What Is a Family Practice Doctor?

Take a look at what it takes to become a family practice doctor. Read on to learn more about this role, including education requirements, salary and job duties. Schools offering Health Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Family practice doctors, also known as family physicians, are medical professionals who diagnose and treat a range of injuries or health issues. This role requires extensive knowledge of medical issues, as family physicians are trained to care for the general medical needs of any patient, from infants to the elderly. Take a look at the table below for more information about this role.

Degree Required M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine)
Training Required Residency (3-7 years)
Licensure License required, requirements vary by state
Key Responsibilities Prescribe medications, refer patients to specialists, treat common illnesses, offer immunizations
Job Growth (2016-2026) 14% (for all family and general practitioners)*
Average Salary (2017) $208,560 (for all family and general practitioners)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Family Practice Doctor Do?

A family practice doctor takes care of general medical needs for patients of all ages. They tend to work with patients who live locally to where the family practice is located and build a trusting relationship with those who they see on a regular basis. As well as diagnosing and treating a range of health issues, a family physician also provides preventative medical care, such as immunizations, and counselling on how to live a healthy lifestyle. This role may also involve working closely with patients who have chronic illnesses, such as heart disease or diabetes.

How Can I Become a Family Practice Doctor?

Like other medical professions, the education required for the role is demanding and takes several years to complete. You'll first need to earn a bachelor's degree. Although studying a relevant subject is not always required, medical school admission is competitive and a bachelor's in a related subject, such as biology, chemistry, physics or biomedical sciences, is likely to give the candidate an edge. Medical school is usually a four year program that includes two years of academic study and two years of practical experience in varying medical environments, including family care.

After finishing the medical degree, you'll complete a residency, which usually lasts three to seven years depending on the specialty. For family practice doctors, the residency will be in family medicine. As part of their residency, a family practice doctor will be required to train in a variety of areas so that they are prepared for the wide range of medical assistance they will need to provide. This includes pediatrics, community medicine, geriatrics and gynecology.

How Much Do Family Practice Doctors Earn?

Medical professionals earn some of the highest salaries of all U.S. occupations - and family physicians are no exception. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, family and general practitioners earned an average salary of $208,560 in 2017.

Family practice doctors usually work in a medical practice which is patient-centered. They may work in one medical center, serving a local community, but most family physicians will also be required to visit patients' homes if they are unable to leave, or nursing homes to provide care for elderly patients.

What Qualities Are Needed?

Being a family practice doctor requires a range of personal qualities in order to build a relationship of trust between doctor and patient. Communication skills are an important part of the role as family practice doctors are required to relay information to patients in a clear way. They must also be able to communicate with other healthcare staff to ensure that the patient is wholly supported.

Being compassionate is also an important skill as patients may be distressed or upset regarding a health issue. In this scenario, it is important that a family practice doctor can show understanding to both the patient and sometimes family, depending on the circumstance.

Being detail oriented is also an important part of the role as accurate assessment and diagnosis is vital for patient healthcare. Doctors must accurately record and monitor various pieces of information to ensure that the patient is appropriately cared for.

What Similar Occupations Are There?

Those interested in becoming a family practice doctor may also be interested in being a chiropractor or dentist. These occupations are both in the medical field and require a doctoral or medical degree. A chiropractor is a medical professional who works specifically with patients who have problems with bones, muscles, nerves and the spine. They usually help patients with neck and back pain by putting interventions in place and helping them manage their condition. Dentists take care of a patient's teeth, gums and other parts of the mouth. They diagnose and treat any health problems in this area, along with educating patients on appropriate oral healthcare.

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