What are family practitioners?


Family practitioners are also called general practitioners. They are medical professionals that are trained to provide care for a variety of different ailments. They are also trained to provide wellness care to all age groups. Conditions that are too complicated or require more specific care are referred to a specialist.


Family practitioners are most common in rural areas. Funding, population, and other factors make it unlikely that rural areas will host more specialized practitioners. Therefore, most medical care for all age groups falls to the family practitioner.


Why do people visit a family practitioner?


Non-emergency ailments


Due to their training, family practitioners are qualified to treat a plethora of illnesses. Throughout the course of your life, a family practitioner helps you to maintain your health.


Record keeping


Since a family practitioner treats a wide variety of ages, it is likely that you will see the same doctor for the majority of your life. This makes it easy for a family practitioner to keep a current and updated file of your health records. This could prove useful if there is an emergency or if you are referred to a specialist. The family practitioner is able to provide any and all information needed.


Specialist referrals


While the family practitioner is well versed on a variety of health issues, there are some problems that are beyond their scope of expertise. It is during these times that a family practitioner will refer a patient to a specialist. Family practitioners have knowledge of specialist in their area as well as knowledge of their patients. This ensures that family practitioners are able to match their patients with capable specialists that will be a good fit for their patient.


Saves money


Making use of a family practitioner is also financially beneficial for patients. Rather than paying for emergency care or higher specialty care, patients that can utilize their family practitioner. Costs to visit a family practitioner are often lower than those to visit other medical facilities.




Family practitioners are trained to treat a wide variety of illnesses and age groups. This means that patients often see the same doctor for the majority of their lives. It is natural then that family practitioners are able to build a rapport with their patients and patients are more comfortable discussing issues with their doctor. This means that the patient will lead a more healthy life and be more conscious of their overall well-being.


Why should you have a family practitioner?


Medical history


Many people that have a family practitioner remain with that practitioner throughout their lives. This is beneficial, not only for the doctor, but also for the patient. A family practitioner that has treated a patient for the majority of your life is able to track your health. They can help determine the causes of illnesses and conditions as well as pinpoint habits that could cause a patient trouble later on in life.


Family history


Many patients choose a doctor based on who their family members go to for health care. This means that family practitioners often have a better picture of a patient’s health because they have access to family history. They are able to assist patients in preventative care more easily since they know what conditions are present in a patient’s genetic make-up. They can also recommend genetic counseling for conditions such as cancer.


Variety of care


Family practitioners receive education and training in a variety of areas. This allows them to treat a wide variety of illnesses and conditions. As most people know, they treat sickness such as bronchitis as well as chronic conditions such as diabetes. However, family practitioner can treat other conditions as well. They can treat patients for female care and help them through a pregnancy. They are also able to perform basic surgical procedures, such as freezing off a wart or draining an abscess.




Family practitioners are able to treat a variety of conditions, however, there are conditions that are beyond their abilities. In cases of these, a family practitioner is able to refer patients to a specialist that will be a good fit for the patient.


Cost effective


A patient utilizing the services of a family practitioner saves money for the patient as well as the health care industry. Patients that have a family practitioner are more likely to have wellness checks. This in turn allows family practitioners to prevent some conditions, such as diabetes, from forming. Preventing more serious illnesses from developing prevent the need for expensive procedures and/or medicine.




As with any medical profession, the first step to becoming a family practitioner is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Those wishing to work in family medicine will often look for a program in a major science, such as biology, or a pre-med program. Successful completion of a bachelor’s program is then followed by taking the MCAT test.


Once a candidate has successfully passed the MCAT, they can begin applying to medical schools. A four year medical school program is then followed by a three to four year residency program. During these years, candidates are required to complete licensure exams. 


Once the residency program is completed, a doctor is licensed and ready to practice on his/her own. Some family practitioners don’t stop at this point, however. There are those, especially those that will be working in more rural areas, which will go beyond just a family practitioner program. They obtain training and certification in other areas so that they can perform additional duties, such as delivering babies.


Career choices


Public health


Some family practitioners will choose to work for a government agency such as the National Health Service Corps. Working in organization such as this allows the doctor to help in historically underserved areas. These areas include rural areas , Native American reservations, and Alaska.




Family physicians can opt to also work in a hospital setting on a rotating basis. This allows them to follow up with their patients during surgeries or hospital stays. They can also work solely at the hospitals. Most that do this, work in the critical care or ICU units of the hospital.


