Few medical students choosing General Internal Medicine
How to Become an Internist
An internist is a “doctor’s doctor” and specializes in the treatment of the entire human body. They often serve as primary care physicians in clinic or hospital settings. To become an internist, you’ll need to complete your undergraduate education and head on to medical school. Then, after finishing up your residency, you’ll need to secure your state license and board certification. At this point you are ready to find a practice location and start helping your patients!
Completing Your Education
Take science and math classes in high school.Enroll in challenging Advanced Placement (AP) classes whenever possible and prioritize subjects like biology and calculus. Improve your communication skills, which you’ll need to interact with patients, by taking composition and speech courses.
- Get the highest grades that you can, as your college scholarships will be partially based upon your GPA.
Volunteer at a local hospital or health clinic.Try to get a position early on in your high school years and stay with it as long as possible. This will allow you to build relationships with health professionals who can serve as your mentors and write recommendation letters when you need them.
- Other volunteer options include women’s clinics, eldercare facilities, or even your own personal doctor’s office.
Get a bachelor's degree.Attend a university with a record of sending students to good medical schools after graduation. Major in pre-med or a health-related field, such as biology. The American Association of Medical Colleges offers a list of suggested prerequisites that can help to guide your schedule choices.
- Get involved in a number of extracurricular activities as well. If there is a pre-med club, join in.
- Aim to earn at least a B average in all of your classes. This will help your medical school application to stand out from the crowd.
- If you know that you want to be an internist, look into combined BS-MD programs. These are hybrid programs that blend an undergraduate education with medical school requirements.
Do well on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).This is a multiple-choice exam that medical schools require as part of your application process. The test focuses on healthcare-related knowledge and skills that you’ve learned throughout your classes and in the outside world.
- The test content is divided into four sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; and, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.
- You are able to take the test multiple times (three times per calendar year, four times over two years, and seven times in a lifetime). But, your medical schools will be able to see all of your scores, not just the highest.
- It’s best to take the MCAT in the year prior to your planned entry into medical school. Get together with other pre-med students, buy study materials online, or take formal MCAT classes to prepare yourself.
Heading into Medical School
Make the most of your gap year.Many future doctors decide to take a gap or bridge year between graduating college and heading to medical school. Use this time as an opportunity to decompress and avoid burn-out. You can also pursue additional volunteer opportunities or even enroll in a post-bacc linkage program. These programs focus on easing the transition into medical school.
- As a post-bacc student, you will likely have priority access to med school faculty and advisors.
Complete medical school.Expect to spend your first year of medical school in the classroom studying subjects such as biochemistry. The second year, while still in the classroom, will shift the focus to patient interactions. During the third and fourth years, you will head into clinical rotations and gain experience in actual medical settings.
- In your third year, you can expect to explore a variety of internal medicine subspecialties. You’ll be on rotating shifts in settings focused on family practice, pediatrics, gynecology, among other areas.
Seek out a mentor.While you are in medical school, try to locate at least one person who you can go to for advice and assistance. It is best if this person is a practicing internist, although it’s really up to you. They’ll be able to talk with you about choosing a residency, getting licensed, and starting off on your professional career.
- The American College of Physicians (ACP) even has a mentor database online where medical students can apply to be paired up with professionals in the field.
Participate in a residency program.For roughly three years, you will spend your time in a hospital or clinic setting honing your skills while working with patients. You’ll still be under the supervision of more senior physicians, but you’ll also have a bit more independence. Residencies are paid and follow a very competitive application process that you should start while still in med school.
- There are a number of online databases that will allow you to search for a suitable residency. FREIDA Online and the AMA Residency and Fellowship Database are just two of them.
Pick a sub-specialty within the field.Consider landing a fellowship, which will allow you to extend your training and studies an additional one to three years post-residency. You can pick from a wide variety of specialties including cardiology, infectious diseases, or oncology. You’ll retain the core knowledge of an internist with the added benefit of seeing patients in this additional area.
Pursuing Your Professional Career
Get your license.Reach out to the licensing board for your region or state and ask for a current copy of their requirements. Follow these directions down to the last detail when completing your application. They will request information on your work history, personal past, and future plans.
- To streamline and simplify the process, it is usually a good idea to complete your residency and licensing in the same state.
- Be prepared for a 60 day minimum waiting period from the time of your application to receiving your license.
Seek board certification for internal medicine.Take the fall certification exam from the American Board of Internal Medicine or the American Osteopathic Board of Internal Medicine. Then, complete your certification application materials including information on all of your pre-med programs. Be aware that you must hold a state medical license before pursuing your certification.
- The internal medicine exam is multiple-choice and focuses on patient care, medical knowledge, communication skills, and other areas.
- Every ten years you will need to retake the exam in your specialty to keep your board certification.
- These certification instructions are specific to the United States. Medical professionals outside the U.S. will need to follow their own countries’ certification paths.
Work in a private practice for more interactions with patients.You’ll see patients in an outpatient setting and get to know them a bit more than you might in a hospital. You can create your own practice or choose to partner up with other internists or healthcare professionals in other areas. Internists in private practice groups usually get to work with a wide range of patients including adults, seniors, and children.
Work in a hospital for a fast-paced setting.Internists working in hospital environments, often called hospitalists, usually see more critical care patients than their private practice counterparts. They will also collaborate closely with hospital staff. The excitement of constant new challenges is counterbalanced by the difficulties forming long-standing relationships with patients.
- You’ll likely need to sign an employment contract before starting work in a hospital or clinical setting. Make sure to read over this document carefully and ask any questions that you have before signing.
Join a professional organization.There are a number of groups that admit internists: American College of Physicians, Society of General Internal Medicine, International Association of Internists, and Alliance for Academic Internal Medicine. Becoming a member of these organizations can provide you with invaluable networking opportunities.
- Many of these groups also create publications and these are a great way to stay updated on the latest trends in technology.
- For example, the American College of Physicians (ACP) offers a number of membership tiers from medical student (free of charge) to physician (annual fees starting at 0).
Video: Internist Career Pathway -Victor Z.
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