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What Is Veterinary Internal Medicine?

By Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Veterinary internal medicine is a specialization of animal medicine that focuses on preventing, diagnosing and treating non-human diseases that affect internal organs. It is distinct from other areas of veterinary medicine in that it involves diseases that cannot be differentiated or which involve more than one system. As a specialization, veterinary internal medicine requires more intensive training compared to that for non-specialized veterinarians. Those who practice in this area are called internists, not to be confused with interns, who are lower-level medical workers.

When a person specializes in veterinary internal medicine, they concentrate on the endocrine, urogenital, immune, lymphatic, respiratory, gastrointestinal and renal systems. This means that a veterinary internist has to be familiar with a large number of different organs and how they all interconnect. It also means that the internist must understand a wider array of diseases, as more organs are under the professional's scope.

Understanding the different systems involved in veterinary internal medicine, internists can treat everything from respiratory disorders to infectious diseases and kidney problems. The internist may work with structures such as the lungs, stomach, oral cavity and the intestines. What's more, internists may see a broad spectrum of animals. Subsequently, the work of a veterinary internist is highly varied from day to day.

Due to the advanced knowledge necessary to work in veterinary internal medicine, internists require extensive education. Similar to any other veterinarian, internists have to attend veterinary school. To do this in the United States, individuals must complete an undergraduate degree in animal or a closely-related science and take and pass the Veterinary College Admissions Test (VCAT) and Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Upon admission, four years of coursework is required. After veterinary school, the internist specializes through three to five years of residency training.

How long a veterinary internist trains depends on how specialized he wants to be. Similar to internists who focus on human diseases and conditions, internists in the veterinary field may concentrate in subspecialties such as hematology or blood disorders, cardiology, pulmonology or disorders of the lungs and endocrinology or hormone disorders. Other options include allergy and immunology, infectious disorders, musculoskeletal disorders and rheumatology, oncology or cancer and nephrology or diseases of the kidneys.

One of the key points about veterinary internal medicine is that internists do not conduct surgeries or other procedures that could be considered invasive. Instead, they are considered non-invasive professionals. They rely to a great degree on technology in their work, such as using an ultrasound or X-ray machine, so that they do not have to physically cut into an animal.

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