What Does An Internist Do?

A doctor of internal medicine, commonly called an internist, cares for adults. Internists diagnose and treat a wide range of chronic and acute diseases that can affect adults. They also teach adults how to prevent disease through medication, exercise, proper diet and lifestyle changes since their patients typically see them regularly to maintain their health.

General internists often serve as the primary care physicians for many people. While people typically see a doctor only when they are sick, internists also serve those who are relatively in good health. The task of internists in these cases is to ensure that clients continue to remain healthy by recommending routine screenings for various diseases and suggesting vaccinations to protect against various diseases.

Internists typically see patients in their clinics although they may also work in a hospital setting. Each consultation can range from 15 minutes to 30 minutes. They can treat persons suffering from simple problems like colds, flu, stomach pains and headaches to those who are suffering from more complicated issues like hypertension and kidney problems. Aside from seeing patients in their clinics, internists also do hospital rounds to check on the conditions of their patients admitted in hospitals.

When internists see patients for the first time, they typically get their medical history and try to determine what the problem is by evaluating their symptoms. If they are uncertain or simply want to make sure about their diagnosis, they order blood tests or imaging exams. Once the results arrive, they review this and make their final determination.

Based on their findings, they prescribe medication and other treatment options for the patient. If a general internist feels that a patient can get better care from a specialist, they can refer them to a colleague. Internists can also become specialists if they undergo further training. There are actually 13 internal medicine subspecialties that general internists can focus on.

These are in the fields of:

  1. adolescent medicine
  2. allergy and immunology
  3. cardiology
  4. endocrinology
  5. gastroenterology
  6. geriatrics
  7. hematology
  8. infectious diseases
  9. oncology
  10. pulmonology
  11. rheumatology
  12. nephrology
  13. sports medicine

Cardiologists specialize in treating heart conditions; endocrinologists deal with those suffering from glandular disorders like diabetes; gastroenterologists focus on colon and intestinal tract diseases; hematologists treat those with diseases and disorders of the blood; oncologist are cancer specialists; pulmonologists treat patients with lung disorders; rheumatologists handle patients suffering from arthritis and nephrologists help those with kidney problems.

Internists specializing in adolescent medicine obviously help adolescents and young adults while geriatrics is the field that deals with the care of seniors. Infectious disease specialists are trained to treat those suffering from infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and other vectors. The final sub-specialty of internists is sports medicine which focuses on providing non-surgical care of those who lead active lives, such as athletes.

Internists typically don’t perform surgical operations on patients to treat their conditions. If they realize that surgery is necessary to alleviate a disease, such as when a tumor needs to be removed, they work together with surgeons who are trained to do the job. They confer with surgeons and determine what the risks are should they go under the knife. They also plan the actions that would be taken in case of emergencies that could happen in the operating room.

Like other doctors, internists have long and irregular work hours. They can be called in the middle of the night to attend to a patient who is in critical condition. Those working in hospitals may be on-call and may have to take on overnight shifts. Long hours, saving patients’ lives and the threat of medical malpractice should something go wrong makes this a very stressful profession.

It is also emotionally draining, especially when they have to tell a patient the realities about their condition or break the news to family members waiting outside the operating room that their loved one has not made it. Many proceed to medical school and devote long hours to become internists and even sub-specialize in a particular field because despite all its demands, toxic working conditions and emotional stresses, it is still a very noble profession that puts them in a position to help other people.

Career Spotlight: Internist

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