Internists are physicians with medical degrees who diagnose and provide nonsurgical treatment for internal illnesses, disorders, and injuries. They specialize in ailments affecting the brain, lungs, kidneys, stomach, liver, digestive tract, and other organ systems. Internists treat heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.

These are specialists to whom other doctors refer patients. Their expertise allows them to make diagoses that may be too challenging for regular physicians. Internists work in hospitals, clinics, and other medical offices. Some serve as primary-care doctors in their own private practices.

Becoming an internist requires many years of education and training. Practitioners enjoy high salaries, as well as the satisfaction of knowing they have a major impact on patients’ lives.

Internist Job Description

Internists, also called internal medicine physicians, are considered “generalist” physicians and often serve as family practioners. They diagnose malfunctioning internal organs, provide noninvasive treatments, and conduct minor surgery.

Internists meet with and counsel patients to determine their medical histories and symptoms. These doctors perform examinations, and use various equipment to conduct diagnostic tests. Outpatient procedures include physical examinations, exercise stress tests, and the removal of skin blemishes like moles. Internists also provide advice about how to manage diabetes and other conditions with proper diet and exercise.

A doctor certified in internal medicine may receive further education to become a specialist in one of eight disciplines. They are cardiologist (involving the heart, lungs, veins, and arteries); endocrinologist (glands and hormones); gastroenterologist (stomach, liver, and intestines); nephrologist (kidneys); pulmonologist (lungs and related functions); oncologist (cancer treatment like chemotherapy); rheumatologist (joints, muscles, and bones); and allergist or immunologist (immune system).

The internist job description includes:
  • Interview patients to learn their complaints and family medical histories;
  • Conduct examinations and diagnostic tests;
  • Analyze test results and discuss treatment options with patients;
  • Confer with other medical staff to make diagnoses and design treatment plans;
  • Prescribe medication and physical therapy;
  • Take vital signs, draw blood, make injections, and administer anesthetics;
  • Treat internal diseases, illnesses, injuries, and disorders;
  • Provide immunizations and perform minor surgery;
  • Help patients manage infections, colds and flu, and chronic ailments;
  • Create and maintain patient records, and submit statistical reports to employers and the government;
  • Design and administer health programs in hospitals, businesses, schools, and other facilities;
  • Conduct research to test drugs and treatment methods;
  • Receive continuing education in internal medicine.

Internist Prerequisites

An internist should be a caring person devoted to helping those suffering from serious health problems. A professional, confident, reassuring tone helps put patients at ease. This is important because they may be highly anxious or upset. Internists can expect stressful, high-pressure situations.

The job entails operating sophisticated equipment and analyzing complex diagnostic data. Attention to detail, excellent eye-hand coordination, problem-solving skills, and an ability to comprehend complicated issues are needed. Internists also must possess superior communication skills, to work effectively with patients and medical staff.

Physical stamina is required, as some tests and procedures require doctors to stand for hours. Many internists’ working hours are long and irregular. A recent report indicated that more than one-third of professionals in this field spend 60 or more hours per week on the job. Internists may be on call for emergencies at all times.

How to become an Internist

Anyone planning to become a medical doctor needs to first obtain a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university. It is recommended that prep-med students major in a science. They should take biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy, and related classes. Math, English, and social science courses also are recommended. Some undergrads get practical experience by volunteering at medical facilities.

The next step is to earn a degree from a postgraduate medical school. A high grade-point average and good test scores as an undergraduate are crucial to winning admission. Applications include transcripts, letters of recommendation, and perhaps essays. Students also need to pass the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), which may be taken as early as the junior year in undergraduate college.

The freshman and sophomore years of medical school feature mostly classroom instruction in anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, medical ethics, and other subjects. During the final two years, students gain on-the-job experience by working as interns with licensed internal-medicine professionals in hospitals or clinics.

Upon obtaining a medical degree, an internist must complete a hospital residency program of at least three years. The internship and residency period can be as long as eight years, depending upon the specialty.

Internist Certification

To practice as an internist, a certificate from the American Board of Internal Medicine is needed. The process involves passing a certification exam.

In addition, every state in the United States mandates that internists be licensed. Procedures and requirements vary, though obtaining the appropriate education and training generally makes applicants eligible for licensure. Passage of a nationally administered licensing exam is also required.

Internist Salary

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Internist Job Description Summary

Here is a short recap of the internist job description:
  • Provide nonsurgical treatment for internal illnesses and disorders
  • Work with surgeons and other specialists
  • 4 year bachelor’s degree
  • 4 year medical school program
  • 3 to 8 additional years of residency program
  • Must be licensed to practice
  • 18% employment growth by 2022