A specialist in internal medicine (internist) is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases in adults and adolescents. Their training emphasizes the ability to make difficult diagnoses, direct complex medical investigations and manage most diseases of the internal organs. In addition, an internist promotes disease prevention by advising patients about risk factors associated with adult onset diseases.
Just as important is the internist's role as a referrer or gatekeeper to specialists. When you have symptoms that require attention by a specialist, your internist can be the person who determines which type of specialist you need to see. Afterward, the internist and specialist can coordinate your care.
Internists often function as the primary care physician for adults.
An Internist's Training and Credentials
Internists complete medical school and training in a graduate residency program, studying physical, mental and emotional aspects of human health and all of the body's systems. Their education requires time spent in classrooms, medical offices and hospitals, working directly with patients and other medical professionals.
There are two forms of residency programs: one leads to a Medical Doctor (MD) and the other leads to a Osteopathic Doctor (DO). Both paths require a similar amount of education but focus differently; a MD practices allopathic medicine, considered to be conventional medicine in the United States, and looks at the body as a series of separately functioning systems. A DO learns more about the human musculoskeletal system and approaches the body as a whole system. In actual practice, the medical education received by MDs and DOs today is quite similar.
After their first three years of training, some internists begin the practice of medicine as general internal medicine specialists. Others continue their education beyond residency in fellowship programs, which allow them to concentrate in specialty areas such as cardiology or endocrinology.
Once a physician has completed these aspects of education, he may apply to be a certified member of the American Board of Internal Medicine or the American College of Osteopathic Internists. Board membership requires frequent recertification, and to accomplish that, the physician must complete annual coursework requirements.
How to Choose the Right Internist for You
To find the right fit between you and an internist, you'll want to identify possibilities, research their credentials and then assess their capabilities for partnering with you.
Make a List of Possibilities
Compare these lists to find names in common with your needs. You will want to spend more time learning about these internists by researching their credentials and capabilities.
Research an Internist's Credentials
Using the list of names you have collected, look for the following information on UCompareHealthCare.com:
Assess an Internist's Capabilities
Once you have vetted your list based on the criteria above, you'll want to ask the following questions to determine which doctors are worth meeting:
If you are satisfied with the answers, you'll want to consider these questions:
Finding the right internist may seem like a long, involved process, however, knowing that this doctor may partner with you for a lifetime makes it worth your time and effort.
Guide to Patient Empowerment, About.com
Learn more about finding the right Internist for you at About.com.