Difference between Family Medicine and Internal Medicine

Have you ever wondered what type of doctor you need to have?  I hear lots of people say, “I just need a regular doctor.”  But even with “regular doctors” there are several different specialties and so which one should you see?

When I tell people I am a family medicine doctor, most people say “oh, so you’re a general practitioner.”  Actually, general practitioner or GP refers to a doctor that has been to 4 years of medical school and 1 year of residency.  They are licensed as a physician but not board certified in any specialty.  There are very few physicians who are GP’s now as the vast majority of residents complete a minimum of 3 years of residency  (after the same 4 years of medical school) in order to become board certified in a specialty. Primary care physicians include internal medicine, family medicine and pediatrics.  OB/Gyn doctors are also under the umbrella of primary care for women’s health.  So what’s the difference in these primary care doctors?

Pediatricians of course are trained specifically in children’s health.  Most pediatricians see patients from birth to 18 years old.  Internal medicine doctors are trained with an emphasis on inpatient medicine meaning they learn how to treat adult patients in the hospital.  Many of these doctors train for 3 years in internal medicine then go on in their training to become a sub-specialist in a more specific area of medicine like cardiology.  Some practice only inpatient medicine, some only outpatient medicine and probably the majority practice both.  Family medicine doctors are trained to treat children and adults with more of an emphasis on outpatient treatment (like when you go to your doctor’s office to get a check up on your diabetes or find out if you have the flu).Although actually, most of our residency is training in the inpatient setting similar to internal medicine. We are also trained in OB/Gyn and are able to care for pregnant women and deliver their babies.  Many doctors who practice in rural settings where there is no OB/Gyn will take care of the OB patients too.  Like internal medicine, family medicine doctors can practice in an inpatient and/or outpatient setting but have more of a focus on preventative medicine.  They also are able to literally see the whole family since they are trained in children and adults.

So if you are looking for a “regular doctor” you are most likely looking for an Internal Medicine or Family Medicine doctor.  Their training is very similar in many respects it’s just that an internal medicine doctor has been trained with more of an emphasis on hospital patients and a family medicine doctor on clinic patients and preventative medicine.

One Response to “Difference between Family Medicine and Internal Medicine”

  • Jeff Y:

    That is pretty cool. I’ve never paid attention to this. Great stuff. This is an excellent blog.

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