The Differences Between Internal Medicine and General Medicine

Internal Medicine and General Medicine

The healthcare field is growing so rapidly that it seems impossible to determine where to go or who to see for treatment. When choosing a doctor for you or your family, it’s essential to understand which specialty will best suit your needs. Here at Today’s Integrative Health, we know how important it is to see a doctor that really cares about your health. 

The healthcare field is growing so rapidly that it seems impossible to determine where to go or who to see for treatment. When choosing a doctor for you or your family, it’s essential to understand which specialty will best suit your needs. Here at Today’s Integrative Health, we know how important it is to see a doctor that really cares about your health. 

What is Internal Medicine?

Internal medicine doctors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of adults eighteen years and older. Also known as “internists,” they use a scientific approach along with their clinical experience to diagnose complex medical conditions. Internists treat adults with chronic illness or those that suffer from multiple diseases. Internal medicine physicians regularly treat patients with conditions such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Chronic lung disease

Internists observe the function of a patient’s internal organs, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver. When an illness in one or more organs becomes advanced, an internist will seek out a doctor specializing in that particular part of the body to help treat the patient. Internal medicine physicians also specialize in promoting a healthy lifestyle to prevent disease. 

What is General Medicine?

General practitioners, or family doctors, manage the health and well-being of patients of all ages. Pediatricians who treat children and gynecologists who provide care to female patients are also considered general practitioners. Another type of general practitioner is an osteopath, who uses conventional treatments and focuses on relieving pain and tension in the musculoskeletal system using osteopathic manipulation.

The main objective of general practitioners is to keep patients healthy to avoid hospitalization. General practitioners perform routine exams, treat common conditions, and administer immunizations. A general practitioner will treat illnesses and injuries, including:

  • Asthma attacks
  • Cold or flu
  • Rashes or skin infections
  • Minor broken bones or sprains
  • Minor wounds
  • Migraines
  • Urinary Tract Infections

General practitioners also treat and write prescriptions for chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes. They promote healthy lifestyle recommendations to improve overall health. They can also assess some mental health conditions and refer patients to specialists as needed. 

What Qualifications do Internal Medicine and General Medicine Doctors Have?

Internal medicine doctors must first complete a four-year medical school, followed by a three-year residency program in internal medicine. They will then need to pass the exam to become certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine

Some internists choose to subspecialize in a specific area of internal medicine. Subspecialty training may require an additional one to three years beyond the primary three-year internal medicine residency. Common subspecialties for internists include cardiology, pulmonary disease, oncology, critical care, and hematology. 

The education of a general practitioner can take up to fifteen years. They must attend an accredited medical school for an average of four years. The doctor will then focus on their specialty during their residency, taking up to seven years.

Benefits of an Internist

Patients with chronic diseases often choose an internist as their primary care provider because the doctor can coordinate with a specialist if more complex care is needed. Internal medicine doctors can address everything from preventive care to serious illness. They provide long-term care and excel at diagnosing diseases. 

Benefits of a General Medicine Practitioner

Healthy people may choose a general practitioner or family doctor as their primary care doctor. General practitioners often care for the same patients throughout their lifetime. They may also care for multiple generations of family members at the same time. Since general practitioners provide care to the widest variety of ages and conditions, they are trained to diagnose and treat a broad range of diseases and ailments.

During their residency, general practitioners undergo training in:

  • Pediatric Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Internal Medicine
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Surgery
  • Psychiatry
  • Radiology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Urology

What to Expect at an Appointment with an Internalist vs. General Practitioner

If you are a healthy patient, your internal medicine doctor or general practitioner appointment will be very similar. Both doctors will check your vital signs and review your medical history. They may perform routine blood tests to screen for any health conditions.

If you are seeking a diagnosis for an illness, an internal medicine doctor will:

  • Observe your appearance, including your posture and how you move
  • Listen to your heart for any irregularities
  • Listen to your breathing
  • Look at your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and throat
  • Check your skin and nails

During a regular check-up with a general medicine doctor, they may:

  • Conduct women’s health screening to include a pap smear, osteoporosis screening, mammogram referral, and sexual health screening
  • Perform men’s health screening: prostate exam, aortic aneurysm screenings, colorectal exam referral
  • Screen your Infant or child to evaluate growth

Should I Choose an Internal Medicine or General Medicine Doctor?

The terms “general practitioner,” “primary care physician,” and “internist” are often used interchangeably, but they don’t all mean the same thing. General practitioners and internists are both primary care physicians that provide care to adult patients. It is important to know the difference between doctors when you search for a new primary care physician. 

It may be difficult for some to choose between internal medicine doctors and general medicine doctors. Both types of doctors will help you in your pursuit of a long and healthy life. They will aid in disease prevention and early detection of health issues. They are both capable of diagnosing and treating many conditions. There are benefits to choosing either type of physician.

Reach Out To Us

If you are looking for Functional Medicine Care in the Rockville, Maryland area, then please contact our office. Our wonderful staff here at Today’s Integrative Health, will get you an appointment to see Dr. Leo. We look forward to speaking with you. 


Picture of Dr. L. J. Leo

Dr. L. J. Leo

Dr. Leo began his education at the Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia, where he earned his doctorate in osteopathy. He completed his internal medicine residency through the U.S. Army and had the honor of serving multiple overseas tours before retirement.

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