How to Become a Family Medicine Physician
1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)
Aspiring family physicians must first complete a bachelor's degree program in order to continue on to medical school. Traditionally, premed programs offered by nearly all major universities, but are not necessarily required to enter medical school. Programs that emphasize science, such as biology, physics, or physiology, may also be sufficient as medical school qualifications. However, those that are certain they want to enter this, or any other, medical profession should pursue a premed program.
The preparation timeline below outlines the suggested courses:
|Grade Level||Example Courses|
2. Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills.
The MCAT is divided into four sections:
|Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems||
|Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems||
|Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior||
|Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills||
You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the MCAT website. If you are unsatisfied with your score on any of the aforementioned exams, you are free to retake them. Depending on the school, some will average your scores and others will simply take your most recent.
3. Earn a Medical Degree (4 Years)
A list of accredited medical education programs is available through the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).
For more information and advice on successfully getting into medical school, you can check with the Association of American Medical Colleges. Medical school consists of four years of studying the basics in science and participating in clinical “rotations.”
These are hands-on clinical experiences in real health care settings. In most med schools, the first two years are taken up with classroom studies before students are assigned to do rotations.
The current trend, however, finds a number of medical schools exposing students to early clinical experiences that continue throughout the four-year program. Most medical schools base their curriculum on a system-based approach that focuses on one physiological system at a time, such as the respiratory system or the nervous system.
Still others may use a case-based curriculum that teaches about the human body’s normal functioning and disease processes by assigning students to following individual patient cases from start to finish. Still other med schools use a combination of these approaches to educate their students.
The most common lines of coursework among medical schools consist of the following subjects:
During the last two years of schooling, students are required to obtain hands-on experience at hospitals and clinics, learning to diagnose and treat patients while working under the supervision of licensed physicians.
Upon completion of four years of med school, a student is awarded a medical degree, or M.D. Another popular trend is for schools to offer combination degree programs, such as MD/MPH, MD/PHD or MD/JD. The AAMC’s website on Medical School Admission Requirements offers more information on this option.
The preparation timeline below provides an example medical school curriculum:
|3rd, 4th, 5th||
4. Pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE)
Every state requires physicians to pass a national, standardized exam. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, so contact your state's medical board for specific requirements.
For an aspiring family medicine physician, the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is required. The USMLE is sponsored by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States (FSMB).
The exam consists of three steps:
|Step & Purpose||Format & Other Info|
Assesses the ability to apply scientific concepts, basic to practicing medicine, emphasizing mechanisms underlying health, disease, and therapy.
Divided into 2 sub-steps: clinical knowledge (CK) & clinical skills (CS).
The clinical knowledge section assesses the ability to apply medical knowledge, skills, and clinical science to patient care.
The clinical skills section assesses the ability to gather information from patients, perform physical exams, and communicate findings with colleagues.
Divided into 2 sub-steps: Foundations of Independent Practice (FIP) & Advanced Clinical Medicine (ACM)
Foundations of Independent Practice assesses the knowledge and principles essential for effective health care.
Advanced Clinical Medicine assesses the ability to apply knowledge of health and disease to the context of patient management and an evolving disease.
5. Complete a Residency Program (2 - 3 Years)
After completing med school, it’s time to choose your specialty and complete your residency. These residency programs are offered in conjunction with intensive clinical training experiences.
Those desiring to enter family practice can choose from more than 470 family medicine residency programs, including many located in small communities across the country. These students follow a group of patients throughout their residency, providing the same continuity of care that will be expected in their private practice.
The American Medical Association’s online FREIDA service is an interactive database of over 9,400 graduate medical education programs. These programs are all accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. There is also information on over 200 combined specialty programs.
While completing their residency and over the span of their careers, family physicians must master many procedures, including hospital-based procedures and outpatient clinic platforms. Family physicians gain experience in caring for infants, children and adolescents.
Family practice doctors can pursue additional training to help better serve their patients who have special needs, such as athletes, people with chronic diseases and the elderly.
6. Complete a Fellowship Program (Optional)
Fellowships are available to physicians after completion of a residency program, allowing them to further specialize in areas such as sports medicine, geriatrics, obstetrics, and preventative medicine.