How to Become an Internist
The human body is one of the most complex systems ever studied. The heart is a natural pump, ceaselessly moving blood to every part of the body. The lungs oxygenate the blood and remove carbon dioxide. The liver serves a myriad of functions, including manufacturing life-giving chemicals and storing energy. The kidneys filter waste from the blood for removal from the body.
On its own, each of these organs is dazzlingly complicated. To keep us alive, they work together and interact with the other organs of the body in even more complex ways. Caring for the amazingly complex system of organs that support the body is one of the jobs of an internist, a doctor of internal medicine.
This article will discuss what an internist does. It will also explain how to become an internist.
WHAT IS AN INTERNIST?
An internist is a doctor who specializes in internal medicine, but what is internal medicine?
Internal medicine is the medical specialty concerned with the inner workings of the human body.
Internal medicine includes the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of conditions that affect the internal organs, including the heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs, among others. Internal medicine doctors also specialize in the interactions among organs and systems, helping them to treat conditions that affect multiple parts of the body at the same time.
HOW TO BECOME AN INTERNIST?
The path to becoming an internist begins with a four-year undergraduate degree, generally in the medical sciences. Students who know they want to become a physician may follow a pre-med course of study specifically designed to prepare them for medical school. However, a variety of majors may be sufficient so long as schooling includes college-level mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics.
The journey continues at a medical school such as American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC). Medical school education includes in-depth studies of anatomy and physiology, along with such subjects as histology (the study of tissues) and pathology (the study of disease). Classroom studies are combined with rotations in a hospital setting. After successfully completing medical school, the aspiring internist graduates with a doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO) degree.
The next step toward becoming an internist is a three-year residency in internal medicine. During residency, the doctor practices internal medicine under the close watch and tutelage of experienced professionals. Residency may include rotations in a university or teaching hospital, intensive care unit, various subspecialty clinics, outpatient clinics, and even community medical practices. During residency, the doctor truly begins to specialize in internal medicine, learning to diagnose and treat a broad spectrum of adult illness.
After residency and passing licensing exams, the final step to becoming an internist is passing a board certification exam, such as that offered by the American Board of Internal Medicine. The doctor is now qualified to practice general internal medicine.
SUBSPECIALTIES OF INTERNAL MEDICINE
Internal medicine is a broad and complex discipline that lends itself to many subspecialties. Internists can pursue a two- or three-year fellowship in such subspecialties as:
- Cardiology- treatment of the heart
- Endocrinology- treatment of the glands and hormones that regulate many body activities
- Gastroenterology- treatment of the stomach and digestive system
- Nephrology- treatment of the kidneys
- Oncology- treatment of cancer
- Pulmonology- treatment of the lungs
- Rheumatology- treatment of joint, muscle, and bone problems, including arthritis
YOUR CAREER AS AN INTERNIST
An internist is something of a doctor’s doctor, specializing in a broad range of medical conditions. As a result, internists enjoy a wider variety of career options than perhaps any other specialty.
Many general internists work as primary care providers or general practitioners. Such work is generally conducted during normal business hours, promoting a good work-life balance. However, the internist may need to be available for some on-call duties on nights and weekends. Primary care also offers the rewarding opportunity to develop long-term relationships with patients and to see the impact of care on their lives.
Other internists work in academic or research settings. An internist’s focus on entire body health lends itself to research involving new treatments, medical care systems, public health, and patient safety. Internists are also well suited to pursue administrative roles in hospitals, clinics, and academic institutions.
The job outlook for internists is generally good. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for all doctors are expected to grow about 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, as fast as the average for all professions. Factors driving job growth for internists include an aging population, which will fuel the need for adult health care and care of chronic conditions commonly associated with age.
Now that you know how to become an internist, learn a bit more about a career in internal medicine and check out the AUC MD program. And if you are interested in a career treating one of the most complex systems ever studied, learn about the requirements needed to apply to AUC.