What Is the Difference between General Practice and Internal Medicine?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 25 October 2019
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General practice and internal medicine are both types of medicine that deal with diagnosing, treating, and preventing illnesses and diseases. There are many differences between these two types of medicine. Doctors of general practice, called general practitioners, treat patients of all ages, while doctors of internal medicine, also called internists, treat only adult patients. General practitioners do not deal with complicated illnesses and conditions that involve adult organs and other such parts, while internists have this ability. Internists also have the ability to perform surgical procedures, while general practitioners do not engage in surgeries.

One difference between general practice and internal medicine is the education and training. General practitioners obtain their degree following the appropriate amount of college. Internists complete the same amount of education at a college, but then they must go through additional education under internal medicine. Both types of medical professionals can also be called hospitalists because they can practice in a hospital.

Another difference between these two areas is in the area of medical specialty and the patients. General practice treats patients of all ages from birth to elderly ages. Internal medicine, also called adult medicine, focuses on adult patients. An internist can treat or prevent the multi-system diseases that afflict adult patients.


Although an internist can provide general practice care for adults, many internists have a specialty area that provides a difference between general practice and internal medicine. Common subspecialties are gynecology, cardiology, and gastroenterology. Internal medicine subspecialties may also include hematology, rheumatology, and pulmonology. General practice does not have areas of subspecialties.

The two types of medical practices have the main goals of diagnosing, preventing, and treating illnesses and diseases that afflict people. General practice and internal medicine have different types of patients, but they both promote the wellness of people through physical examinations. General practice uses general testing, like blood tests and urine cultures, to determine the health of a patient. Internal medicine has the ability to use more comprehensive testing procedures, such as magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasounds, to find things a general practitioner may not have been able to see. When an internist is also used as an adult patient’s primary care physician, in many cases illnesses can be diagnosed more easily than if a patient had to see a general practitioner first.

General practice and internal medicine have similar goals, but they deal with different patients. A general practitioner does not have the ability to treat complicated diseases and illnesses, particularly in adults. Internists are often the doctors whom patients are referred to by general practitioners, particularly if the patient needs treatment in a subspecialty. General practitioners are not educated in surgical procedures, but many internists are able to perform surgery in their subspecialty.


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