Doctors, in general make people healthier. When people get sick, doctors figure out why. They examine people, listen to them describe their health problems, and do tests to see what is wrong. They give people medicine and other kinds of treatment. They also give advice about diet, exercise, and sleep.
Physicians who practice internal medicine are called internists. Internists, specifically, diagnose and provide non-surgical treatment for a wide range of problems that affect internal organ systems, such as the stomach, kidneys, liver, and digestive tract. Internists use a variety of diagnostic techniques to treat patients through medication or hospitalization.
Many internists serve as primary care providers for their patients and when necessary, refer them to specialist physicians. They are usually the first doctor most people go to irrespective of the problems they are having, whether it is a problem with their skin, eyes, ears, reproductive organs or nervous system. In their role of a primary care provider, internal medicine physicians also provide their patients with wellness and disease prevention goals and management of mental health problems and substance abuse.
As with most specialties, there are a number of subspecialties an internal medicine physician can choose to specialize in. These include critical care medicine, adolescent medicine, sports medicine, interventional cardiology, rheumatology, infectious disease, geriatric medicine, sleep medicine and hematology to name a few.
As an internist, you will typically practice in an outpatient office setting in a private practice or clinic. However, if one of your patients needs to be hospitalized, you will have to visit your patient in the hospital when doing your rounds.
Another career path you have as an internal medicine physician is to become a hospitalist. This can help ease your schedule considerably as you will not need to go to different hospitals to see all of your patients.
An internist sees about 24 patients a day on average, while working about 4 or 5 days a week with normal office hours. You might also need to spend additional time rounding or being on call if you work in a facility where it is needed.
One of the most rewarding aspects of being an internist is that you get the opportunity to build long term relationships with your patients and their families.
Education and Training
To become an internal medicine physician, you must first complete a 4 year medical school program followed by a 3 year intensive residency program in internal medicine. If you want to specialize in a subspecialty of internal medicine, you will then have to complete another 1 to 3 years of fellowship training.
You will need to pass the Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) before being able to practice. In addition, most internists must be board certified in internal medicine. You can obtain this by passing the board exams.
While internists are compensated fairly well, their earnings are considerably lower than that of more specialized physicians. According to a compensation survey done in 2010 and published in Modern Healthcare, the average annual internist salary ranges between $184,200 and $231,690. However, if you decide to become a hospitalist you could end up working less and making more.
As with most other medical professionals, the outlook for internists is very good and looks all set to stay that way over the next few years. Many reports have predicted that physician jobs will grow at least 14% from now until at least 2020.