American internal medicine suffers a confusion of identity as we enter the 21st century. The subspecialties prosper, although unevenly, and retain varying degrees of connection to their internal medicine roots. General internal medicine, identified with primary care since the 1970s, retains an affinity for its traditional consultant-generalist ideal even as primary care further displaces that ideal. We discuss the origins and importance of the consultant-generalist ideal of internal medicine as exemplified by Osler, and its continued appeal in spite of the predominant role played by clinical science and accompanying subspecialism in determining the academic leadership of American internal medicine since the 1920s. Organizing departmental clinical work along subspecialty lines diminished the importance of the consultant-generalist ideal in academic departments of medicine after 1950. General internists, when they joined the divisions of general internal medicine that appeared in departments of medicine in the 1970s, could sometimes emulate Osler in practicing a general medicine of complexity, but often found themselves in a more limited role doing primary care. As we enter the 21st century, managed care threatens what remains of the Oslerian ideal, both in departments of medicine and in clinical practice. Twenty-first century American internists will have to adjust their conditions of work should they continue to aspire to practice Oslerian internal medicine.