What Is an Internist Doctor?

Internist Doctor or internal medicine doctors—practice in, perhaps, the broadest category of primary care medicine. While pediatricians are focused on treating children, and family medicine doctors treat common medical issues in children and adults alike, internists are trained to handle the comprehensive spectrum of medical problems that affect adults. They’re true experts in diagnosing illness, treatment of chronic disease, and general promotion of good health.

What Does an Internist doctor Do?

Many internists treat people for a wide variety of illnesses. They’re called general internists, and they typically see people in their office. They manage chronic diseases, and often, they have long-lasting relationships with their patients.

Some internists opt for a subspecialty, such as cardiology or gastroenterology. They are still internists, but they are also specialists in their chosen area too. To do this, they may undergo one to three more years of training.

Some internists only see hospital patients. Others may work in different care settings, such as rehabilitation facilities or centers for hospice care. Some go into research, and others choose to become administrators. 

Education and Training

To be an internist, you first need to have a four-year undergraduate degree. You’ll also need to  complete:

  • Medical school usually taking four years
  • A three-year residency in internal medicine

You’ll then need to pass an exam to become certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

An internist who chooses a subspecialty will need from one to three more years of education. Internists’ popular areas of specialization were cardiology, pulmonary disease, oncology, critical care, and hematology.  

Reasons to See an Internist

If you’ve chosen an internist as your primary care physician, you’ll see your internist for routine care. If you haven’t picked one as your PCP, you may still see an internist for specific problems.

Here are some reasons you might see a general internist:

Abdominal Pain

Pain in the abdomen can have a variety of causes. It could be from something relatively minor, such as a muscle strain or a stomach virus. More serious illnesses, such as acute appendicitis and several cancers, also cause abdominal pain. You should go to the emergency room for acute pain, or your abdomen is very tender to the touch. For less severe pain, seeing an internist is a good way to start. An internist can help you decide whether your discomfort is gastrointestinal or caused by something else.  

Chest Pain

Chest pain doesn’t always mean you have a heart attack. It can be caused by problems in the lungs or gastrointestinal system. It could be anxiety or acid reflux. Of course, you should call 911 if you are having symptoms of a heart attack. But for different, less severe chest pain, an internist may be able to diagnose your problem. 

What to Expect at the Internist

What will happen when you go to an internist will depend upon your reason for going. Still, you can probably expect these steps in care.

The doctor will check your vital signs. You’ll go over your medical history and your list of medications. Your internist will ask about your symptoms and your general state of health.  The doctor will usually give you a physical exam. The doctor wants to get a complete picture of your health. 

As part of your physical exam, your an internist typically will: 

  • Look at your general appearance, including your posture and how you move
  • Listen to your heart, checking for a heart murmur, irregular heartbeat, or other unusual sounds
  • Listen to your breathing, checking for crackles, wheezing, or shortness of breath
  • Look at your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and throat
  • Check your skin and nails.

The doctor may order screening tests for wellness checks, such as a lipid panel or bone density test. The doctor will call the appropriate test for specific problems, whether it be a simple urinalysis or something more complex, like an imaging test. You may be asked to come back for a follow-up visit, or your doctor may advise that you see a different specialist.

If you see other specialists, your internist may consult with your other doctors, coordinate your care, and check for medication interactions. The best internists are proactive and may counsel you on lifestyle changes and steps that you can take to avoid problems in the future. They’ll also check for mental health problems such as depression

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