Explore internal medicine & its subspecialties - Part 1October 3, 2014
Internal medicine practitioners are also called doctors of internal medicine or internists. This is not to be confused with ‘interns’, which is quite different. Interns are trainee doctors who are doing their first year of residency. Internists are certified physicians who specialise in diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions that affect adults. Although these professionals may act as primary care physicians, they are distinctly different from general practitioners or family physicians in that the training for internists is focused exclusively on treating adults whereas the training for general practitioners and family physicians may also include paediatrics, obstetrics and surgery.
If you choose to pursue this field, at least three of your seven years of medical school and postgraduate training will be dedicated to learning how to prevent, diagnose and treat a suite of diseases that affect adults. Medical students who choose to specialise in internal medicine receive highly specialised training that equips them to solve a wide range of complex diagnostic problems and to handle severe chronic illnesses and conditions where a variety of symptoms may strike at the same time. By the time you graduate, you will be equipped to deal with most problems that an adult patient may bring, regardless of how common, rare, simple or complex these may be.
As an internist, you care for your patients for life, right from the first appointment in your clinic or office to when they are hospitalised, in intensive care or in nursing homes. When other medical practitioners, such as obstetricians or surgeons are involved, you would take on the task of coordinating your patients’ care and addressing complex medical problems associated with that care.
Internal medicine subspecialties
Once you complete your internist training, you can choose to focus your practice on general internal medicine or you could train further to subspecialise in one of thirteen specialised areas of internal medicine. You could for example specialise in cardiology where you would focus on diagnosing and treating diseases of the heart or you could choose to specialise in nephrology where you would focus on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the kidney.
The thirteen subspecialties of internal medicine include:
- Allergy & Immunology
- Infectious disease
- Adolescent medicine
- Sports medicine
The training involved in any of the subspecialty areas is both broad and deep. Subspecialty training usually involves an additional one to three years beyond the standard three-year general internal medicine residency.
Although subspecialists focus on any one specific area in their practice, their background in internal medicine also qualifies them to bring to patients an overall understanding of wellness and disease prevention, substance abuse, mental health, women’s health as well as effective treatment of common problems of the nervous system, eyes, ears, reproductive organs and skin.