Family medicine doctors and internal medicine doctors are two important primary care specialties. The title of doctor covers a broad cross-section of medical professionals. But within the profession, there are a variety of specialties that determine what injuries and illnesses an individual doctor treats and the types of patients they see.
Between them, these two kinds of specialists provide the majority of basic and routine medical care people receive. And they do share some things in common. But there are some important differences between the two specialties as well. Here’s an overview of the two specialties. We’ll cover what they have in common, what differentiates the two, and how to choose the right one for your needs.
What are Internal Medicine Doctors?
Internal medicine doctors, who are also known as internists, provide primary medical care for adults. This means the majority of their training and experience focuses on diagnosing, treating, and preventing diseases common to patients over the age of 18. They’re also trained to offer medical and wellness advice to their patients.
In terms of training, internists complete a three-year residency in a hospital or clinic following medical school, where an experienced doctor supervises their work. For the most part, internists see and treat adult patients during their residency. In most jurisdictions, that’s a requirement of receiving an unrestricted license to practice medicine in their particular specialty.
During their residency, however, some internists may complete additional training in a subspecialty. These days, it’s common to find internal medicine doctors who also specialize in fields like oncology, neurology, endocrinology, or even geriatrics.
What are Family Medicine Doctors?
Like internists, family medicine doctors provide primary care, but they see patients of all ages. They’re trained to handle the work of a pediatrician, an internist, and a geriatrician all at once. In other words, they can see to the medical needs of an entire multi-generational family. For many years it was common for a single family medicine doctor to see to the needs of entire towns.
The specialty of a family medicine doctor is considered the oldest specialty in the medical field. In the 1900s, they were called general practitioners. But it wasn’t until 1969 that family medicine became an official board-certified specialty. That’s the year that the American Board of Family Medicine came into being.
Internists also have to complete a three-year residency period after medical school, but their training during this period is far broader.
It’s common for family medicine specialists to get training in multiple specialties, including but not limited to:
- Internal Medicine
- Obstetrics and Gynecology
- Emergency Medicine
- General Surgery
Since family medicine doctors are expected to see to the needs of patients ranging from infants to the elderly, they’re required to learn a variety of skills that internists don’t have.
Choosing Between the Two
Because internists and family medicine doctors have some overlaps in the types of patients they see, some people have difficulty choosing which one to select as a primary care physician. And the truth is, for patients between 18 and 65 that haven’t had their own primary care doctor before, internists often make a good fit.
But there are a variety of advantages to choosing a family medicine doctor, instead. The first is that they have experience treating patients of all ages. That means patients don’t need to change doctors as they age, and can bring their kids to see their doctor when they have them. And women, in particular, can benefit from choosing a family medicine doctor as their primary care physician. Because they’re well versed in obstetrics and gynecology, female patients can receive many of the treatments they’d otherwise have to seek from an OB-GYN.
The Bottom Line
The key takeaway is that internists and family medicine doctors are similar in many respects, but the latter caters to a much wider segment of the population. They also have a broader set of medical skills and can provide a wider variety of medical care. But both are excellent primary care options for adults. What’s typically most important for adult patients is to choose a doctor they trust and feel comfortable with. But for families or anyone considering starting a family, choosing a capable and experienced family medicine doctor is a good idea.
They’ll have the skills to help deal with whatever maladies life has to throw at every member of a family. And they get to know every member of each family they serve and track their medical histories as they grow. That gives them unique personalized medical insight that’s hard to replicate. And that’s one of the reasons that family medicine doctors are such a critical part of modern medicine. They offer a kind of care that other specialists can’t provide, and that’s desirable for adults with and without families alike.