What’s the Difference Between a General Practitioner and an Internist?

People sometimes use “general practitioner,” “primary care physician,” and “internist” interchangeably. It’s important to know the differences between doctors when you’re looking for a new primary care physician, however. Both general practitioners and internists are primary care physicians. Both offer medical care for adults. GPs and internists are not the same, however. So what’s the difference between a general practitioner and an internist?

What’s an Internal Medicine doctor or internist?

An internist is a doctor who specializes in internal medicine. Internal medicine focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of injuries and diseases. Internal Medicine doctors provide comprehensive care for adults with a broad knowledge of diseases, are experts in diagnosis, and promote wellness and preventive care.

After medical school, Internal medicine doctors complete a three-year residency; this is a focused approach to adult care without further training in pediatric or obstetric care. They are specially trained to diagnose complex diseases and manage chronic illnesses that may have several different illnesses appear at the same time.  Some phrases you may hear to describe an Internist are “Doctors for Adults” or “The doctors’ doctor.”

Internists are equipped to provide health care for adults starting at age 18 and into the golden years. They provide health promotion and preventive care including recommended screenings and coordinating care with medical specialists. They treat simple and complex illnesses. 

Internists may choose a subspecialty of internal medicine such as cardiology, pulmonology, rheumatology, or gastroenterology. An internist that specializes in cardiology, for example, is a cardiologist.

General internists are trained to provide primary care for adults and are considered primary care physicians. This is where people may get confused about internists. People sometimes use “primary care physician” and “general practitioner” interchangeably. These two terms are not synonymous, however.

A primary care physician is the doctor you see for regular check-ups. Your primary care physician may be an internist, a family practitioner, or another type of doctor. Your child’s primary care physician may be a pediatrician.

What’s a general practitioner?

Like internists, general practitioners are considered primary care physicians. One of the biggest distinctions between an internist and a general practitioner is that while internists typically only treat adults, general practitioners are trained to provide care for patients of all ages.

A general practitioner may treat adults, adolescents, and also children. General practice physicians may choose to practice family medicine, but family medicine is a medical specialty.

Choosing the right doctor

If you’re looking for a new primary care physician, internists and general practitioners may both be good options. Of course, your own specific needs may determine which type of doctor is right for you.

Fayetteville Diagnostic Clinic, A MANA Clinic, is an internal medicine based clinic with some of the best board certified, internal medicine doctors in Northwest Arkansas! At this multispecialty clinic, patients can access general internal medicine doctors and specialty medicine doctors under one roof. Find the right internal medicine doctor for you! 

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