Digital body parts over White man in doctor's coat holding up end of stethoscope

How to Determine If a Career in Internal Medicine Is Right for You

Interested in medicine but don't know what specialty to pursue? Consider a future in internal medicine! Here's what to know straight from an internist.

Choosing a career is hard, and even if you already have your heart set on a career as a doctor, there are still many specialties to choose from. The road to becoming a physician is long—usually taking a minimum of four years of college after high school, four more years of postgraduate study in medical school, and three years of further training in residency before your training is complete. Before committing to over a decade of education, it pays to have a full understanding of the rigors associated with becoming a physician. If you’re considering a career as a doctor or already pursuing med school, a career in internal medicine might be right for you.

Choosing a career in medicine

Students pursue careers in medicine for many reasons—the opportunity to help others, a variety of daily challenges, the reward of watching patients get better, and even just the prestige of working in the profession are all major attractions. From nurses and doctors to EMTs and physician assistants, health care professionals are often driven by an intrinsic desire to help people. If that’s not enough motivation, consider that health care job opportunities are projected to grow substantially and, generally speaking, pay well compared to other fields. While many are motivated to pursue a career in medicine for altruistic reasons, a strong future job market and the promise of a good salary don’t hurt either!

How do I decide if I should pursue medicine?

First things first: You should have a good understanding of what a doctor does on a day-to-day basis before committing to several years of medical school and residency. Shadowing physicians, volunteering in a hospital, or working as a paramedic or EMT are all great ways to get exposure to the health care field. Although nothing can prepare you perfectly for the rigors of medical school, taking a challenging curriculum in high school and college will also help you prepare academically for the challenges of this path.

Related: How to Pursue Your Interest in Pre-med in High School

What is internal medicine specifically?

Internal medicine is the world’s largest medical specialty—there are over 200,000 internists practicing in the United States alone. Internists are united by their dedication to the art of observation and the application of the latest medical science to the care of patients. For this reason, many medical school graduates choose to complete a residency in internal medicine. In fact, it’s required if you want to become a cardiologist, oncologist, and many other types of specialist physicians. Because the training is more general, internists aren’t typically limited to practicing in one setting and can change focus several times in their careers depending on their interests. This provides physicians who choose to go into internal medicine a great deal of flexibility when designing their careers.

What types of jobs can you get as an internal medicine physician?

The types of job you can have as an internist are limited only by your imagination! Internists practice in hospitals, primary care clinics, and nursing homes. Some even do house calls, run rural clinics, work in emergency departments, or work exclusively in telehealth care. Internists can practice in academic settings or community and private practice settings. Because of their general training, they are also highly sought after in a variety of non-clinical positions as hospital administrators, medical directors, start-up consultants, and pharmaceutical researchers. While there are numerous non-clinical jobs available to internists, many are content to practice medicine full-time.

How to decide if internal medicine is right for you

Once you’re in medical school, your clinical clerkships, mentors, and professors are the best sources of information to decide if a career in internal medicine is right for you. If you’re undecided on a specialty, take elective courses or join interest groups to help narrow down your choices. Before medical school, asking to shadow an internal medicine physician can be a great way to get familiar with what they do. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions (or check out an interview) to get honest insight into what the daily job of an IM physician is like. It may be beneficial to shadow multiple internists, especially those practicing in different specialties, to get a better picture of what opportunities are available to you.

Related: Exploring the Health Sciences: How to Find the Right Field For You

Becoming a physician is a long but rewarding journey. Try to get as much exposure to medicine as possible before applying to medical school, either by working in the health care field or shadowing a doctor. Combined with a rigorous course of study in college, this is a great first step to deciding if a career in medicine in general, or internal medicine more specifically, is truly right for you.

Looking for the right school to start your health care journey? Check out our featured health college lists to find the best of the best across the country.

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About Dr. Brennan Kruszewski

Dr. Brennan Kruszewski

Dr. Brennan Kruszewski is a practicing internist and primary care physician in Beachwood, Ohio. He graduated from Emory University School of Medicine in 2018 and recently completed his residency in internal medicine through University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He enjoys writing about a variety of medical topics, including his time in academic medicine and how to succeed as a young physician. In his spare time, Dr. Kruszewski is an avid cyclist, lover of classical literature, and choral singer. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.


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