Job Market and Income Potential for Internal Medicine Doctors

Source: Pixabay

Internal medicine doctors (better known as internists) are primary care physicians who meet with patients at an office and/or visit them in a hospital. Internists manage a broad range of health conditions and provide various treatment options with a view to preventing or curing illnesses. They most often work with adult patients, the elderly and, less regularly, adolescents.

Hypertension, diabetes and the flu are some of the more common ailments that internists treat on a consistent basis. They’ll consult with specialist colleagues or otherwise refer patients to a specialized doctor at a different facility for conditions that are outside their area of expertise.

Internists do not usually perform surgeries though they may occasionally embark on minor procedures such as scopes, mole removal or stress tests. They’ll also provide dietetic services, perform physicals, prescribe medication and apply largely non-invasive treatment options.

Work Environment

Due to the expansive scope of their services, internists have numerous options of where and how to work. They can be found in clinics, hospitals, medical offices, academic institutions or a combination of all four. Internists who work outside a hospital or clinic may do so in their own practice or in partnership with other doctors as part of a group practice where they have shared ownership.

Internal medicine doctors meet up to 25 patients a day. Apart from their clinic hours, they’ll also visit patients in a hospital on-call basis or during their routine daily rounds. This could mean an extra 5 to 15 work hours a week on top of their 8-to-5 depending on patient needs. Internists working in their own practice or a partnership are likely to spend even more hours thanks to administrative tasks.

Career Options

Internal medicine is a more versatile career than most other medical specialties an aspiring doctor can choose. Internists have perhaps the broadest range of opportunities that a doctor could have in terms of career paths and progression. To see this depth and breadth of jobs, visit

An internist can choose to complete additional graduate medical education (GME) in the form of a fellowship. The GME allows them to sub-specialize in other healthcare disciplines and focus on a particular body part or medical condition. Examples of such sub-specializations include cardiology, gastroenterology, endocrinology, nephrology, oncology, pulmonology, immunology and rheumatology.

Income Prospects

Whereas the pay of internal medicine doctors is well above that of the general population, it remains one of the lower earning careers for a physician. This isn’t surprising though since the relatively broad range of job options means a greater pool of job candidates compared to more specialized medical fields. Also, specialists oversee procedures that generate more revenue than those done by internists.

As primary care doctors, they are in the same category as family physicians and pediatricians. Primary caregivers earn less than cardiologists, obstetricians/gynecologists, orthopedic surgeons and other specialists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, internists had an average annual wage of $189,210 and a median wage of $183,170 in 2011. Internists who worked in physicians’ offices had the highest average internist wage at $203,340.

The overall internist average however masks significant differences between states. Internal medicine doctors working in less populous states earn higher average salaries. For instance, South Dakota internists earned an average of $243,930 in 2011, the nation’s highest. They were followed by Montana at $235,750 and Hawaii with $232,270. Big cities and more populous states tend to have saturated job markets hence depressed salaries.

Note that an internist’s salary, just like that of other doctors, remains relatively low ($50,000 to $70,000) during their initial 3 to 8 years of residency and fellowship. In addition, the work schedule during this early phase is all-consuming both existentially and temporally.

One of the most satisfying aspects of being an internal medicine physician is the opportunity to develop long-term relationships with patients and their families. The deep connection can take a heavy emotional toll on internists over the years. Nevertheless, there’s no monetary value that can be assigned to placing a smile on a patient’s face or seeing the sigh of relief in the eyes of loved ones.


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