What does a Internist do?

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An internist is a medical doctor that specializes in internal medicine. Internal medicine is a medical discipline that concentrates on the care of adults. Additionally, many internists work as primary care providers for their patients. Next, watch a video to learn more about this career field.

How to Become a Internist


The basic educational requirement to become a board-certified internist is a four-year medical degree and a three-year residency program in internal medicine that follows afterward. Nonetheless, the career path begins with a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. You should enroll in a bachelor’s program that offers courses recommended by the American Association of Medical Colleges, such as biology, physics, and chemistry coupled with written and oral communication course training.

While completing your undergraduate degree courses, you may want to consider enrolling in pre-medical organizations, engaging in and finishing community service at mental health centers, and studying for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). Before graduation, you will need to apply to medical school. Medical school is a four-year training that upon completion, provides an advanced M.D. or D.O. degree in the medical field.

Medical School

While in medical school, prospective Internists spend their first year basically in the classroom. The basic courses they take during this period include the following: anatomy, histology, pathology, biochemistry, psychology, ethics and getting themselves ready to take Objective Structured Clinical Exams. In their second year, their training is still focused on classroom works. Students who are in their third and fourth year will move into clinical rotations and be given exposure to a broad collection of possible specialty studies which includes internal medicine.

While in medical school, you’ll spend the first year in the classroom. The basic courses during this period include: anatomy, histology, pathology, biochemistry, psychology, and ethics. You’ll also get ready to take Objective Structured Clinical Exams. In your second year, training is still focused on classroom study. Students who are in their third and fourth year will move into clinical rotations and be given exposure to a broad collection of possible specialty studies which includes internal medicine.


After your medical school, the next thing you need to do as a prospective internist is to go for a three-year internal medicine residency. While doing the residency program, you will spend roughly seventy percent of your time in the hospital on subspecialty and standard adult medical services. You will as well work in a clinic and in elective positions like outpatient subspecialty clinics and consulting services.
After your three-year residency program, you’ll work in a hospital or in private practice.

The next thing you need to do in your pursuit to becoming an internist is to get licensed. The conditions for being a licensed internist usually differ from state to state. You must still be required to sit for a state exam in the state where you hope to practice medicine. It is recommended to complete your residency program in the particular state that you plan to practice.


To be able to become certified by the board of internal medicine, you must meet the entire requirement listed below:

  • Be a graduate of an accredited medical school in the U.S., Canada or an international school recognized by World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Hold an unobstructed license to practice in at least one state.
  • Finish the training needed for a specialty of internal medicine as specified by the American Board for Internal Medicine.
  • Sit for and pass ABIN exam for Internal Medicine

You also need to complete an ongoing maintenance of certification (MOC) activity every two years to ensure that your knowledge is up-to-date. You are also required to pass the MOC exam in any specialty or specialties areas every 10 years, as proposed by ABIN.

To specialize in one of the subspecialties of internal medicine, an internist needs an additional three years of fellowship training. The thirteen subspecialties of internal medicine include the following: infectious disease, pulmonary/critical care, nephrology, cardiology, rheumatology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, genetics, hematology-oncology, sports medicine, allergy and immunology, and geriatrics.

Job Description of an Internist

Internists schedule regular appointments with their patients and as well attend to them when they are sick. They also attend to patients referred to them because of their particular medical background or specialty. They are also sometimes responsible for assisting in the management of mental health or substance abuse issues. Internists may as well engaged in research, teach academic courses, or write journal articles.

A good number of internists work as primary health care providers for their patients and would commonly refer them to specialist doctors anytime it is necessary. They are commonly the first doctor the majority of doctors pay a visit to for any form of medical issues they are having. While working as a primary healthcare provider, internists particularly carry out medical diagnoses and offer non-surgical procedures for a broad collection of health issues that affect the body’s internal organs including the stomach, kidneys, liver, and digestive tract. Internists make use of various diagnostic techniques to treat patients through medication or hospitalization. Similar to general practitioners, general internists basically, work as primary health care specialists. They care for patients referred from other specialists and as well refer patients to other specialists as they deem fit especially when the health issue is a bit complicated.

General Internists

General internists treat a wide collection of sicknesses and health conditions that adults suffer. They are medical experts in the diagnosis, treatment of severe health conditions, and in working with their patients to promote their health and prevent the infestation of diseases. Internists who mainly take care of inpatients in the hospitals are commonly referred to as hospitalists.

General internists are trained to be able to manage whatever health issues that their patients are suffering from irrespective of their rarity, common nature or complexity problem a patient brings. They can practice in various clinical settings. Their training distinctively positions them to practice primary care and work with their patients all through their adult lives. This constant provision of care to their patients helps them to develop long and rewarding personal relationships with their patients. Although internists may work as primary health care doctors, they are never to be taken as general medical practitioners or family doctors who only received training on adults but may as well integrate pediatrics, obstetrics, and surgery in their care provisions.

Internist Career Video Transcript

Many medical doctors specialize in treating a particular illness or part of the body but internists are general doctors who see adult patients for all their medical needs. They usually act as either primary care providers or as inpatient doctors known as hospitalists. These doctors are experts in medical conditions that affect the vital organs of the abdomen and chest. But, they also treat conditions that affect other areas of the body such as joints and the brain.

Internists who provide primary care work in outpatient clinics. There, they diagnose and treat common health problems and help patients manage chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. They prescribe medications and give advice on preventing disease as well, such as which vaccines to get and healthy nutrition options. They also document patients’ test results, examination notes, and medical history.

Internists may provide regular care for patients for many years at clinics, or see patients just once in urgent care settings. They are frequently exposed to infectious diseases and must be able to manage stressful situations treating very sick or dying patients. Becoming an internist requires four years of medical school after college and three years of residency training. Training includes long hours, night shifts, and irregular schedules. General internists may pursue additional training in specialties such as cardiology or gastroenterology.

Article Citations

National Center for O*NET Development. 29-1063.00. O*NET OnLine.

American College of Physicians (ACP). About Internal Medicine.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

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