Medical students and graduates alike thinking about taking a career in internal medicine can feel overwhelmed and excited at the same time. When they find out how tough this discipline is, they can become scared but at the same time they can overcome that fear, through their determination. Medicine is tough in terms of education and career, but it is also quite a rewarding career path as well.
Internal medicine is the largest available field in medicine in the United States, with around more than 200,000 internal medicine specialists in practice in the country. This discipline also has an active community as many physicians working in different medical fields are internal medicine specialists.
These physicians have brought about a positive change in medicine and health benefits, ranging from policy creation and practices to healthcare methods and vice versa.
Defining internal medicine
Internal medicine is a field of medicine focused on identification and treatment of diseases, conditions and other issues in the human body affecting multiple internal organs. The study of this is rooted in a combination of the following medical disciplines:
- Bacteriology (Studying bacteria).
- Pathology (Studying various diseases).
- Physiology (Studying the body’s functions).
Combining this expertise together, physicians who specialize in internal medicine can treat various conditions with ease (especially those that manifest themselves in a lot of ways). They treat ailments and conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and the like.
Comparing internal medicine with family medicine
Internal medicine has often been confused by many with family medicine. Though both fields of medicine focus on the treatment and prevention of various diseases in patients; each discipline has its own unique features.
The biggest difference is that physicians who are specialists in internal medicine often treat adults. Family practice physicians can treat patients of any age and are often family focused.
Family practice physicians think about and practice medicine in a much different way than an internalist does. This begins from their studies and training in medical school. Family practice doctors treat patients of all ages; hence their education includes those areas that are not covered in internal medicine.
However, for areas included in both programs, education for internal medicine students is quite in-depth and so is their training.
What does an internalist do?
Internal medicine specialists (colloquially referred to as internalist) are physicians practicing the field of internal medicine. Their job evolves a lot due to the new discoveries made in ailments, diseases and their respective treatments. In turn, they help physicians
Internists must stay in line with the latest information, developments and trends in medicine, especially for the many conditions and medications around. They also work as caregivers, researchers, investigators, and physicians (obviously).
Educational path of internists
Students wishing to become internal medicine specialists can expect an education pathway similar to what most regular medical students. All medical students must graduate from medical school (i.e. The Doctor of Medicine (M.D) degree program). In fact, they can obtain this degree from a Caribbean medical school.
Graduation is followed by 3 years of a general residency program. Medical students specializing in internal medicine will need to complete an additional 1 or 2 years of residency in their desired specialization. Residents will be eligible to appear in a certification exam conducted by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) to become a certified internalist.
This helps them showcase their skills to become fully licensed and certified internal medicine specialists.
Subspecialty training for internal medicine specialists
The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) officially recognizes 14 subspecialties of internal medicine. Internal medicine specialists in training can complete additional residency training requirements in any of the following areas:
- Rheumatology diagnoses and treats ailments affecting bones, muscles and joints.
- Pulmonary (Respiratory Medicine) is the diagnosis and treatment of diseases involving the lungs and respiratory system.
- Oncology diagnoses and treats tumors (both benign and malignant).
- Nephrology diagnoses and treats ailments, conditions and diseases involving the kidneys.
- Infectious diseases diagnose and treat diseases caused by microorganisms, like bacteria, viruses etc.
- Endocrinology is the diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the endocrine system (like diabetes, hormonal conditions and the like).
- Cardiovascular care diagnoses and treats ailments affecting and involving the heart and circulatory system.
- Geriatric Medicine pertains to caring for elderly patients.
- Hematology diagnoses and treats diseases of blood and blood creating organs.
- Gastroenterology diagnoses and treats diseases involving gastrointestinal tract.
- Allergy and immunology diagnose and treat allergic reactions and diseases of the human immune system.
- Critical Care involves caring for critically ill patients & involves a form of life support (or full life support).
- Occupational medicine works for prevention of diseases and disabilities attributed directly to environmental factors in the workplace and employment practice.