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What does a Family Practice Physician do?

By Kerrie Main
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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In the modern world, family doctors provide the majority of care for people of all backgrounds. Often called general practitioners or primary care physicians, family doctors create relationships with and serve entire families. This type of practice is a medical specialty devoted to comprehensive health care and is based on knowledge of the patient and his or her family history. A family practice physician performs many duties for patients of all ages, such as providing continuing healthcare for acute and chronic illnesses as well as emphasizing disease prevention.

Taking care of the physical, emotional and mental health of patients and their families is the main goal of family practice physicians. These doctors typically are trained in all areas of medicine and have the ability to diagnose and treat a wide variety of symptoms and problems. They also provide preventative care, which includes routine checkups, immunizations, screening tests, health risk assessments and suggestions on how to make healthy lifestyle choices. Some of these doctors even deliver babies. When a family practice physician identifies a major health issue, he or she usually refers his patient to a specialist.

The typical educational background and training for a family practice physician includes an undergraduate degree and M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) degree, as well as completing a three-year family medicine residence. This three-year program provides real-world experience, such as hands-on training in an office, hospital or home environment. It also might include rotations and training in internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, geriatrics and obstetrics-gynecology. Family practice physicians are often eligible for board certifications and usually go through re-certification programs more than any other medical specialty. Most doctors of this type continue to educate themselves to learn the current trends in treatment and technologies as well as the latest medical breakthroughs.

Some family practice physicians pursue fellowships in a wide variety of areas, such as sports medicine, adolescent medicine, geriatric medicine, sleep medicine and hospice care. There are many career options for a family practice physician, including education, emergency or urgent care medicine, international medicine, public health and inpatient medicine. Most family doctors usually practice in small-group private practices, solo or in hospital practices. They often have long workdays, filled with a stream of incoming patients and insurance company paperwork.

When searching for a new family practice physician, a potential patient should look for a doctor who works with his or her insurance coverage and with whom he or she feels comfortable. The patient-doctor relationship can be very important, and it’s imperative for a person to find a trusted doctor. Other factors to consider are the doctor’s current patient workload, the hospital with which the doctor is associated and the doctor’s overall philosophy.

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Discussion Comments
By anon310506 — On Dec 24, 2012

Family practice service does include obstetrics and gynecology.

By amypollick — On Jun 21, 2012

@anon275954: A family doctor would probably want to refer a person with epilepsy or a seizure disorder to a neurologist who specializes in treating these disorders, so the person can be given proper medication for the disorder.

The family practice physician would then care for the person for other general issues.

By anon275954 — On Jun 21, 2012

Does a family practice doctor have the care of a seizure disorder, and epilepsy, too?

By nanny3 — On Apr 12, 2011

@Agni3 - Hello there! A family doctor may not specialize in 'just children,' but they are certainly qualified to care for children quite well. There is absolutely no reason that you should not take your child where you are most comfortable going. You have pointed out many of the perks of taking her to a general practice, so go with your own judgment. Parents who feel strongly that a pediatrician is best for their child should go that route. Likewise, those who already have a great family doctor and want to take their young child to that same person should do as they see fit. Don’t sweat it! It sounds like you’ve got it under control!

By Agni3 — On Apr 09, 2011

I have to admit that I have been torn about taking my daughter to a pediatrician or a family doctor. Although pediatricians offer very special treatment just for children, I really like the idea that my daughter could realistically see the same doctor for most of her life. It seems like it would be so much easier on her in the long run because as she gets older her doctor would have been there the whole way. However, I almost feel like taking her to anyone besides a pediatrician is somehow wrong. Is there any reason not to take her to my general practitioner? After all, this is a person that I know and trust.

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