Internal medicine doctors are specialists who address various medical conditions affecting adults, playing a vital role in the healthcare system. Their expertise in diagnosing and treating chronic illnesses and emphasizing preventive care is indispensable to maintaining the overall health of the population. 

Becoming an internal medicine doctor is a lengthy and rigorous process, requiring a substantial educational and training investment. From the foundational years of undergraduate study to the intensive clinical training of residency, each step is designed to equip you with the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed in the field. But how many years does it take to become an internal medicine doctor? That’s what this guide is all about! Join us as we explore a detailed timeline and stages of becoming one and the essential skills to possess as an internal medicine doctor. 

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What Is an Internal Medicine Doctor?

An internal medicine doctor, also known as an internist, is a specialist who prevents, diagnoses, and provides treatment for various diseases affecting adults. They typically serve as primary care providers for their patients, although they differ from other primary care providers as they typically only assist adults. Internists handle a variety of tasks to provide patients with the specific care they need to improve their health or overall quality of life. While their responsibilities vary depending on specialization, their duties include:

  • Conducting routine physical exams;
  • Refilling patients’ prescriptions;
  • Referring patients to specialists when they require specialized care;
  • Providing guidance, counseling, and preventive interventions for improved overall health;
  • Completing X-rays, blood tests, and magnetic resonance imaging tests (MRIs);
  • Ordering diagnostic tests;
  • Providing precise diagnoses and prompt treatment.

They’re trained to diagnose and provide treatment for a wide range of conditions. They may see patients with acute conditions like infections or injuries and those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, or autoimmune disorders. They can also provide treatment for a wide array of diseases and conditions, some of which are:

  • Allergies;
  • Bleeding and clotting disorders, such as hemophilia and intravascular coagulation;
  • Cognitive concerns, including dementia;
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, esophageal disease, dysphagia, and acid peptic disease;
  • Kidney conditions, including chronic kidney disease, kidney stones, and tubular necrosis;
  • Neurologic conditions, such as headaches, migraines, meningitis, and epilepsy. 

How Many Years to Become an Internal Medicine Doctor?

As with other branches of medicine, becoming a doctor is a huge responsibility that requires extensive training and years of dedication. The journey of becoming an internal medicine doctor can take 11 years after high school to complete. However, how long it takes to become an internal medicine doctor also depends on your personal timeline, e.g., whether or not you take gap years. Let’s explore the timeline to becoming one in more detail. 

1. Undergraduate education

The first step you need to take to become an internal medicine doctor is completing a bachelor’s degree in science or healthcare-related fields. Undergraduate education typically takes four years of full-time study. Keep in mind that there are no strict requirements on the type of major as long as you complete the necessary prerequisites for medical school. The pre-medical course requirements include biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics, mathematics, and English. These courses will help build a strong academic foundation, which is necessary in medical school. 

Furthermore, the academic foundation you build through prerequisite courses is crucial for maintaining a high GPA throughout undergraduate studies and preparing to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). A good GPA and a high score on the MCATs are crucial components for enrolling in medical school. 

2. Medical school

After completing the necessary exams and prerequisite courses for medical school, the next step to becoming an internal medicine doctor is earning a medical degree. You can earn a medical degree at an allopathic medical school (M.D.) or an osteopathic medical school (D.O.). Both degrees have a similar structure and make you eligible to become a licensed physician. The main difference between the two is that osteopathic schools take a more holistic approach to diagnosing and treating patients.

Medical school typically takes four years to complete and is usually divided into two phases: pre-clinical and clinical. The pre-clinical phase refers to the first two years of medical school, during which you gain foundational knowledge of anatomy, biochemistry, pathophysiology, microbiology, and pharmacology. On the other hand, the clinical phase refers to the last two years of medical school, during which you develop clinical skills by participating in clinical rotations. During this phase, you also gain exposure to various specialties such as internal medicine, surgery, family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and psychiatry. Clinical rotations are crucial not only for gaining the necessary skills for patient care but also for allowing you to find in which area of medicine your true passion lies. 

