Medical doctors who specialize in family medicine serve patients of all ages, providing comprehensive care for all sorts of conditions.
A family physician is usually the first choice when someone has a non-emergency health concern. Family physicians focus their practice on the “whole patient” and provide on-going care over long periods of time. The family medicine job description involves treating the overall patient. They form lasting relationships. They are the doctors that perform annual checkups or physicals. Family medicine doctors administer immunizations, and focus on administering care over a long period of time. Once patients find a family medicine doctor that they like, they often stay with them for many years.
This makes family physicians uniquely qualified to provide preventive care and manage chronic and complex conditions. They also perform early screenings for signs of potentially serious conditions, such as cancer or heart disease. Many patients consider their family physician “my doctor,” developing long-standing relationships with the physician.
The family doctor comes to know the patient well over time, learning a great deal about the patient’s health history and medical needs.
By keeping one family medical doctor, or primary physician as they’re also known, patients can work with someone who knows them and their conditions. Patients work with these doctors to develop unique health care plans. These doctors recommend preventative care and manage complex and chronic conditions.
Key elements of family medicine are helping in the prevention of health problems and the reduction of health risks. In many areas, especially rural settings, a local family physician may follow an individual patient from infancy through adulthood.
Other family members may all be treated by the same doctor, thus giving the physician access to medical histories going back a generation or more. This gives the family physician a unique insight into an individual’s health risks and the ability to better help patients stay healthy.
The job description of a family medicine doctor involves administering annual screenings and the monitoring of patients for conditions where symptoms may not be prevalent. If family medicine doctors know a patient's personal and family medical histories, they also have a better idea of what to look for to practice preventive medicine and ensure the overall health and wellbeing of the patient under their care. They also provide counseling on health and wellness. When patients refer to “my doctor”, there’s a good chance they’re talking about a family medical physician.
Even though their specialization is “family medicine”, they may not necessarily treat an entire family, although they do at times. In smaller communities or rural areas, one doctor may serve an entire community. It wouldn’t be unusual for a patient to have the same doctor from infancy through adulthood.
A big part of the family medicine job description involves looking at the entire picture when it comes to their patients. They treat men and women, young and old. They are the only doctors qualified to treat such a wide range of patients. Compared to other specialties, visits to family medical doctors account for 192 million medical visits annually.
There are several subspecialties that you could choose to pursue during your family medicine career. We've outlined some of the key sub specialties that Family Medicine doctors can focus on:
• Adolescent Medicine — They are trained in the physical and psychological development of adolescents. This gives them the ability to provide adolescents with specialized treatment.
• Geriatric Medicine — They specialize in the treatment of the elderly. They receive special training in diagnostic, preventative, therapeutic, and rehabilitative aspects of the elderly. They may work in private homes or in long-term care facilities.
• Hospice Medicine — These doctors work to relieve the suffering of patients suffering from long-term, terminal illnesses. They work in a team to address the physical and psychological needs of each patient.
• Pain Medicine — These doctors provide care for patients with chronic pain related to conditions or cancers. They work with patients in inpatient and outpatient settings. They coordinate treatment plans with other specialists.
• Sports Medicine — Doctors who specialize in sports medicine work to prevent, diagnose and treat injuries related to sports and exercise.
• Sleep Medicine — In sleep medicine, a family medical physician may work to treat and diagnose sleep-related illnesses. They often work in sleep laboratories.
Family practice physicians (also known as primary care physicians) are often the first point of contact for patients. They're tasked with completing the investigation and treatment of individual patients with a wide array of ailments and conditions.
In the event of more serious occurrences they differ to more specialized physicians.
The family medicine job responsibilities mean that they are often the first point of contact for patients. They’re responsible for investigating illnesses and preparing the appropriate treatment plan to assist that patient with getting healthy as soon as possible. In some cases, they may need to refer patients to specialized physicians for intensive care.
