Primary Care

Family Medicine or Internal Medicine?

What’s the difference between a family medicine provider and an internal medicine provider? Which is the right provider for you?

Aug. 30, 2023 4   min read

The compassionate mid adult female doctor discusses sensitive medical issues with her senior adult male patient as the young adult son listens in.

When you are searching for a new primary care provider (PCP), you want comprehensive, thorough care from someone you trust. Internal medicine providers (internists) and family medicine providers both fall under the umbrella of primary care. Understanding the differences between internal medicine and family medicine will make it easier for you to choose your ideal provider.

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Internal medicine providers and family medicine providers have a common goal: helping you improve your health. Knowing the similarities and differences between both can help you find the right provider.

Internal medicine providers

Internal medicine providers, often called internists, only provide care for adults – not children. They specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease and see patients for every health condition, from a physical or a sinus infection to a broken bone, and anything in between. Internists help with preventive care and the treatment of complex adult diseases, and they are the go-to provider to help connect and coordinate the many subspecialties a patient might need.

Patients they see

Internal medicine providers see adults, patients ages 18 and up.


Internists complete a three-year residency program after medical school before they begin practicing internal medicine. Their residencies are a balance of inpatient and outpatient training, allowing them to gain a breadth of experience. Hospital residency allows them to focus on treating patients in cardiac care, geriatrics, palliative care, and Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU).

While their required training centers on common adult medical conditions, it also includes comprehensive experience in a wide variety of subspecialties, such as:

  • endocrinology
  • rheumatology
  • infectious diseases
  • neurology
  • psychiatry
  • dermatology
  • ophthalmology
  • gynecology
  • otorhinolaryngology (ears, nose, and throat)
  • non-operative orthopedics
  • palliative medicine
  • sleep medicine
  • geriatrics
  • rehabilitation medicine


Internists are excellent primary care providers for adult patients, with the added benefit of special training to deal with the complexities of patients who might have multiple or uncontrolled medical problems. Their training enables them to interact effectively with their subspecialty colleagues in co-managing complex patients and situations, such as those with transplants, cancer, or autoimmune disease and easily managing the transitions from outpatient to inpatient settings. They are also very helpful for people struggling with diagnostic dilemmas.

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Family medicine providers

Family medicine providers are often called family practitioners. Their medical practice is similar to internists, with one main difference: they see and care for patients of all ages. With that said, you do not need to have a family to see a family medicine provider.

Family practitioners provide comprehensive, coordinated care that includes diagnosing and treating illnesses, providing annual checkups, health-risk assessments, immunizations, screening tests, and some minor procedures.

Management of chronic illnesses falls under a family medicine provider’s responsibilities, as well. Patients will work with their family medicine provider to coordinate care with other specialists for conditions such as heart failure, diabetes, cancer, asthma, and more.

Patients they see

Family practitioners cover pediatrics, adolescent medicine, adult medicine, and geriatrics. They can care for your entire family, and often see the same patients through every stage of their lives, as well as their families. But you do not need to have a family to see them.


Family medicine doctors complete a three-year residency program after medical school that integrates community medicine, inpatient, and outpatient care. Many family practice residents train in an inpatient setting during their first year of residency, then shift to outpatient locations for their second and third years. This cross-training helps them to diagnose and treat an entire spectrum of medical issues for patients of all ages.

Family medicine residencies can include training in a variety of specialties, such as:

  • emergency medicine
  • internal medicine
  • obstetrics and gynecology
  • pediatric medicine
  • psychiatry, and more

Many family medicine providers achieve additional fellowships in obstetrics, palliative care, and sports medicine to round out their expertise.


Seeing a family in its entirety allows family practitioners to see how relationships affect patient health. It also gives them the opportunity to help people through exciting new phases in their lives. Their emphasis on continuity of care, health maintenance, and disease prevention allows family doctors to function as part of a family unit depending on each individual’s medical need.

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Which is right for you?

The great thing about both of these types of doctors is you don't need a family to see a family medicine doctor or have internal issues to see an internal medicine doctor. Internists see patients 18 years and older, while family practitioners can see patients of any age. No matter which type you go with for your primary care provider, it’s important that you choose a doctor you’re comfortable with.

Next Steps Rochester Regional Health Primary Care

Finding the right primary care provider is an important decision. They help you keep your body and mind healthy and help you manage any chronic conditions that may arise. Your relationship with your primary care provider is often a life-long bond, so let us help you make that connection today.

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