Currently in medical care in the United States, there are four main primary care specialties: family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and geriatrics. Internal medicine is primary care for adults, pediatrics is primary care for children and infants, and geriatrics is primary care for seniors. Family medicine, the broadest specialty, is primary care for all ages.
A family medicine physician is a medical ‘home base’ for patients. They treat all ages, all sexes, all organs, and all diseases. They can see every member of the family, from birth through old age. This allows family medicine doctors to develop long-term relationships with their patients and to understand how their patients’ role in the family affects their health. They can provide check-ups, immunizations, screening services, gynecological exams and obstetric care, routine health care, and health counseling. When more specialized care is needed, a family medicine doctor can refer their patients to appropriate specialists. They can become educators and advocates for their patients in the sometimes overwhelming health care system.
As health care changes in this country, family medicine is a growing specialty for families and individuals who are seeking more personalized health care and a more personal relationship with their physician.
What is Nutrition Counseling?
Food is one of the most basic resources our bodies use for growth and energy, tied intricately to our well-being. Not only can what we eat affect our health, but certain conditions can affect how well our bodies process food. Nutrition is the study of this complex interaction, and when patients seek the advice of an expert to help them manage food in their life, it is called nutrition counseling.
At the most basic level, nutrition counseling can be simply a talk with a family physician. Doctors receive training in nutrition as part of their education, and they are generally qualified to make recommendations about diet for their patients. Some doctors take a professional interest in nutrition and become experts by taking extra classes or studying nutrition in their practice. In general, however, complex nutrition guidance will be referred to a nutrition specialist, generally a dietitian.
Registered dietitians are nutrition experts that have passed specific higher education, accreditation, and internship requirements. They may work in hospitals, nursing facilities, or private practices to provide nutrition therapy and advise patients about their health and diet. Like dietitians, nutritionists also work to counsel patients about food and health. Some nutritionists have degrees in nutrition or food science, but the title ‘nutritionist’ is not protected by law. In the United States, anyone is allowed to call themselves a nutritionist, regardless of their education level.
Nutrition counseling can be useful for anyone who is looking to get to a healthy weight, manage a chronic illness through diet, or simply lead a healthier lifestyle. Some examples of issues that benefit from nutrition counseling include:
High blood pressure
Digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome
Pregnancy or lactation
Participation in competitive sports
During a nutrition counseling appointment, the provider -- doctor, nutritionist, or dietitian -- typically will look over your medical history and talk to you about your current diet, your goals, what kinds of food you like, and any problems that you are currently struggling with in your health or diet. Then the specialist will help you set food goals and create a customized plan to help you meet your nutritional needs. Nutrition specialists may also offer classes, workshops, cooking demonstrations, and more. Their role is not to lecture you about what you should be eating, but to offer education and resources to make eating healthy foods easier.
A specialist in general internal medicine is often referred to as an “internist.” While internal medicine physicians also provide comprehensive care, they should not be confused with general practitioners or family medicine practitioners, both of which may provide pregnancy care, deliver babies, and treat children. An internal medicine doctor specializes only in the health care of adults.
With internal medicine, there is never an illness too big or too small. These physicians have exceptionally broad-based training, and they can care for patients in any condition -- from healthy to dealing with serious medical issues. Because their scope is so wide, internal medicine physicians can provide an excellent picture of overall health.
One of the unusual aspects of internal medicine is that physicians in this field often treat their patients for a very long time -- sometimes for life. They manage preventive care when their patients are well, and they become advocates and consultants when complex medical issues arise. Because internal medicine physicians tend to treat patients over a long period of time, they are an ideal choice to manage chronic illnesses.
There are a huge number of subspecialties within internal medicine, for example: cardiology (which deals with problems of the heart and blood vessels), nephrology (which deals with diseases of the kidneys), and hospice medicine (which tends to the special needs of patients at the end of life). General internal medicine is considered a subspecialty itself and refers to internists without another specific focus. General internists provide total, primary care for the whole body of adult patients, in sickness or in health.
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