This is perhaps one of the most confusing questions for many students (and patients alike), particularly when referring to internists who practice general internal medicine. However, there are fundamental differences in the focus, training, and patient care activities of these two specialties.
Historically, internal medicine and family medicine developed from very different backgrounds. Internal medicine grew out of the increasing application of scientific knowledge into the practice of medicine starting in the late 1800s. This “scientific” approach to medicine was unique at the time and was progressively applied to the wide spectrum of diseases that commonly affect adults. With the growth and development of pediatrics as a separate specialty devoted to the care of children in the early 1900s, internal medicine continued its primary focus on adult patients.
Because internal medicine patients are often seriously ill or require complex investigations, internists do much of their work in hospitals. Internists often have subspecialty interests in diseases affecting particular organs or organ systems.
Internal medicine is also a specialty within clinical pharmacy and veterinary medicine.