Family practice and internal medicine physicians see patients with varying conditions and of all ages. Sometimes called “primary care” physicians family medicine doctors may treat children, pregnant women, and everything in between but have been fading from the healthcare landscape for many years. Favoring the higher pay and benefits of specialty care, most new graduates are choosing specific fields of practice over family and internal medicine, creating shortages of these essential providers nationwide. This opens the door for greater locum tenens opportunities as providers take their pick of locations, sign-on bonuses and contract lengths.
Family medicine doctors Internal medicine physicians are not generalists but focus on the treatment and diagnosis of a wide range of conditions that affect adults. Sometimes called “the doctor’s doctor” internists are often consulted for difficult or puzzling medical cases. Internal medicine physicians focus their training on conditions specific to adults and do not branch into pediatrics, obstetrics or other fields that a family medicine doctor will address.
Whether a provider is working full-time for their home practice or traveling on a locum tenens basis, their job duties will be the same. Both providers must work closely with the physicians and support staff in their practice location. He or she may be working in a large urban medical facility or treating just a few patients each day in a rural mountain clinic. Either way it is the physician’s job to assess, diagnose and treat a variety of medical conditions.
Family practice doctors will see patients of all ages—the entire family—from the newborn who needs a vaccination, to a teenage girl’s strep throat and an elderly man’s kidney failure. Advanced or very complex medical cases may be referred to a specialist if the family doctor thinks it is in the best interest of the patient, but they can handle many cases with confidence. Family practice doctors often become very familiar with their patients and in some situations may treat several generations of the same family.
Internal medicine providers are a specialty group of providers who focus on the treatment of acute and chronic adult-only (patients 18 and older) health conditions. Internal medicine doctors may work in hospitals, clinics, or private practices and are trained to handle puzzling medical conditions or treat patients with co-morbidities (many medical problems at once).
No matter what field of medicine a physician works in there are a few key qualities he or she should have. Working with patients and other medical staff means good interpersonal and communication skills will be essential. Learning to listen and speak with clarity, sensitivity, and exercising patience is important. Solid assessment skills and the ability to think outside the box and under pressure, or in stressful situations are also important. Not every patient will have the same physical symptoms and it can be difficult at times to find the cause of an illness. Physicians must be detectives who are proficient at gathering all the data and then fitting the pieces together to find a cause.
The path to medical doctor is long and grueling and students must decide early what practice area they will specialize in. Here are a few challenging and positive points anyone in medical school should consider:
It can take up to ten years or more to complete your medical degree and begin working as family practice or internal medicine physician. Undergraduate work usually focuses on biology and chemistry and takes four years. Medical school also takes four years to complete and will be followed by residency and the completion of a variety of exams and residency before you receive an MD degree.
Family practice providers will take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and then choose a residency program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. He or she will need to complete certification by the American Board of Family Medicine during residency and then be able to apply for state licensure.
Internal medicine physicians will follow much the same path—undergraduate, then graduate school. He or she will sit for the USMLE exam then begin their residency with an accredited institution. Most internal medicine physicians will need to be board certified in their field and will take an additional examination to prove their proficiency. He or she will apply for state licensure as the last step and begin practicing independently. Internal medicine providers are considered specialists.
According to 2013 reports, internal medicine physicians earned a mean income of $185,000 per year. Family practice physicians reported a close income of $175,000 per year. Pay range varies widely depending on man factors including geographic location, years of experience, practice setting and more. Physicians who work locum tenens may expect to make more as they are compensated for unfamiliar working conditions and relocation.
No matter where the family or internal medicine physician works, he or she will have the same job duties. Treating patients, working with families, and thinking critically to address ever-changing healthcare situations will remain constant. Locum tenens providers may face additional challenges as they learn to navigate a new town and practice setting, get to know other doctors in the facility and manage a different day-to-day environment.
Traveling positions for family and internal medicine are readily available across the U.S. Of course, not all travel jobs are across the country—there may even be an opening locally. This means you can live at home but enjoy the benefit of extra pay and bonuses. Travel jobs often provide physicians with free housing, rental cars and other rewards plus higher pay. Traveling also brings the opportunity to work in new locations and with new people. From the tiny rural clinic to a large level 1 trauma center, there is something for everyone.
By Rachel Ballard RNC, BSN
Rachel Ballard is a certified registered nurse and owner of the medical writing company iHealth Communications. iHealth teams with healthcare leaders to create written content that boosts revenue and builds relationships. Learn more about Rachel on Google+