The specialty of internal medicine covers a wide range of conditions affecting the internal organs of the body - the heart, the lungs, the liver and gastro-intestinal tract, the kidneys and urinary tract, the brain, spinal column, nerves, muscles and joints. Although some diseases specifically affect individual organs, the majority of common diseases - arteriosclerosis, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer may affect many internal organs of the body. The internist must then be trained to recognise and manage a broad range of diseases and, with the aging population, many patients with chronic and multiple disorders.
The specialist in internal medicine - the internist - most commonly practices in hospitals where he may care for the patients during an acute illness or supervise their care in out patient clinics. In some European countries a significant proportion of internists have an office-based practice with links to local hospitals. Such an internist is not, however, a "family physician" who looks after a much broader range of problems including obstetrics and surgery, and including children as well as adults.
University departments responsible for teaching medical students are usually supervised by a professor of internal medicine who maintains the right balance between the different medical subspecialties that makes up the students' training. Such departments also provide training for postgraduate qualification in internal medicine as a specialty, a process which takes five years in most European countries and which requires a qualifying exam in many.