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Family or internal medicine physician: Who's right for you?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Are you confused about whether an internal medicine physician (also known as an internist) or a family medicine physician is right for you? Don’t worry—you aren’t alone.

Internal medicine and family medicine physicians are both known as primary care providers (PCP) meaning they treat common medical problems that people have.  Your PCP usually is involved with your care for a long time and will help you maintain a healthy lifestyle, treat common medical issues, and direct you to other physicians for specialty care, as needed.

“Both internal medicine and family medicine physicians treat a wide array of health issues,” explained Dr. Jessica Butts, a family and sports medicine physician with Middle Tennessee Medical Group. “The major difference between the two specialties is that internists do not treat young children because their training is concentrated exclusively on adults.”

Many internists focus their practice on a particular area or condition. Examples include:

  • Adolescent medicine
  • Allergy and immunology
  • Cardiology (heart)
  • Endocrinology (diabetes and other glandular disorders)
  • Gastroenterology (colon and intestinal tract)
  • Geriatrics (care of the elderly)
  • Hematology (blood)
  • Infections disease
  • Nephrology (kidneys)
  • Oncology (cancer)
  • Pulmonology (lungs)
  • Rheumatology (arthritis)
  • Sports medicine

Deciding whether an internist or a family medicine physician is right for you depends on the type of experience you are seeking. Patients who want one physician to treat their entire family may prefer to select a family medicine physician as their primary care provider. Otherwise, either a family physician or a general internist is great choice to provide primary care.  No matter who you choose, the most important decision is to designate someone you feel comfortable with as your primary care provider.

For more information regarding family medicine physicians or internists, or for more information about Saint Thomas Health, please visit Don’t have a primary care physician? Call 1-800-Doctors for a free physician referral. 

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