Difference Between Rheumatologist & Internist

Internists are medical doctors who provide general care for a range of medical issues while rheumatologists are internists who've specialized in rheumatology. Read on to learn more about the distinctions between these medical professionals.

Comparing Rheumatologists to Internists

A rheumatologist is an internal medicine doctor who has specialized in rheumatology. This means that rheumatologists must complete more training than internists do. They also earn a higher salary.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)**
Rheumatologists Medical degree; residency; fellowship $196,873 17% (internists, general)
Internists Medical degree; residency $182,496 17% (internists, general)

Sources: *PayScale; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Rheumatologists vs. Internists

Since rheumatologists and internists are medical doctors who both specialize in internal medicine, they share many similar duties. Both rheumatologists and internists see patients, provide a diagnosis for their condition and may prescribe medications as part of their treatment. One of the distinctions is that internists who suspect a patient has a condition such as gout or fibromyalgia will refer their patient to a rheumatologist for evaluation. Rheumatologists are specifically trained to diagnose conditions that can inhibit movement because they treat diseases that affect the joints using injections and other methods.


Rheumatologists are medical doctors who treat patients with conditions such as arthritis because they specialize in treating medical conditions that affect the joints. In order to become a rheumatologist extensive training is required; after earning a medical degree they must complete a three-year residency in internal medicine followed by a two-year fellowship in rheumatology. It's most common for rheumatologists to work in clinics and hospitals. Those who primarily work in clinics typically have a connection to a hospital and may be required to travel to the hospital for consultations. They should be compassionate and have good interpersonal skills because they may treat the same patients for several years in order to help them manage the symptoms of their disease.

Job responsibilities of a rheumatologist include:

  • Assessing patients
  • Providing a diagnosis
  • Consulting with other medical professionals
  • Performing medical tests
  • Teaching patients about their condition and how to manage symptoms


Internists are also known as internal medicine doctors and typically serve as primary health care providers to their patients. Once they have earned a medical degree they must spend three years completing a residency in internal medicine, as well as an internship. Those who wish to pursue advancement opportunities must complete a fellowship in a subspecialty of internal medicine, such as gastroenterology. It's common for internists to work 50 hours per week or more, depending on the number of hours they spend seeing patients in their office and the number of hours they spend treating patients in hospitals. Since they typically have a number of patients they treat throughout their lives internists should have good interpersonal and communication skills so that they can develop a rapport with their patients. Compassion is also important since they may be involved with treating patients who have serious medical issues.

Job responsibilities of an internist include:

  • Evaluating patients
  • Performing medical tests
  • Diagnosing patients
  • Prescribing medication
  • Referring patients to specialists
  • Updating patient files

Related Careers

Rheumatologists and internists both work in the field of internal medicine. Those who are interested in these professions may be interested in other internal medicine specialties, such as becoming an allergist or a gastroenterologist.

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