Internal Medicine - The Role of an Internist

Someone who practices Internal Medicine, a specialty that deals with diagnosing, preventing, and treating diseases in adults, is referred to as an internist (though they are often referred to by their more specific sub-specialty, such as an endocrinologist or oncologist).

The phrase "Internal Medicine" originates from the German term "Innere Medizin," which referred to physicians in the late 19th century who combined patient care with laboratory science. The term made its way to America when many early 20th century medical students returned home from studies in Germany. An internist should not be confused with a medical "intern," who has had significantly less training.

Education and Training
Becoming an internist requires completing an accredited residency-training program in one of the 13 sub-specialties recognized by the American Board of Internal Medicine. These sub-specialties include cardiology, endocrinology, oncology, immunology, and nephrology.

Generally, after a four-year undergraduate degree is completed, a student may enter medical school. In addition to a passing score on the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test), an "A" or "B" average is required for a student to be accepted. Though medical programs vary in length across the country, most are four years long, with three years of study and one year of clinical work.
Once these additional years of schooling have been completed, the aspiring practitioner must "intern," a supervised period (usually three years) of postgraduate study called "residency training." Once residency training is completed, a standardized test must be passed in order to receive a board certification. Only then does a student graduate from being a resident to an internist. Lastly, "fellowship" or sub-specialty training requires one to three years of additional, highly focused study.

The Role of an Internist
As previously mentioned, the job of an internist is to diagnose, treat, and prevent adult diseases. They work in a clinic, a hospital, or a private office. Their daily lives involve seeing new patients, diagnosing and treating them, or following up with older patients with illnesses that fall under their division of practice. For example, an immunologist will see patients for their allergy issues, a cardiologist will see patients with heart murmurs, and an oncologist treats patients diagnosed with cancer.

These doctors are equipped to handle any issue brought to their attention by their patients and have the training to handle challenging diagnostic conundrums. One huge responsibility of these medical professionals is to educate their patients on disease prevention. This requires a complex understanding of human anatomy and modern internal medicine.

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