You might already be on the path to becoming a doctor. The time has come to choose your specialty, and you’ve so far narrowed your choice down to general practice, which includes internal medicine and family medicine. Both are similar, in the sense that they involve primary care. If you like interacting with people and helping patients, primary care is the right choice for you. As a primary care physician, you can develop meaningful relationships with your patients and provide personalized care to improve their overall wellbeing.

But you may be wondering: what is the difference between family medicine and internal medicine, and how do I choose one? As much as the specialties are similar, they are also quite different from each other. In this article, we break down internal vs. family medicine to help you choose a specialty.

Internal Medicine Vs. Family Medicine: Patient Demographics

Internal medicine doctors, also called internists, provide primary care for adults. Some might treat even children, but only if they have had training in the pediatrics subspecialty as well.

Family medicine doctors provide care for patients of all ages, from infants to senior citizens. Family doctor means exactly that; they usually treat all the members of a patient’s family to ensure the well-being of the whole family is taken care of. They often care for the same patients throughout their lives, and may even treat multiple generations of family members.

Internal Medicine Vs. Family Medicine: Treatments Provided

Both types of specialists provide some general procedures, such as draining abscesses, removing foreign bodies from the skin and eyes, repairing lacerations, executing diagnostic procedures like sigmoidoscopy, proctoscopy, and minor gynecological testing, and administering nerve blocks, joint injections, and trigger point injections.

The difference in the treatments they provide depends on the complexity of the issue. Internists are trained to deal with more complex medical conditions, while family doctors focus on preventive care for their patients. Family physicians typically work in an outpatient setting, while internal medicine doctors work in inpatient settings. 

Internists prevent, diagnose, and treat adults. They are trained to deal with problems in the organs and internal systems. They are trained to treat multiple health conditions and advise their patients. Family doctors, on the other hand, are trained to deal with the entire spectrum of medical issues in people of all ages

Internal Medicine Vs. Family Medicine: Training Required

Both specialties require medical students to complete a residency, but the difference is in the type of training they receive.

Before becoming a full-time practitioner of internal medicine, internists are required to complete a three-year residency, with at least one year spent on caring for hospitalized patients, including training in intensive and emergency settings. Some choose to gain further training in a subspecialty, such as neurology, endocrinology, oncology, psychiatry, dermatology, cardiology, geriatrics or rheumatology. After completing residency, internal medicine doctors can either become primary care doctors or specialists by completing a fellowship.

Before being able to practice family medicine, doctors must complete a three-year residency in family medicine, which includes training in pediatric medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, psychiatry, radiology, ophthalmology, urology and more. Because family doctors have to treat a wide variety of ages and conditions, they must be trained to diagnose and treat a broad range of diseases and conditions. Some family medicine physicians also choose to do a fellowship in obstetrics, sports medicine or palliative care.

In Short

Both family and internal medicine doctors deal with a variety of conditions in a wide range of patients. Both types of specialists require critical-thinking skills, as they have to evaluate a completely new set of symptoms with each patient.

Internists tend to deal with more serious conditions, so they need to be able to work under pressure. While family physicians have a less hectic schedule, they must be able to form strong relationships with their patients and families. Because family doctors treat a wide variety of diseases that commonly affect adults, they can handle complex cases where multiple conditions affect a single patient.