Internal medicine is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of nonsurgical conditions in adults. This specialty has a large number of subspecialties ranging from cardiology (diagnosis and treatment of heart disease) to gastroenterology (diagnosis and treatment of digestive disorders). The physician certified in this specialty is called an internist. Many adults use internists as their primary care physicians. Internists are not the same as interns–first-year doctors undergoing supervised post-graduate training in hospitals.
This medical specialty is incredibly varied, because it focuses on the whole body of the patient. Although the name suggests internal organs, internists do treat skin conditions and often provide psychological counseling. Internists are often used as diagnosticians to solve medical puzzles, since they are familiar with a wide range of medical conditions and their causes. Internists also promote preventive medicine, such as healthful eating, weight reduction, smoking cessation, and regular exercise. Internists occasionally define themselves by what they don’t treat: no pediatrics, no ob-gyn, no surgery.
Some common sub-specialties in internal medicine include cardiology (heart), endocrinology (glands), rheumatology (joints), infectious diseases, hematology (blood), oncology (cancer), pulmonology (lungs). A general internist may refer a patient to a specialist if he or she feels that a treatment requires special care.
To become an internist, a newly graduated MD (Doctor of Medicine) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) must complete post-graduate training, called residency, in a certified and approved teaching hospital. Once qualified by his or her residency, an internist can take a series of examinations to become certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Specialty training requires additional time in a teaching hospital, called a fellowship, and also board certification.