3. Internal medicine residency

After graduating from medical school, the last step to becoming an internal medicine doctor is completing an internal medicine residency program. Residency training in internal medicine typically takes three years to complete. During residency, you gain extensive clinical experience in various aspects of internal medicine, including:

  • Endocrinology;
  • Hematology;
  • Infectious diseases;
  • Nephrology;
  • Pulmonology;
  • Rheumatology;
  • Cardiology;
  • Oncology;
  • Gastroenterology.

Throughout your training, you also get to develop strong diagnostic, clinical, and communication skills. You also learn how to work effectively as part of a healthcare team. Residency training is a crucial step as it provides you with the perfect avenue to develop practical skills for working independently as a doctor. 

Internal Medicine Doctor Skills

Let’s explore the essential skills you must possess as an internal medicine doctor and how these skills assist you in your practice. 

Internal Medicine Doctor Skills

Clinical skills

Mastering clinical skills as an internal medicine doctor allows you to provide comprehensive and effective care, addressing various medical conditions and emergencies.

As an internal medicine doctor, you must possess extensive knowledge about various diseases that affect multiple organ systems. To diagnose these diseases, you must be able to interpret diagnostic tests like blood tests, echocardiograms, and imaging tests like x-rays and MRIs.

Another crucial component to accurately diagnosing diseases is conducting thorough physical examinations. This means looking for abnormalities in the skin, heart, lungs, abdomen, nervous system, nose and mouth, eyes and ears, feet, and mental health.

Furthermore, you must be able to perform various procedures to evaluate, diagnose, and monitor patients, such as:

  • Venipuncture;
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy;
  • Bronchoscopy;
  • Joint aspiration;
  • Rhinoscopy;
  • Cardiac stress testing;
  • Oropharyngeal cancer screening. 

Communication skills

As an internal medical doctor, you must work closely with patients and their families, as well as other physicians or care providers, so strong communication skills are essential. Clear communication helps you impart important information to patients about their diagnosis and how to manage their condition. Communication skills also include listening carefully to patients’ concerns and explaining complex medical conditions in a simple and clear way. 

Analytical and problem-solving skills

To determine what type of care your patients need, you also must possess strong analytical and problem-solving skills. These skills will allow you to use deductive reasoning to diagnose conditions and provide your patients with a treatment plan that enhances outcomes. Analytical skills are also crucial when you’re presented with a disease that presents in an unusual way or with patients who have incomplete histories. On the other hand, problem-solving skills extend to recognizing and managing complications that arise during treatment, including adverse reactions to medications or unexpected disease progression. 

Technical skills

Technical skills are the specific abilities required to perform certain tasks as an internal medicine doctor. As healthcare is ever-moving toward digitalization, you must possess proficiency in Electronic Health Records (EHRs), medical software, and diagnostic tools. Proficiency in these tools allows for a more efficient workflow, decreasing the time spent on administrative tasks and increasing the time available for direct patient care. Furthermore, it ensures accurate documentation and data retrieval, which lowers the risk of errors and improves the quality of care. 

The Bottom Line

Internists are pivotal in the healthcare system, offering comprehensive care that addresses acute and chronic illnesses and emphasizes preventive measures to improve overall health. Due to this, the pact to becoming an internist spans over a decade and requires dedication, perseverance, and deep commitment to patient care.

If medicine is your passion and you’re driven to make a substantial impact on people’s lives, becoming an internal medicine doctor, though challenging, promises immense fulfillment. But why wait? Start your journey to becoming an internal medicine doctor today by exploring our M.D. program and learn how it can shape your future as a doctor. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is an internal medicine doctor the same as a GP?

While both internal medicine doctors and general practitioners (GPs) are primary care physicians, internal medicine doctors typically only treat adults. On the other hand, GPs are trained to provide care for patients of all ages. 

What is the highest degree in internal medicine?

The highest degree to become an internal medicine doctor is earning a medical degree in an allopathic medical school (M.D.) or an osteopathic school (D.O.).

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