Family practice doctors provide care to people of all ages. These generalists treat chronic conditions, evaluate symptoms, offer preventative care, and let people know when they need to see a specialist.
Family practice doctors often work in private office settings or with a group of other family practice doctors. They also work for community medicine clinics and in hospital settings.
Many family doctors provide care to underserved populations in areas where there are limited community resources and high levels of illiteracy and poverty.
What Does a Family Practice Doctor Do?
Family physicians who work in community health settings deliver a wide range of care services. Among other things, they offer:
- Routine checkups, including well-baby and child visits
- Health risk assessments
- Screening tests
- Healthy lifestyle counseling
- Treatment of common chronic conditions
Education and Training
After graduating with an undergraduate degree, family medicine doctors study at accredited schools of medicine or osteopathic medicine.
To become licensed, family medicine doctors need to complete:
- An average of four years in medical school
- Take board exams like portions of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States
- A three to four-year residency with rotations in obstetrics, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine, and inpatient hospital care (including critical care)
- Certification through the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) or American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians (AOBFP)
- The licensing process in the state where they will work
Reasons to See a Family Practice Doctor
You can see a family practice doctor for:
Chronic disease management
Family medicine doctors can treat and monitor various chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), kidney disease, heart disease, high cholesterol, arthritis, skin problems, and breathing issues caused by conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
They can also prescribe or refill medications to treat chronic conditions, often coordinating with specialists.
Referrals to medical specialists
If you have a condition that may require a specialist, such as a heart condition, a visit to a family medicine doctor is often a good place to start. Your family doctor can recommend and suggest qualified specialists. When you begin treatment with a specialist, the doctors can work together to coordinate your prescriptions and monitor your condition.
Some insurance policies require you to get a referral to a specialist from a family physician or internist to qualify for specialty coverage.
Care for illness or injury
When you or a family member is sick or injured, a family medicine doctor can often treat the condition independently, without the need for specialist intervention. Examples include simple fractures and sprains, flu and cold symptoms, pneumonia and bronchitis, stomach viruses, seasonal allergies, ear infections, and so on.
Family medicine doctors perform various routine exams, including annual physicals, newborn and well-child checkups, sports physicals, men’s health screenings including prostate exams, and female pelvic exams, including annual pap smears.
What to Expect at a Family Practice Doctor Appointment
What you can expect will depend on why you have come in for the visit. Your doctor may perform:
- Checking vital signs (blood pressure, body temperature, heartbeat, and breathing rate)
- Requesting routine blood tests to screen you for conditions like high cholesterol or diabetes
- A head and neck exam
- Heart, lung and musculoskeletal exam
- Abdominal exam
- Skin exam
- Women’s health screenings like pap smears, osteoporosis screening, mammogram referrals, and sexual health screening
- Men's health screenings like prostate exams, aortic aneurysm screenings, colorectal exam referrals
- Infant and child screenings to evaluate growth
Your doctor will also ask you questions about your lifestyle habits, medications, mental wellness, and other health-related concerns.