WWhen my kids were little, they asked over and over, “Dad, what does ‘internal medicine’ mean?” The term “internal medicine” is not intuitive for what we do as internal medicine physicians and remains a mystery to many.

Defining the role of internal medicine within the healthcare system has been a challenge since the field began in the late 1800s in Germany. It was then that a group of “inner medicine” physicians began to apply medical scientific knowledge to the care of their patients, which differed significantly from the way medicine was practiced at the time. Sir William Osler introduced this approach to patient care in America and with it came the name “internal medicine”. It is a confusing name that contributes to a lack of popular understanding of the clinical activities, types of practice settings, and professional responsibilities that comprise the specialty of internal medicine.

Adding to this confusion is that people who specialize in internal medicine are often called “internists.” It is a confusing and dated term, which has survived over time as a shorthand term for “internal medicine” out of tradition and out of practicality. An obvious problem with being called “internist” is that people often mistakenly confuse us with medical interns — physicians in training who have completed medical school but are not yet licensed to practice medicine without supervision. This means patients do not always understand why or when they are seeing an internal medicine physician or how the role of one of these physicians differs from that of a medical intern.

Confusion is further compounded because some subspecialists have titles clearly based on the organ or system they care for (eg, cardiology, pulmonology, gastroenterology, nephrology), while others have titles that are more easily understood, such as a pediatrician in the care of children. Introduction, or a surgeon in the operating room. Some people wonder if we internal medicine physicians deal exclusively with internal organs. (We don’t.)

It’s time for us to move away from calling ourselves “internists” and officially claim the title “internal medicine physician,” which more clearly refers to our training, knowledge, and clinical skills. This shift will help unite us as critical thinkers who are uniquely trained to understand different diseases, body connections, and patients’ social environments.

Confusion and ambiguity about our name and our role is harmful, preventing us from conveying the depth and breadth of our specialty and the range of activities, practice styles and professional roles it encompasses. Without a clear sense of identity and understanding of our collective professional impact, we risk an erosion of credibility and influence and a lack of appreciation or appreciation for the role and value of internal medicine physicians in today’s health care environment.

Bringing together those trained in internal medicine under the umbrella of “internal medicine physicians” clarifies our training and professional status. It allows us to harness the power of our health systems and our collective contributions around the world, impacting better health outcomes and healthier communities.

As a specialty, internal medicine is broad and includes both general internal medicine physicians and internal medicine subspecialists, making it difficult to summarize the breadth and depth of knowledge equipped with internal medicine physicians. The diversity within the specialty of internal medicine gives us the opportunity and ability to practice in a variety of clinical settings and the types of care we provide to patients.

Despite the vagueness of the term, internal medicine is a cornerstone of comprehensive health care, vital to both patients and other health care professionals. Our diverse roles within health care, and our ability to thrive as critical thinkers, make our specialty an essential component of health care. Thus, it is welcome news to see a high number of medical students who have been matched to internal medicine residency programs this year.

I was drawn to this field because I was intrigued by the complex diagnostic challenges, which require not only a broad depth of knowledge, but also a unique and engaging opportunity to connect with and support patients throughout their adult lives. I am also inspired by relationships and perspectives with internal medicine colleagues, trainees, and leaders across the spectrum of medicine, working to evolve and align healthcare to enhance the well-being of the patients I serve. Finally, I loved the prospect of being a part of a community of internal medicine physicians working in many roles and settings across healthcare who could provide me with invaluable feedback, support, advice and collaboration.

There is no question about the value and impact internal medicine physicians bring to patients and the healthcare system. Internal medicine is an incredibly diverse community of professionals. Our comprehensive training provides a strong foundation that opens up opportunities for a variety of career paths as specialists and sub-specialists in clinical care settings and beyond.

So, to my fellow internal medicine physicians across the country and around the world, join me in helping to shine a light on this specialty, celebrate our profession, embrace our shared roots, and proudly claim the title “Internal Medicine Physician.” Let’s have a real retirement of the word “internist”. Together, we improve patients’ lives and experiences, build healthier communities, and help shape effective, innovative healthcare for the future.

Ryan D. Mire, MD, MACP, is president of the American College of Physicians.

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