Urgent care centers


Urgent care centers provide non-emergency patients with the care they need.  These centers are utilized by patients that need to visit a doctor ASAP, but do not require a trip to the emergency room. These centers help hospitals free up emergency rooms for true emergency care and provide care to those that do not have a designated family practitioner.




Family practitioners can also choose to return to educational facilities. They can do this in a couple of different ways. First, they can choose to work in campus health centers. Here they will provide care to those that are away from home and cannot visit their normal family practitioner. Another option for family care practitioners is to return to teach others the necessary skills to become a doctor.


Sports medicine


Some family practitioners choose to take on the role of team doctor. This is especially true in football. They are well suited for this due to their training in various areas of medicine. They are able to treat orthopedic problems as well as general health problems that players may run into.




Some family practitioners choose to go into a research position. Others use their knowledge of research to better serve their communities. Some family practitioners collect data on their patients in order to improve patient services or to identify common ailments. This can help them to be more proactive with their patients.




The lowest paid professions for family practitioners are those in the educational system. Those working at colleges and universities earn and average yearly salary of $87,000. Those that work in a hospital or clinic setting have a mean yearly salary of $196,000.


Those that work in a private practice, particularly if they open their own, have the highest average yearly salary. Family practitioners that choose to work in private practice average $208,000 yearly. While this is the option that provides the most compensation for doctors, it also provides the most responsibility. Those that open their own practice are responsible for all necessary paperwork and for staffing.


Professional organizations


American Medical Association


In 1845, Dr. Nathan Davis determined that there was a need for a national organization that brought medical professionals together. This led to the founding of the American Medical Association. The organization was founded with the goals of advancing the science of medicine, creating standards for the education of medical professionals, creating medical ethical standards, and improving the health of the public.


Since its creation the American Medical Association has strived to improve the medical profession, not only for doctors, but also for patients. They succeeded in creating ethical standards as well as standards for the education of new doctors. They have also achieved many milestones in the effort to improve the health of the citizens of the United States. In 1849, the organization created a committee to analyze the mass amounts of remedies that were prevalent at the time. As early as 1905, the American Medical Association was regulating the advertising and distribution of drugs so that the public was not buying “quack” remedies and wasting money.


They have also promoted wellness exams. In 1923, they suggested that even those that are healthy receive a physical examination in order to determine if there were unknown problems. They continued this push to America healthier with the creation and promotion of vaccines such as the polio vaccine.


American Academy of Family Physicians


The American Academy of Family Physicians was originally known as the American Academy of General Practice. The organization was founded in 1947 with the goal of maintaining high quality standards for the doctors providing overall health care for the public. The name of the organization was changed in 1971 to reflect the changing medical profession.


The American Academy of Family Practice is committed to promoting and preserving quality health care. They also have taken on the responsibility of advocating for and educating patients in various aspects of health care.


American Board of Family Medicine


The American Board of Family Medicine was founded in 1969. It is a nonprofit organization that strives to improve the quality of health care available. This is accomplished by helping to establish high standards of excellence and creating standards for the education of medical students.


The American Board of Family Medicine also helps to provide funding to those that are doing research in the area of family practitioner certification. They also collaborate with other boards to ensure that the public is receiving the best medical care possible.


Professional publications


Journal of American Medical Association


While there is a general Journal of American Medical Association, this publication is actually a network of publications. In additional to the JAMA, there are eleven other editions that cover different areas of specialty.


The Journal of the American Medical Association is a peer reviewed, medical research journal. The key objective of the publication is to promote the betterment of the health of the public and to promote the science of medicine. Articles focus on a wide range of topics and offer family practitioners information for the betterment of their practice and patients.


American Family Physician


American Family Physician is an independent, peer reviewed journal. It is published semimonthly by the American Academy of Family Practitioners. The journal contains evidence based articles about current research for health care professionals.


Family Practice Management


Family Practice Management is a peer reviewed journal that is geared toward family practitioners that have chosen to open their own practice. It provides doctors with information to better their practices. It includes information on topics such as making the practice more efficient and making the patients’ experience more pleasant and helpful.


Physician Assistant


Many physicians today are being joined by physician assistants. This is true of family practitioners as well. Physician assistants practice medicine on a team of physicians. They are able to diagnose and treat patients.


PA Job duties


Physician assistants can be responsible for a myriad of tasks while working with a doctor. They are able to take and review a patient’s medical history as well as assess and record progress. They examine patients and can order diagnostic tests if needed. They are able to perform tasks such as giving shots and setting bones. Physician assistants are able to treat a patient and even prescribe medicine they just need to work with a doctor. They are not able to open their own practice.


