The Specialty of Internal Medicine
Physicians who specialize in the field, known as internists, are skilled in disease prevention and in managing complex disorders of the body. Internists may be either generalists or specialists. General internists typically act as personal physicians, developing long-term relationships with patients. Internists give patients regular physical examinations, offer preventive care, diagnose and treat most non-surgical illnesses, and refer serious or unusual cases to an appropriate specialist. If a patient complains of persistent stomach problems, for example, a general internist might refer the patient to a gastroenterologist, an internist who specializes in disorders of the digestive system.
Within the field of internal medicine, nine subspecialties are recognized: cardiology, the treatment of diseases of the heart and blood vessels; endocrinology, the study of glands and other structures that secrete hormones; gastroenterology, the care of conditions of the digestive tract, liver, and pancreas; hematology, the study of blood and blood-forming tissues; infectious disease, the study of severe or unusual infections; nephrology, the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases; oncology, the study and treatment of cancerous tumors; pulmonary disease, concerned with disorders of the lungs and other components of the respiratory system; and rheumatology, the treatment of disorders involving joints and other connective tissues. An additional subspecialty gaining prominence is geriatrics, the study of diseases affecting older adults.