Family Medicine or Internal Medicine Doctor?

Choosing a Primary Care Physician

Updated March 04, 2022
Doctors Karl Bernat and Medhavi Reddy

Adults can choose a family medicine doctor or an internal medicine doctor as their primary care physician. Read this Q&A to help you decide what’s best for you.

Your primary care doctor is a key member of your health care team. He or she offers guidance to help you stay well, provides treatment and monitoring when you’re ill, and coordinates your care if you need specialized treatment.

At Duke Primary Care, adults have a choice between doctors specializing in family medicine or internal medicine. In many ways, these types of doctors are similar: Their common goal is to help you protect and improve your health. But there are differences in their training and the types of patients they see.

Dr. Madhavi G. Reddy, MBBS, an internal medicine doctor at Duke Primary Care Arringdon in Morrisville, and Dr. Karl Bernat Jr., MD, a family medicine doctor at Duke Primary Care Heritage Internal Medicine in Wake Forest, each provided perspectives on their type of medical practice.

What Kinds of Patients Do You See?

Dr. Reddy: As a family physician, I see newborn babies to patients in their 90s. Having long-term relationships with my patients means I can see someone grow older and be involved in every step of their health care. This helps me know each patient and the entirety of their health in ways that can make care more personalized.

Dr. Bernat: As an internal medicine doctor, or internist, I see adults -- patients from 18 years and older.

What Types of Care Do You Provide?

Dr. Reddy: Family doctors are involved in all kinds of care, from doing physicals to chronic disease management like diabetes or high blood pressure. If someone has a fever, stomach pain, or skin rash, I can help with that, too.

Dr. Bernat: In internal medicine, we provide a wide scope of primary care, including preventive care as well as the treatment of complex adult diseases -- like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

What Are Some of the Benefits to Your Patients?

Dr. Reddy: Because I get to know patients over a long time, I can focus on preventative care in a unique way. Our relationship means I know their history. We can spend less time catching up on what’s happened in the past and more time talking about care and treatment options for the future. Family medicine is about knowing the whole person, understanding who they are, what’s going on in their life. In some cases, having years of care together can ease anxiety because a patient knows me.

Dr. Bernat: Internists serve as primary care doctors for people who need routine care, but we have the added advantage that we’ve been specially trained to help patients who have multiple medical problems or uncontrolled medical problems. We also try to help people who have diagnostic dilemmas -- for example, they may have multiple symptoms but are having trouble getting a diagnosis. 

What Kinds of Training Do Family Medicine/Internal Medicine Doctors Receive?

Dr. Reddy: When I trained to become a family medicine doctor, I got a complete look at all the different kinds of patient needs I would have to treat. We deal a lot with general wellness and prevention of disease, but also received training to better understand the needs of children and women. That includes pregnancy, labor, and delivery because after a child is born, they can become our patients.

Dr. Bernat: Internal medicine doctors complete a three-year residency after medical school. That entails serving in the hospital as staff physicians and in a clinic where we see outpatients. During that time, we train in critical care, so we have extensive training in caring for the sickest of the population. We also do rotations in specialties like cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology.

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