Internists are medical doctors who have specialised as diagnosticians in internal medicine. Internists study the basic bodily systems (digestive, circulatory, respiratory) to identify the causes of unusual internal disorders. They provide non-surgical treatment of diseases and injuries of the internal organ systems.  Other doctors who have been unable to locate the source of the complaint refer patients to internists.  They provide care mainly for adults who have a wide range of problems associated with internal organs.

Internists perform tasks similar to those of general practitioners and often recommend laboratory tests and X-rays to aid diagnosis. Once the problem is defined it is treated by conventional medical methods.

Specialisation within this field includes:

  • Allergies

  • Cardiovascular - heart and blood vessels

  • Gastroenterology -stomach and intestines

  • Nephrology - kidneys

  • Pulmonary - lungs

  • Rheumatology - joints

Their tasks are to treat internal disorders, such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and problems of the lung, brain, kidney, and gastrointestinal tract.  They analyse records, reports, test results, or examination information to diagnose medical condition of patient, and prescribe or administer medication, therapy, and other specialized medical care to treat or prevent illness, disease, or injury.  They need to provide and manage long-term, comprehensive medical care, including diagnosis and non-surgical treatment of diseases, for adult patients in an office or hospital.

Internists also manage and treat common health problems, such as infections, influenza and pneumonia, as well as serious, chronic, and complex illnesses, in adolescents, adults, and the elderly.  They need to monitor patients' conditions and progress, and re-evaluate treatments as necessary.

They collect, record, and maintain patient information, such as medical history, reports, and examination results and make diagnoses when different illnesses occur together or in situations where the diagnosis may be obscure.  An important role is to explain procedures and discuss test results or prescribed treatments with patients they refer patient to medical specialist or other practitioner when necessary.

They may advise patients and community members with regard to diet, activity, hygiene, and disease prevention, and immunize patients to protect them from preventable diseases.  It is important to advise the surgeon of a patient's risk status and recommend appropriate intervention to minimize risk.

Internists direct and coordinate the activities of nurses, students, assistants, specialists, therapists and other medical staff, and provide consulting services to other doctors caring for patients with special or difficult problems.  They plan, implement, or administer health programs in hospitals, businesses, or communities for prevention and treatment of injuries or illnesses, conduct research to develop or test medications, treatments, or procedures to prevent or control disease or injury and prepare government or organisational reports on birth, death, and disease statistics, workforce evaluations, or the medical status of individuals.


  • private practice

  • hospitals

  • government departments

  • research laboratories

  • universities

  • self-employment, own practice or in partnership

Getting Started

  • try to get part-time, voluntary or vacation work, for example, as an orderly or nurse’s aide, a doctor’s receptionist or in a medical laboratory

  • try to arrange to speak to an internist about this type of career


University of Cape Town, University of Stellenbosch, University of the Witwatersrand

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