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 the job of the internist.
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.
WHAT DOES AN INTERNIST DO?
Internal medicine specialists are sometimes confused with family doctors. This is probably because both specialties can make excellent primary care providers. Primary care providers administer annual exams and provide overall health management.
A primary care provider is often the first medical professional a patient consults when they have a health problem. Primary care providers treat a wide range of medical problems. They also refer the patient to specialists when necessary, coordinating specialist care and acting as an advocate for the patient.
Although both often serve as primary care providers, internists and family doctors differ in a few key ways. For example, family care providers specialize in treating patients of all ages, including babies and children. Internist doctors, on the other hand, only treat adults. In addition, family physicians may provide a number of surgical treatments. Internists tend to provide nonsurgical care.
Because they closely study the body’s organs and interactions among them, internists excel in the care and management of conditions that affect multiple organs and systems. As a result, they often treat patients with chronic conditions that affect the entire body, including diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, heart disease, blood disorders, obesity, and chronic lung disease.
Because they study the body’s internal workings so closely, internists often serve as master diagnosticians. An internist’s diagnosis typically combines physical examination, the evaluation of test results, and an analysis of the patient’s medical history. These tools enable the internist to diagnose puzzling symptoms, multiple interacting problems, and ongoing chronic illness.
Internists do not just provide care for sick people. They are also adept at promoting health and disease prevention in otherwise healthy patients. They may monitor the patient’s weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure and provide guidance on such lifestyle factors as exercise and smoking.
HOW TO BECOME AN INTERNIST?
The path to becoming an internist begins with a four-year undergraduate degree, generally a bachelor of sciences. Students who know they want to become a doctor may major in pre-med, a 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 to becoming an internist continues with four years of education at a quality medical school, such as the 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 medical doctor (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.
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. 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, are you interested in a career treating one of the most complex systems ever studied? Apply to AUC here.