What is an Internist?

With so many medical concerns to deal with, and so many medical professionals to choose from, how do you know which type of doctor is the best choice for you?

In the spirit of maintaining good health, having a go-to doctor, who is familiar with your specific health-history, is of the utmost importance. Knowing a bit about different medical specialties should help in making the best decision for you. 

Some of your options

You have most likely heard “general practitioner,” “internist,” and “primary care physician”. Many people use these terms interchangeably, thought they are not actually the same. There are distinct differences among the three. 

The GP

A general practitioner, or GP, is a physician who is trained to diagnose and treat a wide-range of medical issues. It is important to note that general practitioners treat patients of all ages. A GP may treat all-aged patients, and may choose to practice family medicine, but practicing family medicine is considered a medical specialty. 

The internist

An internist, sometimes called a general internist, or doctor of internal medicine, is a non-surgical specialist that diagnoses and treats adults with long-term, comprehensive medical care. An internist manages both common, and also more complex, health conditions. Some internists are also involved in teaching, or in research. 

The similarities and the differences

The most noticeable differences between a GP and an internist, is that a GP will treat patients all ages, and issues that may be surgical, and an internist focuses on adult patients with non-surgical medical issues. The factor that they do have in common is that both a GP, and an internist, can act as primary care physicians. 

Where you can find an internist

An internist can work in private practice, in a hospital, intensive care unit, and in a nursing home. While, as earlier noted, internists do not perform surgery, if surgery is part of a patient’s care, many times, an internist will manage and coordinate that treatment. 

What an internist can do for you

An internist will perform exams, treat acute illnesses like the flu, or infections, as well as monitoring and treating chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. An internist can be instrumental in the prevention of mental health issues and can also prescribe medication and immunizations. 


To become an internist, a student must complete seven years of medical school, typically followed by four years of postgraduate training. Doctors of internal medicine may also seek additional training to become qualified in adolescent medicine, sports, or geriatric medicine. 

Having a better understanding of the medical professionals available to you. is an important part of maintaining good health. Take the time to consider what you want to achieve in relation to your health, and choose the provider that best suits you, and your needs.