What Is the Difference between Internal Medicine and Family Medicine?

Brandon May

Internal medicine and family medicine use the same medical models in their practices, from hospitals and military units to private practices. The difference between internal medicine and family medicine are the patients being treated, not the medical advice or treatments themselves. Medical doctors practicing internal medicine generally use their advanced medical knowledge to help adults, while general family practitioners accept both adults and children. Education requirements are also often different for the doctors, each requiring different years of study to qualify for their specialization.

Family doctors treat people of all ages.
Family doctors treat people of all ages.

One of the main differences between internal medicine and family medicine is that internal medicine doctors only focus on adult diseases and conditions. Family doctors generally are able to apply the correct treatment and medical advice to patients of all ages, acting as both a pediatrician and adult physician. Internal medical doctors are able to remain focused on adult conditions and never have to experience a change in focus to treat childhood illnesses. General family practitioners often have to change roles multiple times a day, which requires quick retrieval of the proper medical knowledge.

Since treatments for diseases can sometimes be different in people of varying ages, internal medicine and family medicine physicians are required to fulfill slightly different educational requirements. Doctors of internal medicine will sometimes specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as cardiology or oncology, which requires more years of study than general medicine. Residency requirements for each type of doctor are generally about the same, yet the difference lies within the patients being treated. Both practices treat adults in a variety of settings, including hospitals and private practice.

Many people are confused about the term internal doctor, thinking it refers to an intern doctor, who is a recently graduated medical student serving in his or her first year of medical residency. It may also be believed that every doctor who owns a private practice can treat and prescribe medications to any age patient, yet this is not the case for doctors practicing internal medicine. Family practitioners must have the dedication and capabilities to know general medical knowledge that applies to every age and body type, perhaps leading to less individualized treatment. Although education requirements are slightly different for each medical doctor, the form of treatment presented in both practices are often effective in the majority of patients.

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