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Difference Between Family Medicine and Internal Medicine

What is Internal Medicine Doctor or Family Medicine Doctor?

What is Internal Medicine Doctor or Family Medicine Doctor? It is a known fact that most Primary Care Practitioners (PCPs) who care for adults, practice either of the two – Internal Medicine or Family Medicine. While both of these selections of physicians are well capable and trained to care for adults, an Internal Medicine doctor (also referred to as an internist) cares only for the adults. And the Family Medicine doctor can care for all the members of the family, from children to grandparents.

So, what is Internal Medicine doctor? According to the American College of Physicians, Internal Medicine emerged in the late 1800s, as the medical field grew more and more scientific. The scientific methods were applied to different types of adult diseases. While at the same time, pediatrics got developed into another branch of medicine. So Internal medicine became a field solely dedicated to adult patients only.

Who is a Family Medicine doctor? The emergence of Family Medicine came about with the primary care movement in the 1960s. When medicine became more and more specialized, the medical field pushed for more continuity of care. Looking at the importance of long-term doctor-patient relationships, Family Medicine emerged as the social unit to treat an entire family, with no segmentation to care by any age, organ, or type of treatment.

What is the Difference between Internal Medicine and Family Practice?

Difference between Internal Medicine and Family Medicine? In both the Primary Care subspecialties, it is the Internal Medicine doctors that develop more in-depth expertise for treating adults due to the fact that their training and education focus solely on adult medicine. This allows for them to diagnose a wide range of diseases that usually affect adults and to handle complicated cases where multiple conditions/injuries can affect just one single patient.

The Family Medicine doctors have a broader scope in treatment, and usually feel comfortable caring for people of all ages and for all types of problems. Internal medicine doctors spend more time in a hospital setting, learning to care for adults with complex medical problems. Their in-depth experience in this setting is greater than that of most Family Medicine doctors. Family doctors treat mostly for outpatient procedures such as skin biopsies, IUD placement, and joint injections. They also tend to have more training in women’s health and Pediatrics as well as certain sub-specialties like Orthopaedics.

Both of these Primary Care physician specialties encounter a different variety of conditions in the different types of patients that they treat. No two shifts are the same, so critical-thinking skills are crucial to assess, with a completely new set of symptoms with each patient. The Internists tend to treat more serious ailments, so the ability to work under pressure is also imperative for them. While the family physicians need to possess strong relational skills as they often form bonds with patients and their families over time because the treatment can be long-term as well.

Family Practice Vs Internal Medicine


Internal Medicine Vs Family Medicine: Difference in Demographics of their Patients
There is a key differentiator in Internal Medicine Vs Family Medicine which can be found in both of their patient demographics. It is the types of patients that they treat which separates the two areas of Primary Care Medicine.

While Internists focus exclusively on medicine for adults, Family Medicine doctors can treat patients of all ages, from adolescence to the elderly.

This difference between the ages of their patients is a key difference between Internal Medicine and Family Medicine as it also differentiates the types of treatments they perform. Another difference is the setting where these doctors choose to treat their patients. Most of the Internal Medicine doctors end up working in hospitals, while the Family Medicine doctors primarily work in outpatient settings. This is why Internists can do both inpatient and outpatient treatment, although due to COVID-19, many of them now work at hospitals and just see the inpatients.

Family Practice Vs Internal Medicine: Difference in their Duties and Training

Another comparison between Family Practice Vs Internal Medicine is the difference in their training and practice. Once the aspiring physicians have completed their medical school courses and training, the aspiring physicians in both Internal Medicine and Family Medicine begin their training in hospitals or clinics. However, it is the nature of their training/residency that is different. The training for Internal Medicine is typically hospital-based, while training for Family Medicine is based primarily in the office.

Internal Medicine doctors take care of hospitalized patients for up to three years in their training, getting ample experience in emergency medicine, critical care, and medical sub-specialty care. While the Family Medicine doctors usually receive around just one year of the same inpatient training, and the remaining two years are split into training for pediatrics, Obstetrician/ Gynecologist (OB/GYN,) or some other outpatient medical disciplines.

The training period of 3 years can also vary based on a number of factors. The training program for both Internal Medicine and Family Medicine are different depending on their location, and the scope of training may be different in rural vs urban settings and in different areas of the United States.

Internal Medicine Vs Family Medicine: Difference in their Duties and Opportunities

There is also another difference between Internal Medicine vs Family Medicine which is the call schedule, with internal medicine taking calls at the hospitals.

Internal Medicine doctors usually have a more rigorous call schedule throughout their training program, especially with calls taken exclusively in the hospital. But the Family Practice doctors also take calls in the hospital during training, when they are rotating through Internal Medicine and Obstetrics, but most of their calls during their second and third year of training are taken from home itself.

Another factor under opportunities is the ability to further specialize, which lends itself more in the case of Internal Medicine than it does in Family Medicine. The doctors that are practicing Internal Medicine (Internists) can extend their training further, into a whole new host of specialties or specializations, while the choices are very limited for doctors practicing Family Medicine.

In case of differences in Primary Care specialties, Family Medicine physicians, in general focus on preventive medicine in an outpatient setting, while the Internists work more with hospital inpatients, although they can also work in clinics.

Family Medicine doctors usually provide more well-patient services in the office setting and do not treat as many patients in the hospital. While Internal Medicine doctors usually do their patient’s diagnosis and treatment of their medical issues of much greater complexity in both office and hospital settings. Although the complexity of treatment can vary for both; Family Medicine practitioners can also treat seriously ill patients, while Internists can also treat patients who are not suffering from any chronic condition.

Another difference is the Family Medicine doctor’s primary focus in the outpatient setting being preventive care. Most of the Family Medicine doctors focus exclusively on outpatient medicine as it’s a big part of their foundation. They can treat a healthy newborn in one visit as well as a 90-year-old with some complicated medical problems. A few of the Family Medicine doctors are quicker to refer patients to specialists if required, while some of them like to do as much as they can on their own for the patient’s treatment. It’s also the case that a few Family doctors choose to perform conditions such as minor skin surgeries, while others prefer to refer these patients to specialized doctors. A very few Family Medicine doctors even choose to deliver babies, but the vast majority prefer not to do it.

Are there any Similarities Between Internal Medicine or Family Practice

Are there any similarities between Internal Medicine or Family Practice? Yes, there are a few of the typical medical duties one can expect to find similar between Internal Medicine or Family Practice. These are such as:

  • Firstly, in case they’re performing minor office procedures, like removal of the foreign bodies from eyes and skin, uncomplicated fracture care, laceration repair, and the excision of skin lesions.
  • Secondly, for executing procedures for diagnoses like proctoscopy, minor gynecological testing, and sigmoidoscopy.
  • Thirdly, to administer nerve blocks, joint injections, and joint injections.

Although, most of the Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) or Internal Medicine or Family Practice, perform only just a few of these procedures on a daily basis.

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Content for MD:
Difference between Family Medicine and Internal Medicine? Both are Primary care doctors, Internists focus on adults, while family medicine sees all age groups.

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