Frequently Asked Questions
How is an internist different from other primary care doctors?
An internist, or internal medicine specialist, is the highest trained primary care doctor, typically spending 3 years of residency in this specialty. I spent an additional 4th year as an internal medicine fellow with primary teaching duties.
In contrast, the training for family practice is split between internal medicine, pediatrics, gynecology, and surgery.
Nurse practitioners or physician assistants often work for some doctors in an auxiliary capacity, but are not physicians.
Doctors of Osteopathy represent other primary care doctors that, although are not MDs, often serve in primary care capacities in some communities.
What’s the difference between primary care and a specialist?
Primary care physicians and especially internists, based on their training, should be capable of diagnosing and treating a wide spectrum of adult health care issues.
This includes thyroid disorders, diabetes, hypertension, and most heart-related, kidney, liver, gastrointestinal, infectious, hematologic, dermatologic, and neurologic disorders. Basic preventative health and cancer screening are important duties. Personally, I consider referral to various specialists when complicated cases arise or when special procedures are required from those specialists
Although some specialists also perform primary care duties, the ability to stay current and balanced in terms of the entire scope of adult health is probably best managed by a general internal medicine doctor.
How does ‘Alternative Health’ fit in?
Although heavy promotions exist for this type of approach by various fields like acupuncture, homeopathy, herbalists, and vitamin experts, it would be a serious omission and mistake to avoid an opinion by a qualified internal medicine specialist.
Knowing the correct diagnosis and receiving feedback from a qualified medical doctor is critical to one’s health particularly with respect to conditions like chronic fatigue, immune deficits, fibromyalgia, thyroid deficiencies, anemia, headaches, dizziness, depression, and abdominal complaints. Indeed, some critical health conditions, like coronary heart disease that can lead to heart attacks, may present with subtle symptoms like fatigue and should not be automatically attributed to some immune defect.