What Is a Family Practice Doctor?

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on July 16, 2023
3 min read

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. 

Family physicians who work in community health settings deliver a wide range of care services. Among other things, they offer:

Family practice doctors can also specialize in areas including sports medicine, emergency and urgent care, and public health. Doctors provide general care and coordinate with specialists as needed.

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:

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. 

Routine exams

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 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
  • Immunizations
  • 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.