung) conditions and diseases of the chest, particularly pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, and complicated chest infections.
  • Radiologist: A radiologist is a specialist in interpreting medical images that may be obtained with x-rays, (CT scans or radiographs), nuclear medicine (involving radioactive substances, magnetism (MRI), or ultrasound.
  • Rheumatologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Sports Medicine Physician: A sports medicine physician specializes in taking care of people who have sports injuries that may be acquired from playing sports, exercising, or from otherwise being physically active.
  • Surgeon: A surgeon performs surgery for the purpose of removing diseased tissue or organs, to repair body systems, or to replace diseased organs with transplants.
  • Telemedicine Physician: A telemedicine physician provides remote healthcare services to patients using telecommunications technology, facilitating virtual consultations, diagnoses, and treatment recommendations.
  • Urologist: A urologist specializes in the treatment of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. Urologists can treat the kidneys, urinary bladder, urethra, uterus, and male reproductive organs. There are also specific specialty areas that urologists may choose to focus on, such as pediatric urology, male infertility, and urologic oncology.
  • Vascular Medicine Specialist - A vascular medicine specialist specializes in the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels. They may work with patients who have conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, or pulmonary embolism.
  • Vascular Surgeon - A vascular surgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels, including aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, and varicose veins.
  • Veterinary Dentist - A veterinary dentist is a specialized veterinarian who focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of dental diseases and conditions in animals. They perform dental procedures such as cleanings, extractions, and oral surgeries to improve the oral health and well-being of pets and other animals.


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See Also
Doctor Allergist Anesthesiologist Cardiologist Cardiothoracic Surgeon Chiropractor Colorectal Surgeon Dentist Dermatologist Emergency Medicine Physician Endocrinologist Family Practitioner Forensic Pathologist Gastroenterologist Geriatrician Gynecologist Hematologist Hospitalist Immunologist Infectious Disease Specialist Medical Examiner Naturopathic Physician Nephrologist Neurologist Neurosurgeon Obstetrician Occupational Physician Oncologist Ophthalmologist Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Orthopaedic Surgeon Orthopedist Orthodontist Osteopath Otolaryngologist Pathologist Pediatrician Periodontist Plastic Surgeon Podiatrist Prosthodontist Psychiatrist Pulmonologist Radiologist Rheumatologist Sports Medicine Physician Surgeon Urologist Vascular Medicine Specialist Vascular Surgeon Chiropractic Neurologist Veterinary Dentist Telemedicine Physician

Internists are also known as:
Internal Medicine Physician Doctor of Internal Medicine