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January 31, 1972

In Search of Identity

JAMA. 1972;219(5):609. doi:10.1001/jama.1972.03190310039012

"I was into general practice, then into holistic medicine, then into community medicine, then I was a generalist, then a primary physician, and now I am into health care delivery as a physician of the first referral. But my patients still call me doc." Overheard in a hospital doctors' room, the monologue succinctly summarizes the perplexities of the GP with his changing labels. If the monologue sounds like an odyssey it is an odyssey without travel, a recital of ports of call with no distance between them. Like his predecessors for many centuries, the general practitioner is still deep "into" caring for the sick. Why then the kaleidoscope of terms? Is it a snob-motivated search for euphemisms, or is it a quest for identity?

The general practitioner is not alone in his perplexity. Even more confused is the internist. Internal medicine is a term without precise meaning, an ambiguity which