What’s the Difference Between Family Medicine and Internal Medicine?

Date: May 26, 2023

Everyone needs a primary care provider (PCP), regardless of age, wellness goals or health concerns. A PCP can help you stay healthy, provide care when you’re sick and direct you to more specialized treatment when needed. If you need to find a PCP, deciding whether to see a family medicine or an internal medicine provider is an excellent place to start.

Family medicine and internal medicine doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners share the same goal: keep patients as healthy as possible. All offer routine health screenings, provide immunizations, and refer patients for specialty care when needed. When you are ill, they can see you in the office, order tests if necessary and prescribe medicine, if needed, to help you recover as quickly as possible.

However, there are differences between family medicine and internal medicine. Let’s look at how the training and approach differ, starting with doctors.

What Is a Family Medicine Doctor?

Family medicine doctors—previously known as general practitioners or GPs—can care for patients of all ages. They diagnose and treat various conditions, provide chronic disease management, and often perform office-based procedures such as mole removals and pap smears. Their training includes four years of medical school and a three-year residency in family medicine with an emphasis on management of acute and chronic conditions. Family medicine doctors are also trained to treat general gynecological conditions. Some family medicine doctors have additional training to provide specialized care, such as sports medicine and obstetrics.

Family medicine doctors often serve as an entire family’s PCP. Treating the whole family adds an extra dimension to the care they provide. It gives doctors additional insight into each patient’s family medical history and other factors affecting their health.

What Is an Internal Medicine Doctor?

Internal medicine doctors, or internists, provide primary care for adults (18 and older). After they graduate from medical school, these providers complete a three-year residency program in internal medicine. Internists have in-depth training and knowledge of the entire human body, its organ systems and how diseases affect the body. Like family physicians, they see the big picture, which can be especially helpful for patients with multiple complex chronic conditions.

Other medical professionals rely on internists for their ability to connect the dots and help solve problems. Internal medicine doctors typically do not perform as many in-office procedures as family medicine doctors but collaborate with other specialists to comprehensively care for their patients.

Internal medicine doctors don’t provide care for children, but they often see adult patients who are all part of the same family.

How Family Medicine and Internal Medicine Overlap

At Emory Healthcare, family medicine and internal medicine providers often work together within the same practice, says Tina-Ann Thompson, MD. Dr. Thompson is a family medicine doctor who sees patients at Emory at Rockbridge, along with other family medicine and internal medicine doctors, and advanced practice providers. “Working with doctors from another specialty creates a great atmosphere where every provider learns from each other,” Dr. Thompson says. “This helps ensure all patients receive the best care possible.”

Like many Emory Healthcare primary care practices, Emory at Rockbridge (in Stone Mountain) also has advanced practice providers (APPs) who provide primary care. APPs, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, see patients and offer the same high-quality care as doctors. They are trained with graduate-level education preparation and can perform several of the same tasks physicians can, such as diagnosing and treating various conditions, managing chronic illness, and even prescribing medications.

Choosing the Right Provider

Deciding whether to see a family medicine or internal medicine doctor is just one step to take when looking for a new PCP. Other steps may include:

  • Ask friends and family members for provider recommendations.
  • Read the provider’s online profile to learn about their approach to care and areas of interest.
  • Ensure the provider offers the services you need (such as gynecological care or sports medicine).
  • Confirm the practice accepts your health insurance.

Do you need to find a primary care provider? Let our “Find a Provider” tool help. Emory Healthcare has more than 300 family medicine and internal medicine providers – APPs included. You can usually be seen by a physician assistant or nurse practitioner much faster than making an appointment with a doctor. APPs also spend more time with you, too. Visit us online to find a provider who fits your needs.

Make an Appointment

Patients are now able to schedule appointments online or call 404-778-7777 for additional assistance.

About Emory Healthcare

At Emory Healthcare, we’re here to help you find the care you need when you need it. With more than 3,450 physicians in over 70 specialties, 425 locations, and 11 hospitals, as well as primary care offices, urgent cares, and MinuteClinics, we’re delivering specialized care across the region. Find a doctor near you to help you get and stay healthy.

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