General practitioners, also called general-practice doctors or family physicians, are often the first medical professionals patients see when symptoms of illness appear.

These doctors must be familiar with a wide range of ailments, diseases, and disorders. They also treat patients who have suffered injuries. General practioners conduct examinations, make diagnoses, provide a variety of treatments and therapy, and refer patients to specialists.

People go to their family doctors often, not only when they are experiencing problems but also for regular checkups. This puts GPs in a unique position to monitor their patients and assist them in leading healthier lives.

A GP must have a medical degree, which entails a significant financial investment and many years of education and training. Family doctors generally operate private medical offices, while some are members of group practices. The profession offers high salaries, as well as the satisfaction of helping patients recover.

General Practitioner Job Description

GPs interview people with health complaints, and conduct examinations, to gather the information necessary to make diagnoses. Assessments and diagnostic testing involve the use of sophisticated medical equipment.

Once a diagnosis is made, a GP provides the necessary treatment, prescribes medication, or refers patients to specialists. These doctors also provide information to patients about how to manage their symptoms.

The responsibilities of a general practitioner include:
  • Meet with patients to learn about their complaints and medical histories;
  • Perform examinations and conduct diagnostic tests, then analyze the results to determine the causes of illness or disease;
  • Discuss with patients the treatment and medication options;
  • Provide vaccinations to protect patients from infectious diseases;
  • Consult with patients about diet, exercise, and other lifestyle issues that affect their health;
  • Deliver babies, and provide prenatal and postnatal care to mothers and infants;
  • Perform minor surgery;
  • Make house calls and respond to emergencies when patients are unable to go to the doctor’s office;
  • Conduct routine checkups, as well as physical examinations required for patients to get jobs, be admitted to college, or qualify for insurance coverage;
  • Report diseases, births, and deaths to government authorities;
  • Manage a private medical practice, hire and supervise employees, and perform business functions involving finance and administration;
  • Maintain patient records;
  • Consult with specialists and other medical professionals about patients’ cases;
  • Obtain continuing education, attend professional conferences, and keep up-to-date on medical practices.

 General Practitioner Prerequisites

General practioners need to possess excellent people skills. They must effectively communicate with patients, to understand their needs and provide them information. Dealing with people in pain, and those experiencing stress and anxiety, is common.

This high-pressure job can feature long and irregular working hours. GPs may have to make house calls, or be awakened in the middle of the night to attend to a medical emergency. Because they serve people who are sick, these doctors frequently come into contact with contagious diseases.

GPs require a thorough understanding of myriad ailments, diseases, and disorders. They also must be expert at using medical equipment and analyzing test results. Problem-solving and decision-making skills, as well as manual dexterity, are crucial.

How to Become a Physician

The first step to becoming a general practitioner is to earn a bachelor’s degree in a science from a four-year college. A major in biology or chemistry is recommended. Suggested courses include physics, anatomy, physiology, and math.

The next level of required education, medical school, takes another four years. The first two years are spent in classrooms and laboratories. Pre-med students take courses in various sciences and math, plus English, the humanities, and social sciences.

During the final two years of medical school, students assist licensed doctors in examining and treating patients at offices, clinics, or hospitals. Some medical schools have programs that take six or seven years to complete, combining a bachelor’s degree with a medical doctorate degree.

After all the years in school, prospective GPs are required to complete residency programs lasting three to seven years (depending upon whether a medical specialty is being pursued). During this time, students usually concentrate on either family practice, the operation of a general-practice office; or internal medicine, which entails making diagnoses and providing treatment.

General Practitioner Certification

The final mandate for becoming a general practitioner is to obtain licensing and certification. Every state requires family doctors to have licenses, which are earned by passing written and oral U.S. medical-licensing exams. Each state’s medical-licensing board has a website providing information.

Certification by professional organizations is not usually required to practice family medicine. However, it may enhance a doctor’s chances of getting a job. Some employers mandate that GPs be certified.