By Dr. Barbara R. Edwards, M.D., M.P.H.
In the past decade, it seems that the number of students choosing to pursue internal medicine in medical school has decreased. A combination of passion, money, schooling and rank all play a part in this decline. Though the specialty is often overlooked in medical school, internists are the first person patients rely on for decades of medical care. It’s a fulfilling, interesting career path.
Internal Medicine Outlook
The purpose of an internist is to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases in adults. Schooling and training can take up to seven years. Following their training, most internists will enter the field as generalists and are qualified to handle a broad spectrum of diseases and illnesses. They are not limited to one body system.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage of an internist is about $200,000 and employment opportunity is expected to grow 13 percent through 2026. This growth rate is faster than the average growth rate of all occupations which is just 7 percent. This faster than average growth is due to the increased demand of healthcare services by the aging population that is living longer.
Decline in Internal Medicine Rates
Today, many medical students are choosing to pursue careers in specialized medical fields such as cardiology, oncology and gastroenterology. Though these are extremely rewarding and in-demand fields, internists are just as important and in-demand.
The reasons why students are choosing specialty care over internal medicine are varied. An article published in The American Journal of Medicine suggests one assumption is that as schooling becomes more expensive, many students are choosing a specialized medical career in hopes they will make more money once they enter the workforce.
The perception that internal medicine will not provide as much profit as, say, a plastic surgeon may be true, though misguided. While net worth is an undeniable factor in the decision to study medicine, by no means should it be a doctor’s guiding force.
The Benefits of Internal Medicine
If you are entering the medical field for the right reasons, you should notice that no matter what career path you choose, it should feel rewarding at the end of a long day.
You will have the opportunity to build relationships with your patients because you can see them regularly, whether they’re battling chronic illness or healthy and thriving. As an internist, the bottom line is always to care for your patients in the best way possible.
Along with caring for patients, internists also have to balance a busy schedule which can include back-to-back appointments, taking phone calls, updating health records and communicating with their team. This may seem like a lot compared to specialist positions, but it should not deter medical students away from internal medicine. Being an internist is truly challenging, rewarding and exciting.
Why I Chose Internal Medicine
I am glad every morning when I go to work that I chose internal medicine. I love getting to know patients over many years and taking care of several generations of patients in one family. I also enjoy the variety of problems from preventive health care issues to sick visits for heart disease and emphysema. I look forward to the challenge of difficult diagnostic problems and recognizing when a run of the mill problem is not run of the mill. Just recently I saw a patient with constipation who turned out to have spinal cord compression. If I hadn’t listened carefully and done a thorough exam I might have missed the diagnosis! There is never a dull day with internal medicine.
Like all healthcare career fields, an internist should have a passion for helping and caring for others first, along with strong interests in research, sciences and medicine. They build lifelong relationships with their patients and help them every step of the way through their medical journey’s. They have vast knowledge on how to diagnose, care for and treat patients in the best way possible. Though the decline in internal medicine rates may suggest that it’s not as rewarding as specialized medical fields, this is just not true. Consider internal medicine today!