How Long Does IT Take to Become a Family Doctor?

Find out how long it takes to become a family doctor. Read on to learn more about education requirements, training, and the job outlook for this career.

Career Information at a Glance

Family doctors are general practitioners who see patients of all ages, from infants to senior citizens, so they must know how to diagnose, treat, and prevent a wide variety of conditions. For this reason, they must meet extensive education and training requirements before they are allowed to practice. More details are presented in the following table.

Degree Required Doctorate (M.D. or D.O.)
Training Required 3-year residency program
Education Field of Study Medicine
Key Responsibilities Order laboratory tests and analyze results; prescribe medication or perform treatments; refer patients to specialists; provide advice on diet, exercise, prevention, and other general health topics
Licensure or Certification Doctors must obtain a license to practice medicine in the U.S.; certification is optional, but recommended
Job Growth (2018-2028) 10% (family and general practitioners)*
Average Salary (2018) $211,780 (family and general practitioners)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Does a Family Doctor Do?

Family doctors are trained to provide care to patients of all ages. These doctors diagnose and treat common conditions and injuries; however, they often refer patients to specialists for more advanced diagnostic and treatment services.

Family doctors are also known for their proactive approach to medicine. For example, a cardiologist might treat a patient after he or she has suffered a heart attack. A family doctor, on the other hand, helps patients adopt healthier habits that can lower their risk of having the heart attack in the first place.

What Education and Training Do I Need?

People who want to become family doctors must start by earning a bachelor's degree that fulfills a number of pre-med requirements in subjects such as biology, physics, chemistry, and English.

Next, prospective family doctors must attend an accredited medical school to earn either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. The first two years of medical school consist mainly of coursework that is completed in classrooms or laboratories. Students gain hands-on experience in hospitals, private practices, and clinics in the final two years of medical school.

After medical school, prospective family doctors must complete a residency program that takes place in a hospital, private practice, or clinical setting. Family doctors are required to pass a licensing exam after completing their residency program. Some people choose to also take a certification exam in order to become a board-certified family doctor, but this is not required.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Family Doctor?

To become a family doctor, students must complete a four-year undergraduate program before entering medical school, which will take an additional four years to complete. Those studying to become family doctors must then complete a three-year residency program. Therefore, it typically takes a minimum of 11 years to become a family doctor.

Where Do Family Doctors Work?

Family doctors can work in several different settings, but many work in a private practice. According to the BLS in 2018, many doctors and surgeons worked in doctors' offices. Working in other settings, including hospitals, multi-specialty group practices, universities, and outpatient centers, is also an option for family doctors. Providing services through a solo private practice gives a doctor a great deal of independence; however, working in a group setting provides more flexibility and fewer overhead costs.

How Much Do Family Doctors Make?

According to the BLS, the average annual salary for family doctors was $211,780 in 2018. Family doctors who worked in residential intellectual and developmental disability, mental health, and substance abuse facilities had the highest average salaries, earning approximately $249,180. Family physicians who worked in colleges or universities were at the other end of the pay scale, earning an annual average of $149,020 during that same year.