Careers for physician assistants


Physician Assistants are able to work in most health care settings, just as a doctor would. They can find positions in institutions such as hospitals or urgent care centers. Most physician assistants, however, work in a doctor’s office. This is especially true in rural settings.


Education for physician assistants


Physician assistants normally start out their education just a doctor would. They earn a bachelor’s degree in a pre-med program or related science program. Beyond earning a bachelor’s degree, a physician assistant candidate then enters a graduate PA program.  These programs take approximately two years to complete. Most of these programs offer candidates a master’s degree. The program for a physician assistant includes classes in topics such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and medical ethics. They also require students to complete clinical training in various specialties including family medicine.


Nurse practitioner


A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse that has completed advanced education and training. Nurse practitioners have a wide variety of responsibilities. They collaborate with physicians and other health professionals to provide patient care. They are able to diagnosis and treat acute illnesses and conditions as well as monitor chronic conditions. They are able to order and interpret diagnostic tests and prescribe medicines. Nurse practitioners are also able to provide physical exams and wellness checks.


Education for a nurse practitioner


Nurse practitioners begin their careers as nurses. Many earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing. Once they have achieved the status of a registered nurse, those wishing to become nurse practitioner may begin a state approved advanced training program. In many cases this includes earning a master’s degree or even a doctorate degree in nursing. Once advanced training has been completed, a nurse practitioner may apply for licensure in the state in which he or she intends to practice.


Physician assistant versus nurse practitioner


Physician assistants and nurse practitioners have very similar duties, though there are some notable differences. Physician assistants often perform duties that mirror a doctor. In some states, they are even able to prescribe medicine. State regulations, however, require physician assistants to practice under a licensed physician and consult with the physician about the patient’s care.


Nurse practitioners often perform duties that a physician or a physician assistant would. The most notable difference is autonomy. While a physician assistant must work in conjunction with a licensed physician, nurse practitioners are able to treat patients independently. They are able to offer patients knowledge and advice as a nurse and as a physician. They often focus more on preventative care and counseling. It is more typical for a nurse practitioner to specialize in a certain field of medicine as well.


While both professions are well compensated with salaries reaching above $100,00 in some cases, nurse practitioners typically have a slightly higher salary.


Common illnesses and conditions treated in family medicine




Sinusitis is also known in layman terms as a sinus infection. This is an infection of air-filled spaces in and around the nose. When these spaces get infected, inflammation occurs. This inflammation then causes swelling of the mucus membranes in turn causing pain and pressure. Common treatment of a sinus infection includes medicine, such as an antibiotic.




Influenza is commonly called the flu. It is caused by a virus and is often extremely contagious. Symptoms and severity of the flu can range from mild to even life-threatening. It is spread when a person that has the flu sneezes or coughs releasing germs into the air.  The flu is typically diagnosed through a discussion of symptoms and sometimes a test. There is no cure for the flu, so treatment often includes rest and lots of fluids. Medication to ese discomfort for the patient can be prescribed.




Diabetes is a blanket term used to describe conditions in which the body does not absorb and process sugar correctly. There are several variations of this disorder including type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. Doctors can easily diagnosis this disorder with the help of blood and urine tests. The treatment of diabetes varies depending on the type and severity of the patient. Often all treatments include a healthy diet and exercise. Medicines such as insulin can also be added to help treat this condition.




Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common ailment that can lead to more serious conditions. These conditions include heart failure, heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. Hypertension is known as the silent killer. It often doesn’t manifest in observable symptoms until a bigger problem arises. Doctors test for hypertension by taking a patient’s blood pressure and monitoring it to determine if a pattern of high blood pressure is present. Treatment of hypertension often is dependent upon the patient and the reason for the high blood pressure. Dietary changes can be made, especially the reduction of salt usage. Exercise and weight loss are also often a recommendation. If dietary and lifestyle changes are unsuccessful, medicines can be added to treatment plans.




Depression is another common ailment that can be diagnosed by a family practitioner. Like other disorders, depression can vary in type and severity from patient to patient. There are no specific tests to determine if a patient is suffering from depression. Diagnosis includes a doctor talking with the patient about family medical history, personal medical history, and symptoms. For mild cases, a family practitioner is able to prescribe a medication and monitor the patient’s progress. If a patient’s depression is more severe, family practitioners will refer a patient for counseling or even to a psychiatrist for more advanced care.














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