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Internal Medicine vs. Family Medicine – What’s the Difference?

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When it comes to choosing a medical specialty, there is a wide range of options available for graduates. Many students are interested in research; some want to perform surgeries, while others specialize in mental health. Primary care is one of the most famous medical specialties that provide medical graduates with many lucrative career opportunities.

Family medicine and internal medicine are the two most famous primary care specialties that allow you to diagnose different types of diseases, build relationships with parents and find rewarding career opportunities.

If you are interested in a primary care specialty but unsure which primary care specialty to choose, this post will help you understand the differences between internal medicine or family medicine. Let’s explore which primary care specialty is right for you.

Internal Medicine vs. Family Medicine   – Education and Residency Timeline

Internal medicine doctors, also called internists and family medicine doctors, are primary care physicians who need to complete a four-year MD program. After completing medical school courses, prospective primary care physicians must complete specialized training and residency programs to become certified doctors. The nature of residency training they receive is different from each other.

Internal Medicine Doctors

Internal medicine residents receive hospital-based training and learn how to take care of hospitalized patients for three years. They receive training to treat adults and children. After completing a three-year residency training, you will be eligible to practice internal medicine. However, taking additional training in subspecialties, such as dermatology, endocrinology, neurology, and cardiology will make you a specialist in the field.

Family Medicine Doctors

Family medicine residents also complete a three-year residency program but in different departments. They receive one year of hospital-based training to treat hospitalized patients. In contrast, in the remaining two years, they get training in pediatrics, geriatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, urology, and different other outpatient medical specialties. Since they receive training to care for patients of all ages, they are capable enough to diagnose and treat a wide array of diseases and conditions.

Internal Medicine vs Family Medicine – Types of Patients

Both family doctors and internists learn to diagnose and treat a number of health issues and treat patients from all walks of life. But the main difference is the type of patients they see. Internal medicine is a physician who cares for adults, while a family medicine doctor is a pediatrician and internist who cares for both people of all ages – infants to elderly. Family medicine physicians care for multiple generations of the same family members.

Family Medicine vs Internal Medicine – Responsibilities

A family medicine physician is a person who takes care of the whole family – from children to adults. They can treat patients of any age and are trained to diagnose a variety of acute and chronic conditions, behavioral issues, skin diseases, and other health issues. Family medicine doctors are specialized in overall wellness and preventive care. Many family medicine physicians work in private settings or work in the outpatient setting of the hospitals and medical centers.

In contrast, an internal medicine physician is a primary care doctor who cares primarily for the elderly. Internists specialize in adult medical care and are responsible for treating general medical conditions. They receive inpatient and outpatient training, which means they are capable enough to provide excellent care to adult patients who are hospitalized. Internists can work in inpatient and outpatient medicine and work as hospitalists.

Family Medicine vs Internal Medicine – Duties

Internal medicine and family medicine, both doctors diagnose and treat patients and perform various job duties.

They perform main office procedures, such as

  • Perform diagnostic procedures
  • Laceration repair
  • Fracture care
  • Removal of foreign particles from skin and eyes
  • Excision of skin lesions
  • Administering joint injections
  • Provide chronic care management
  •  Address acute issues
  •  Perform skin biopsies
  • Joint injections
  • IUD placement
  • Create a treatment plan for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol

It is important to note that both primary care doctors perform more or less the same duties, but family physicians mainly focus on preventive medicine in outpatient clinics. In contrast, internal physicians can diagnose and treat complex medical problems in the office and hospital settings.

A Brief Recap

Both family medicine doctors and internists are primary care doctors and capable of diagnosing and treating a broad range of diseases and health problems. The ages of patients they see are among the key differences between internal medicine physicians and family medicine doctors.  They both find rewarding career opportunities in different healthcare settings. Whether you choose to become an internal medicine physician or a family medicine, your ultimate goal should be to serve humanity.

If you are about to complete your MS4 and looking for a medical specialty to pursue your residency program, hopefully, this post will help you understand these important primary care specialties. Keep your personal preferences and interests in mind to make a well-informed decision for a medical career. Good luck!

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