An internist? What’s that? Is it anything like an intern?
If you’ve ever heard this term, you might not realize that internist refers to a doctor who specializes in internal medicine. Now, the natural question here is, as opposed to what? Is there an externist? Is there such a thing as external medicine?
Not quite. But there are important distinctions to be made between types of doctors.
Internist vs. Family Physician
Ultimately, the “internist” classification is one that can be confusing because the description does not contain the nuances of the label. Googling around, one might see an internist described as someone who specializes in the “complex array of diseases that might affect the human body” which sort of sounds like a “doctor.”
But, actually, the term internist makes a great deal of sense when you name its counterpart: family practitioner.
Essentially, the two terms arise out of two slightly different paths in medicine that arose historically. Internists are specialists. Their patient population is determined by demographic, disease, organ system, and so forth. Family practitioners build their practice around a family unit.
Therefore, while an internist is trained with significant experience in subspecialties ranging from rheumatology to psychiatry, a family practitioner, is trained to function as a primary care provider. Their training is no less difficult, with requirements such as training in obstetrics all the way to geriatric care.
While a family practitioner acting as a family physician might be expected to act as a general store that will have most of what you’ll need, an internist might be thought of as something like a mall with a number of specialties within. This allows them to coordinate with specialists in co-managing a patient in a way a family practitioner can’t.
Overall, there are many nuances to the term internist, and the differences between types of doctors.