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.

Personal Requirements

  • strong desire to help the sick
  • able to inspire confidence
  • emotionally stable
  • able to make decisions in emergencies
  • willing to study a great deal to keep up with the latest advances in medical science
  • above average intelligence
  • aptitude for science
  • physical stamina to work long and irregular hours

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science 
Recommended subjects: Life Sciences

  • Pass matric with a Bachelor's pass
  • Meet the admission requirements (APS) set by the university
  • All applications for admission to MBChB and Medical degrees are subject to selection.
  • Due to the limited number of spaces available, only a small percentage of applicants are admitted.

What to Study

Degree: MBChB - UP, US, UCT, Wits, UKZN, UFS, UL

  • Theoretical training: 5 years.
  • Student internship: 1 year.
  • Internship: 2 years
  • Community Service at an approved medical faculty: 1 year

    Registration as an Independent Medical Practitioner with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) will only be permitted once all the necessary criteria have been met.

Post-graduate: Study for specialisation as an internist involves:

MMed or FCP(SA): 4 years.

Before commencing post-graduate study for specialisation as an internist the candidate must be:
  • in possession of a MBChB degree for 2 years
  • registered as a medical doctor with the HPCSA

On successful completion of the examination to qualify as specialist, the candidate must register with the HPCSA as an internist.

Consult the HPCSA website for the most up-to-date information relating to accredited qualifications and registration requirements. This information can be found in the relevant sections under the Professional Board for Medical and Dental (and medical science) practitioners.  

Each accredited university may have additional requirements for admission to this specialization.


  • private practice
  • hospitals
  • government departments
  • research laboratories
  • universities
  • self-employment, own practice or in partnership

Further Information

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) 
(553) of Hamilton and
Madiba Streets,
Arcadia, Pretoria
Tel: (012) 338-9300

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

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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