An internist, also known as a doctor of internal medicine, general internal medicine, or GIM, is a medical doctor with a strong general knowledge of disorders of the human body. Internists can further specialize in certain patient groups or systems of the body, but an internist is specifically a generalist focusing on adult internal medicine. They have completed medical school, post-graduate training, and are qualified and experienced in general internal medicine, sometimes as well as another specialty.
A hospital-based internist can see patients with all kinds of medical problems, and can work with specialists in all areas, as well as investigations departments and ward staff. Internists are skilled diagnosticians and experts in the care of people with complex health problems. As modern medicine improves all the time people are living longer; there is a demographic shift towards an older population, and a population living longer with a range of different health problems, or ‘co-morbidities’. This means that there’s an increasing demand for internists who practice general medicine, both in the hospital setting and in the community or special clinics. Internists often work as dual-specialty physicians, especially in disciplines such as care of the elderly or emergency medicine. Internists diagnose, treat, and manage patients with complex comorbidities or health problems that don’t fall under a well-defined specialty.
Internists can work in a range of settings, but are usually based in hospitals. They work with general medical patients or closely with subspecialties of internal medicine. They may also refer patients to surgical specialties or allied healthcare professionals. General internal medicine is a term which encompasses all specialties of internal medicine, such as gastroenterology, cardiology, or endocrinology. They are part of a large multi-disciplinary team, and they will both consult and be consulted by other doctors.
A large part of the workload of most internists or general medicine doctors is seeing patients in a hospital. This includes ward rounds, clinic appointments, and planned consultations. They see people with a vast range of medical conditions, a wide variety of patients from all backgrounds, and work with all kinds of other healthcare professionals.
Internists may be involved with patients who have complex care needs and so work closely with social care professionals to find ways to keep people healthy at home and prevent unnecessary hospital admissions. Internists as general physicians take a holistic approach to patient care, considering all the aspects of the person that may contribute to their health problems. This means that internists assess their patients’ home circumstances, lifestyle, family history and life-long medical history. General medicine is informed by a range of investigations and internists can be expert in interpreting test results to help form a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Some internists work in medical research helping to increase and improve the evidence base behind modern medicine. Internists can also work in public health promotion, identifying trends in disease and working to prevent ill health through programs of health promotion, screening, and vaccination.