So, what exactly is Internal Medicine?
Internal Medicine finds it roots in the burgeoning scientific advancements being made in the second half of the 19th century in Europe. Prior to this time, the practice of medicine was largely based on tradition, superstition, and a good dose of magical belief. Eye of toad and wing of bat were complimented by blood lettings and a strong mustard paste applied to the chest. These practices remained commonplace in America. In contrast, scientific fields like physiology, pathology, and bacteriology had advanced to the point where they were beginning to significantly impact the understanding of disease and the clinical care of patients in Europe. Germany was the hotspot for advanced medical knowledge and training at that time. The phrase innere medzin, or “internal medicine” described this systematic, science-based approach to understanding diseases and caring for patients. The end result was dramatically better care.
Today, “Internal medicine physicians are specialists who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness.” (From the American College of Physicians website.) After 4 years of college and then 4 years of medical school, Internal Medicine specialists spend an additional 3 years exclusively studying the health and medical conditions of adults. They receive training in cardiology, pulmonology, gastroenterology, infectious diseases, endocrinology, rheumatology, nephrology, neurology, dermatology, etc. It is a long list and it is a long journey. Internal Medicine specialists (also called “internists”) only care for adults and do not do surgery. Internists have earned the skill, knowledge and expertise to treat the vast spectrum of illnesses that affect adults. In the medical world, they are regarded as experts in diagnosing and treating chronic illness while managing the complex interplay between multiple medical problems, medications, etc. They are also experts in promoting wellness and preventing diseases.
A few things internists are not. They are not general practitioners (usually referring to a doctor who has not completed a residency and does not have advanced training). They are not family practice doctors (whose focus also includes pediatrics, obstetrics, and surgery). And they are definitely not “interns” (a brand-new doctor completing their first year of training after medical school).
Internal Medicine physicians work in a variety of settings. Many work in outpatient clinics, some work in hospitals (and are called “hospitalists”) and some work in academic settings (like a medical school). Others work in extended-stay settings (like rehabilitation facilities and nursing homes).
In short, Internal Medicine is the skillful and compassionate care of adults using the latest scientific advances. It is, therefore, the antidote to Google university, Facebook medical center, amateur podcasts, and other sources of misinformation.