Doctors who choose this specialty are concerned with disease management, non surgical treatments and diagnosis, usually of unusual, chronic or very serious diseases. Many people see internists, or internal medicine physicians, as their primary doctors. These doctors are also often called "internists", "general internists" along with "doctors of internal medicine."
To become an internist one must first graduate medical school and then complete a year or two of internship, which is supervised training usually in a hospital. After an internship is completed one must complete specialized training, known as a residency, for a year in either internal medicine or a sub specialties. There are many subspecialties of internal medicine, 13 to be exact. Just a few of these are cardiology, gastroenterology, infectious disease and pulmonary disease just to name a few. A fellowship is an option following subspecialty residency training. This is one to three more years of study/practice in a specialty.
When this is complete a candidate can be certified by either the American Board of Internal Medicine or the American Osteopathic Board of Internal Medicine. Since medicine is always evolving and changing even after a internal medicine doctor completes all his training he is still required to earn continuing educational credits on a yearly basis in order to renew his license. This isn't usually formal classroom training but involves seminars and the like.
When an internist is done with his schooling and training they have the option of opening their own private practice, a partnership with other doctors, or working for clinics or hospitals.
Internists care for the whole patient whatever the problem, simple or complex. They also try to instill and understanding of disease prevention and the promotion of good health in their patients. Internists or Internal Medicine doctors shouldn't be confused with "general practitioners", or "family practitioners". Internists practice is directed solely to adults while family practice doctors can include surgery, obstetrics and pediatrics.
As an example of just what the basics of an internists job would entail, the first thing an internal medicine doctor would do to treat a patient is to take a medical history. This is the patient telling the internist what has happened to them medically in the past and what is happening that brought them to the doctor. The second step is a physical exam where the internist may detect symptoms of disease that the patient may not. Usually at this point the doctor is able to form a list of possible diagnoses. Sometimes multiple disease processes are identified. To narrow down the diagnosis blood tests, x-rays and other tests may be ordered. These results can give the internal medicine doctor a diagnosis or he/she may choose to order further tests such as biopsy for cancer or cultures for specialized infections.
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