The term internal medicine was used by German physicians late in the nineteenth century to describe a branch of medicine that did not use surgical methods of treatment with patients.
The American Congress on Internal Medicine was established in 1915 to facilitate exchange of ideas among physicians interested in this branch of medicine, to publish, and to grant research fellowships.
This group became today’s professional association, the American College of Physicians. In 2003 there were more than 164,000 internists in the United States.
The Profession Now:
Specialists in internal medicine primarily treat adults, although some also treat adolescents. Internists, as they are often called, intimately understand all the major organ systems. They diagnose and treat acute and chronic diseases, usually from practices based in offices. They also visit patients hospitalized for problems that fall under the domain of internal medicine.
Every day internists see and treat a wide range of patients with a great array of illnesses. A typical day might see an internist treating colds and flu as well as diabetes and heart problems.
In medical school it is often said that internal medicine is an intellectual medical specialty because internists often diagnose and treat based on discussion with their patients, rather than relying on extensive tests and procedures.
Some internists are board certified in internal medicine and another internal medicine specialty, such as cardiology or gastroenterology.
This enables these physicians to have a general internal medicine practice, but also to be experts in a particular aspect of internal medicine.
Like family practice, internal medicine offers close and long-term relationships with patients. An internist is often in charge of overall patient management because of this relationship. If a patient has a problem that requires specialty treatment, the internist often coordinates that care. Internal medicine can be a challenging specialty because of the diversity and intellectual stimulation it offers to its practitioners.
Like family practitioners, internists must make themselves available to their patients, sometimes outside of business hours. They may sacrifice more of their personal lives than physicians in other specialties.
Despite the long hours and degree of responsibility, internists are not among the highest paid physicians. Their average annual gross income ranges from $150,000 to $179,000. However, their liability premiums tend to be lower than those of many other physicians.
In 2002, internists paid an average of $12,355 for insurance, just a little higher than what family practitioners pay.