Internal Medicine vs. Family Medicine…which doctor should I choose?

Internal Medicine doctor vs. Family Medicine doctor…what is the difference? Choosing a doctor who will be your partner for medical issues and health goals can be an intimidating task. It is equally important to find a doctor that can help you with your specific concerns who is also someone that you like and feel comfortable with. You may be asking yourself the question, “Should I choose an Internal Medicine doctor or a Family Medicine doctor?”

Understanding the different specialties of doctors is confusing if you didn’t attend medical school. Let’s look at these two specialties so that you can make an informed decision on which type of doctor you need.

What is the difference between Family Medicine and Internal Medicine?

Medical specialties can be distinguished by the person being treated and/or what part of the body is treated.

Internal Medicine doctors focus on Comprehensive (full body) care for adults.

Family Medicine doctors focus on Comprehensive (full body) care for all ages including adults, adolescents and children.

There is a fair amount of overlap between internal Medicine Doctors and Family Medicine Doctors because they both treat adults. However, understanding the different training of Internal Medicine Doctors vs. Family Medicine Doctors will help you understand these specialties.

What type of training do Family Medicine Doctors and Internal Medicine Doctors have?

Students are exposed to different types of medicine during medical school. In the third year of medical school the focus shifts mostly to clinical learning, meaning students are treating people with doctor oversight. At this point, medical students decide what they want to specialize in. They are then able to gain additional experience in a clinical setting during their fourth year of med school.

In the fourth year of medical school, students begin applying for residency programs in their chosen specialty. After graduating with a D.O. or M.D. degree, newly minted doctors will gain real world experience treating patients in their residency program in doctor offices or hospital settings.

Residency Training for Family Medicine Doctors and Internal Medicine Doctors

The length of residency training varies with the type of specialty chosen. Both Family Medicine doctors and Internal Medicine doctors spend 3 years in residency training. Family Medicine residents train in hospitals, emergency rooms, physician offices and clinics with focusing mainly on outpatient medical treatments (doctor’s offices). Although Internal Medicine residents train in similar environments, they are more focused on inpatient medical treatments (hospital medicine/ER). Internal medicine residents also get a large amount of outpatient medicine experiences as well.

In Family Medicine residency, doctors provide acute, chronic, and wellness care for patients of all ages and rotate through specialties including obstetrics, newborns, gynecology, surgery, geriatric care, pediatric, cardiology, emergency medicine, orthopedics, psychiatry, otorhinolaryngology and general medicine. They treat behavioral health issues, common skin diseases, chronic medical conditions, perform minor surgery, laceration repair, treat fractures and focus on wellness and disease prevention.

During residency, Internal Medicine Doctors rotate through sub-specialties related to adult care including: endocrinology, rheumatology, infectious diseases, cardiology, pulmonology, nephrology, and gastroenterology. During their residency they also gain experience in psychiatry, dermatology, ophthalmology, office gynecology, otorhinolaryngology, non-operative orthopedics, palliative medicine, sleep medicine, geriatrics, and rehabilitation medicine in order to comprehensively care for adults.

Additionally, after residency, both Family Medicine doctors and Internal Medicine doctors have the option of specializing even further. This is done through a fellowship related to a particular specialty like sports medicine, palliative care, geriatric or bariatric medicine to name a few.

Call to schedule an appointment with a Family Medicine Doctor at Primary Healthcare today! (801) 758-8735

What do Family Medicine Doctors and Internal Medicine Doctors treat?

Family Medicine doctors can provide comprehensive treatment for all ages, from newborns to geriatric patients and focus on acute and chronic disease management, wellness and disease prevention.

Internal Medicine doctors provide comprehensive treatment for adults specifically, especially focusing on acute and chronic disease management, wellness and disease prevention.

We created the following graphic to help you visually see the different treatment focuses of Internal Medicine vs. Family Medicine. The center part of the Venn diagram shows the overlap between the two specialties.

There is a large amount of overlap between Internal Medicine doctors and Family Medicine doctors. You can read more about these specialties in an article by American College of Physicians “Internal Medicine vs. Family Medicine.”

A Venn diagram showing the overlap and differences between Internal Medicine vs Family Medicine.

Should I see an Internal Medicine Doctor or a Family Medicine Doctor?

Choose a Family Medicine Doctor at Primary Healthcare Utah if you:

  • Want comprehensive care for you and/or your whole family
  • Want a focus on prevention of illness and wellness
  • Need help with musculoskeletal issues (sports medicine)
  • Have urgent care needs
  • Need general pediatric care
  • Want one doctor to provide continuity and oversight of your health care
  • Need help with an acute or chronic medical condition

Choose an Internal Medicine Doctor if you:

  • Are 18 years old and up and want comprehensive adult care
  • Need specialized care for chronic illnesses including auto immune disorders, heart issues, geriatric problems and palliative care
  • Need hospital based medical care
  • Want a focus on prevention of illness and wellness
  • Need help with an acute or chronic medical condition


We hope this post has helped you understand the difference between Internal Medicine doctors and Family Practice Doctors. If you still have questions, please contact Primary Healthcare at (801) 758-8735 and we will be happy to help you make an appointment with one of our physicians or refer you to a doctor that will be a better fit for your healthcare needs.

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