Family Practice Doctors: Salary, Duties and Requirements

Family practice doctors require significant formal education. Learn about the training, job duties, certification requirements, and career options to see if this is the right career for you.

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Family practice doctors provide primary care to patients. They must complete medical school as well as an internship and residency in family care. All doctors must be licensed by the state and certified by a medical board.

Essential Information

Family practice doctors, also known as family physicians, are general practitioners, as opposed to specialists. Family medicine was created specifically to take care of the healthcare of families, and as such, family physicians are trained to take care of patients of all ages.

At a minimum, following high school graduation, the road to becoming a family physician requires completion of certain undergraduate prerequisite courses, medical school, three years of family medicine residency, and all three parts of the United States Medical Licensing Exam. Thereafter, to maintain certification and licensure, periodic re-testing and accumulation of Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit are required. A career in family medicine may appeal to anyone who likes science, variety, problem-solving, collaboration, lifelong learning, and developing long-term relationships with people and their families.

Required Education Bachelor's degree (4 years)
Medical degree (4 years)
Family medicine internship & residency
Licensure & Certification Board certification
State medical license
Other Requirements Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit to maintain license and board certification after residency
DEA registration to prescribe controlled substances
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% (family and general practitioners)*
Average Salary (2015) $192,120 annually (family and general practitioners)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), family and general practitioners earned an average of $192,120 as of May 2015. Of the 120,000 or so physicians in this category, more than 80,000 worked in private offices; these private-practice doctors earned an average salary of $200,100 in 2015.

Family and general practitioners were expected to see a 10% job increase throughout the 2014-2024 decade, according to the BLS, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Job growth is expected to continue due to the expansion of the healthcare industry, driven in part by a growing senior population.

Job Duties

Family practice doctors, as primary care physicians, are often the first person whom a patient sees when seeking healthcare services. They examine and treat patients with a wide range of conditions and refer those with serious ailments to a specialist or appropriate facility.

Typical job duties include taking patient histories, performing or requesting diagnostic tests, making diagnoses, prescribing treatment, administering vaccinations and performing follow-up examinations, as well as educating patients in disease prevention and health maintenance. Additional duties include preparing medical records, clinical reports and correspondences. Family practice doctors also supervise allied health professionals, such as nurses, physician assistants and medical assistants.

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Educational Requirements

All premedical students must take courses in physics, chemistry, organic chemistry and biology as undergraduates. While a bachelor's degree is not an absolute requirement to gain admission to medical school, it is highly recommended. Premedical students should also participate in extracurricular activities, take on leadership roles and gain clinical experience by volunteering in a hospital or shadowing a physician in order to be more competitive for medical school. Typically, students must also take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and submit their scores with their medical school application.

During medical school, students complete two years of classroom instruction in the sciences, followed by two years of clinical rotations. Graduates must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) before they may practice medicine.

Following medical school, those who wish to become family practice doctors must complete a 3-year family practice residency. During residency, physicians are trained in their specialty while receiving a relatively small salary. The first year of residency is called an internship and is a time of direct supervision prior to a resident receiving their medical license and progressing to more independent practice. According to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), family medicine residents must complete rotations in a wide variety of disciplines in both the inpatient (hospital) and outpatient (doctor's office) settings, including neonatology, pediatrics, internal medicine, cardiology, surgery, emergency medicine, critical care medicine, sports medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, geriatrics, psychiatry, and others that vary between residency programs.

Upon completion of a family medicine residency program, graduates must take an examination given by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), for those with M.D. degrees, or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), for those with D.O. degrees, to become board-certified in family medicine.

Career Options

Following successful completion of residency and board certification in Family Medicine, most graduates will work in outpatient offices, according to the BLS, as employees of corporate entities or as partners in private office settings. The remainder will pursue one or more of a wide variety of possible career paths.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), some will work in hospitals as hospitalists, in facilities such as nursing homes or hospices as medical directors, in urgent care clinics, or as medical officers in the military, while others will pursue additional training to specialize or to perform certain procedures, such as Cesarean deliveries, colonoscopies, musculoskeletal ultrasound, to name just a few. Such further training may include 1-2 year fellowships or CAQ's (certificates of added qualification) to specialize in Sports Medicine, Geriatrics, Hospice & Palliative Medicine, Emergency Medicine, Sleep Medicine, Adolescent Medicine, or others.

For physicians interested in education or business, a career in academics (teaching medical students and/or residents) or healthcare administration, respectively, are additional career options available to family practice doctors.

Family practice doctors work in private practices, hospitals, and other medical facilities. They can receive additional training to pursue specialties or move into teaching or administrative careers in the medical field. The job growth outlook for family practice doctors is faster than the job market as a whole, and the average salary is about $192,000.

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