What Is Family Practice?
Family practice is a specialization in the medical field where doctors, known as family practitioners in this area, see to the general health needs of adults and children alike. It is common for these doctors to care for entire families. Doctors in family practice are also called primary care physicians.
Requirements to Become a Family Practitioner
Family practitioners must obtain a degree from an accredited medical school and then enter a residency to complete their training. Throughout their medical education, they will sit for the 3 parts of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Once they have passed the exam, they can apply for a medical license to the board of the state they intend to practice in.
To enter medical school, an individual must obtain a bachelor's degree. Students can major in subjects such as biology, STEM, or biomedical science, which have many of the required courses for entry into med school. Some universities offer pre-med tracks for undergraduates, where students take the required courses in accordance with their major.
It is possible to get into medical school without a science-related degree. Medical schools usually like to see applicants that are well-rounded and have knowledge in other areas that can be useful in their future careers, such as communication and empathy. Bachelor's degrees in psychology, liberal arts or sociology can fulfill this recommendation.
Before applying to med school, students must take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). The test covers topics learned in the required undergraduate courses. It is recommended that students give themselves enough time to take the test more than once if they need to or to make sure their scores are available when they're ready to apply to med school.
Medical school applicants will need a bachelor's degree with the required courses, such as physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and physiology, among others. They will additionally need their MCAT scores, letters of recommendation, and transcripts. Volunteer experience is commonly preferred as well.
Med students take foundational science courses in their first two years in topics such as disease, anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, nutrition, patient safety, and healthcare disparities. In their last two years, the curriculum integrates classroom and clinical experience. Students will learn about more focused areas of medicine, such as pediatrics or family medicine. They will complete clinical rotations at select hospitals, and many students enter an internship.
During medical school, students will take the first 2 steps of the USMLE, which covers the topics they have learned. The test is multiple choice and includes patient care simulations.
After medical school, students enter a residency, which provides them with training that is specific to the field they want to enter into. Family practitioners will enter a family medicine residency. Applicants will need a resume/CV, transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and test scores from the first 2 steps of the USMLE.
Family medicine residencies usually last 3 years, with students gaining practical knowledge and experience in diagnosing, treating, and caring for patients of all ages and backgrounds. They will learn about several topics of general primary care, such as internal medicine, intensive care, gynecology, pediatrics, dermatology surgery, and radiology. Topics such as surgery and radiology focus on how to evaluate a patient who is in need of or has had those procedures done to them, rather than learning to perform those procedures.
Licensure and Additional Training
Towards the end of their residency, students will take step 3 of the USMLE. Upon successful completion, they may apply to their state's medical licensing board for a license to practice. Some family practitioners may choose to enter a fellowship to receive more advanced, specialized training in areas such as geriatrics, obstetrics, or sports medicine, among others. Family practitioners need additional certification that they will have to maintain throughout their career. This can be obtained through the American Board of Family Medicine.
Family Practitioner Job Description
A physician in family practice typically works in an outpatient office with people of all ages. They may start their own practice or work in an office with other physicians. Their typical job duties include meeting patients at scheduled times, checking patients for general health, addressing concerns, and referring patients to specialists or surgeons when necessary. Patients go to family physicians for routine check-ups as well as non-emergency medical situations that arise, such as the flu. Many family doctors keep routine office hours but may work late to accommodate for their patients.
The average salary in 2018 for family practitioners was $183,329 and the career is expected to grow by 10% from 2018-2028.
|Job||Family practice doctor|
|Education Requirements||Bachelor's degree, medical school, residency|
|License Requirements||Medical license obtained by a state's board; requires passing of the USMLE, certification from the ABFM|
|Job Outlook (2018-2028)*||10%|
Sources: *Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Payscale.com