What the heck is an Internist anyways?

In short, I take care of adults who do not need surgery (though if you should need surgery, I have several on speed dial and can get you in quickly). I am the one who takes over your primary care when your pediatrician tells you its time to move on. If you want the long version, please continue reading.

If you are an adult and you have any of the following: diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, depression or anxiety, the flu or a cold, allergies or headaches, then you can come see me! Our office doesn’t generally operate as a walk-in clinic. We prefer you to make appointments. We like to get to know our patients so that we can best help you as you age. We also understand that problems arise acutely and we try to keep slots open to fit in our patients who wake up with a sore throat or need to be seen that day. But that is just what I do. The making of an internist is much more than just “adults who don’t need surgery” and not all internists practice the same way.

The Making of a Physician
First, I need to explain to you the training we go through as physicians. There are so many members of the healthcare team in this age of modern medicine. Many patients do not know the difference between a physician, a nurse practitioner, a physician’s assistant, a nurse, a medical assistant, and a radiology tech. There are so many people that go in and out of the rooms in the clinic and it is even more so that way in the hospital. Each person has a role within the healthcare team. I am writing to highlight the training of a physician, not to belittle any of my other medical team members.

How to become a physician:

  1. Complete 4 years of undergraduate education and you usually need to major in a science based degree since most requirements for medical school entry are in biology, math, and chemistry.
  2. Apply and get accepted to a accredited medical school. You must maintain >3.5 GPA and score well above average on the MCAT. You must also be well rounded and have plenty of extracurricular activities and volunteering on your resume.
  3. Complete 4 years of medical school. You must pass 2 USMLE Step board exams which are 8-12 hours each.
  4. Match into a residency program. Shortest residency programs are 3 years long and the longest, which is neurosurgery, is 7 years long. Residency is very closely supervised practice of medicine. Every decision made by the residents are scrutinized by their attending physicians.
  5. Pass a 3rd USMLE Step exam before completing residency, which is another 8-10 hour test.
  6. After residency is complete, take a board exam the board certified in a specific specialty which is another 8 hour test.
  7. After residency, there is the option to further sub-specialize, which is an additional 1-3 years depending on the fellowship program.

So in case you weren’t keeping count, by the end of residency, physicians have 7 years of post-college education and 20,000 hours (at minimum) of training under their belts. This is what makes physicians the experts in medicine and leaders of the healthcare team.

The Making of an Internist
An internist is a physician who completed a residency in Internal Medicine. We treat non-surgical problems in adults. Cardiology, gastroenterology, rheumatology (specializes in disorders of the joint and autoimmune diseases), infectious disease, endocrinology (specializes in hormonal disorders), pulmonology (lung specialist), geriatrics, allergy and immunology, hematology (specializes in blood disorders and cancers), and oncology (specialist of cancer) are all sub-specialties of internal medicine. As an internal medicine resident, most of the training is focused on very complex patients in an inpatient setting. I did the Primary Care track of our internal medicine program because I fell in love with my weekly primary care clinic when I was an intern, and that allowed me to get a little bit more experience in outpatient settings prior to graduating.

My Journey in Internal Medicine Thus Far
I was very fortunate to be able to stay in the Jackson area and practice with five well established internists in the community. They were excellent mentors and I will be forever grateful for their role in shaping the way I practice medicine.

When I started in 2015, we still were practicing “traditional medicine” where we would admit our patients if needed and round on them in the hospital. With all of the new requirements, electronic medical records, and other various forms of red tape along with an aging patient population, we soon realized that this was not going to be a sustainable way to practice very much longer. We turned our admitted patients over to the hospitalist teams and focused on seeing our patients in clinic. I hope that one day the paperwork and red tape vanishes and I am able to return to a traditional practice. Until then, I will continue to work with my fantastic team to provide the best care possible to my patients in the clinic.

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2 thoughts on “What the heck is an Internist anyways?

  1. Kristen,
    Thanks for sharing. That helps explain what an internist is and why to see them. As the medicine field is experiencing change due to science and technical discoveries, I can understand the need your practice to change its approach.

    Could you elaborate more on the area you cover as a Primart Care internist? What systems do you focus on?



    1. We deal with most chronic diseases. High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, thyroid issues, osteoporosis, etc… there will be more posts later on these topics!


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