What Is a Primary Care Physician? - Definition & Shortage

Instructor: Jennafer Tomlinson
After reading this lesson, you should better understand what exactly a primary care physician is. In addition to understanding the type of medical care delivered by these professionals, you will better grasp the reasons for an expected shortage in their field. Updated: 02/28/2020

Definition of Primary Care Physician

Have you ever been to your regular family doctor because you weren't feeling well? Maybe you had an ache or pain you wanted the have checked out, or maybe you just saw something that looked weird in the mirror and wanted to run it by your doctor? This type of doctor -- the one you see when you're not feeling well, have a fever or cough, are injured, or have another non-emergency medical concern, is known as a primary care physician. When you go to the office of a primary care physician, that makes you the patient.

To better understand what a primary care physician is, it is best to discuss what 'primary care' really means. Primary care is what an individual receives when visiting a doctor's office with a medical concern. Primary care also includes educating people about different illnesses and diseases as well as teaching them how to take care of themselves so they may remain healthy. In addition to counseling people on health issues, primary care involves the diagnosis and management of particular illnesses.

A primary care physician is a medical doctor who does all of these things. This physician has gone to college for over eight years and then participated in a medical internship for an additional three to eight years. During this internship, they learn how to properly diagnose, treat and teach about medical diseases and prevention.

Primary Care Physician
Primary Care Physician

There are different types of primary care physicians, including family doctors, internal medicine doctors and pediatricians. A family doctor sees the entire family while an internal medicine doctor usually sees teenage children to adults. The pediatric doctors are the primary care physicians for children that are newborn until old enough to see either a family medical doctor or an internal medicine doctor.

The primary care physician is a patient's point of first contact when a medical illness or concern arises. If the medical concern is out of the physician's scope of practice, it is then his or her responsibility to refer the patient to a specialist physician. Primary care physicians usually work 9-5 hours and tend to see their patients in a medical office building. They use nurses and medical assistants to help gather medical information and to assist when performing small, routine procedures.

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