Be an Internal Medicine Doctor

Research what it takes to become an internal medicine doctor. Learn about education, licensing requirements and salary to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is an Internal Medicine Doctor?

Internal medicine doctors, also known as internists, diagnose and treat illnesses in adult patients, as opposed to family practitioners who see both adults and children. Internists specifically provide treatment of non-surgical diseases and injuries related to the internal organ systems in adults and address a wide-range of issues. They examine patients and advise them from simple health questions to more complex issues which may require the attention of specialists in other areas, including surgeons.

The following chart provides an overview about a career as an internal medicine doctor.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Training Required 3- to 5-year residency
Licensure or Certification All states require doctors to be licensed; board certification is available
Key Responsibilities Examine patients; order diagnostic tests and analyze results; diagnose medical conditions and provide in-patient or out-patient non-surgical treatment; prescribe and administer medication
Job Growth (2018-2028) 7% for all physicians and surgeons*
Median Salary (2018) greater than $208,000 for all physicians and surgeons*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Does an Internal Medicine Doctor Do?

You may be a patient's primary care physician, and as a general internist, you work with patients' entire bodies, including limbs, organs, bones and nervous system. Internal medicine doctors can work with patients through mental health concerns and substance abuse. You will work between your office and hospitals.

An internal medicine doctor may be an osteopathic doctor (O.D.) or an allopathic doctor (M.D.). Osteopathic doctors focus in the body as a whole and on manipulative movements that help to strengthen the body and heal injuries or illnesses. Osteopathic doctors and allopathic doctors have most of the same training and can perform the same procedures and prescribe medicine.

What Education will I Need?

Your education to become an internal medicine doctor takes about 11 years after high school. After a bachelor's degree, you continue on to medical school to earn an M.D. or D.O., studying subjects such as cardiology, phlebotomy, ethics, pathology, biochemistry, neurology, pediatrics, oncology, radiology and gynecology. After medical school you complete an internal medicine residency where you work with patients, and then a fellowship where you can work in a subspecialty such as emergency medicine, oncology or geriatrics.

What Other Requirements Must I Meet to Practice?

You will be required to be licensed if you practice medicine in any of the 50 states. The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) provides three stages of exams that are required to be taken and passed for licensure ( Each state's medical licensing board has its own specific requirements.

What Is the Average Salary for an Internal Medicine Doctor?

The median salary of a general internist in 2018 was $194,500, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( In 2019, ('') reported that internal medicine doctors earned an average salary of $217,482.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Medical professionals looking for career alternatives can find positions as podiatrists, chiropractors, dentists, optometrists and veterinarians. These jobs require a medical doctorate and years of internship. With a master's degree you could possibly work as a nurse anesthetist, midwife or practitioner. These professionals work directly under a medical doctor in that specialty. Registered nurses only need the equivalent of a bachelor's degree and will work sometimes in a clinical or hospital setting as well as for private practice MDs.