Some of the common responsibilities of a family physician include:
Family practice doctors often manage other health care professionals like nurses and medical assistants in addition to their regular duties we've outlined above.
Family medicine job responsibilities mean treating a wide range of medical conditions. They should be able to communicate with a wide range of people. They should have a personable demeanor. They should be able to customize wellness programs for their patients. They should have good listening skills, show empathy, and communicate. A Family medicine medical doctor needs to build relationships with patients and staff.
For those students, job seekers, or professionals who are considering a career as a Family Medicine Doctor, a brief insight into some of the common daily activities will provide some more clarity on whether or not this is a career you could realistically see yourself pursuing. We've outlined some of the most common activities on the job for Family Medicine Doctors below.
• Communicate With Others
A family medicine medical doctor must have good communication skills. They often treat those with serious illnesses who have a lot of questions or concerns about their ailments and treatment plans. They also need to be able to communicate with patients and healthcare professionals of all ages. Oftentimes, doctors find themselves in a hurry and patients don’t get the time they deserve. Part of communication is active listening. Rather than talking, doctors need to know when to stop and let the patient talk and take control of the dialogue which is so important in the healthcare industry. They may receive answers to questions they have just by listening to what the patient or their family member has to say.
• Time Management
Doctors are notorious for keeping patients waiting. A big part of the doctor’s job each day is to use effective time management skills. During your family medicine career, you’ll have to know approximately how much time each appointment will take and how much time you should allow yourself between appointments. You’ll have to have a policy in place so that your staff follows the proper schedule. Finally, you should know how to say “no.” Sometimes you can’t accommodate everything. It’s okay to let colleagues know up front rather than giving them less than 100%.
In addition, as a Family Medicine Doctor, there will be times when things go awry and you cannot stick to your schedule that you've laid out. When those scenarios occur, you will need to be capable of adjusting on the fly and use effective time management skills on a daily basis to make sure that patients aren't waiting for an inordinate amount of time and get the attention that they deserve.
• Advocate for Patients
During your family medicine career, you need to be an advocate for your patients. What exactly is an advocate? Advocacy is acting as someone’s voice. In the medical field, you’ll find that many of your patients “don’t know the system” so to speak.
You’ll be responsible for listening to their issues and giving them a voice. Support Empower Advocate Promote (SEAP Advocacy) reports that advocacy is the process of enabling people to express their views and concern, access information and services, defend and promote rights and responsibilities, and explore choices and options.
To be a proper advocate, you have to care about your patients and empathize with what they're going through.
• Practice Good Bedside Manner
When you hear “bedside manner”, do you think of sitting at someone’s bedside in a hospital setting? Well, that’s the literal translation, but bedside manner actually goes beyond that. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a bedside manner as “the manner that a physician assumes towards patients.” How are you going to interact with your patients?
One of the most common complaints that patients bring forth about their doctors regards the lack of bedside manner. Their doctors may be rushed, impersonal, or even condescending. Bedside manner is not taught in medical school, it’s a skill you’ll need to develop on your own for your family medicine career. You’ll need to give your patients attention, answer their questions, and just provide a listening ear. Show them you care. Bedside manner is important when it comes to improving the patient outcomes and the likelihood that they'll stick to their treatment plan.
The family physician is often the first point of contact for many people entering the health care system.
This requires the physician to quickly assess physical data and communicate with patients effectively to gather the information needed to make an accurate diagnosis.
Must effectively communicate with your co-workers to ensure the best care and the proper procedures. Must be able to communicate in high-stress environments.
Offering your full attention to an individual person or group in order to fully understand problems and their nature.
Must use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
Judgment and Decision Making
Needs to be able to act autonomously and make difficult decisions that would benefit the patient or make corrections. Must consider all benefits and repercussions of potential actions and choose the appropriate one.
Complex Problem Solving
Must be able to identify complex problems and develop and evaluate corrective options and implement solutions.
Must be able to endure intense situations and handle pressure that comes with extreme situations you may encounter.
Must be trustworthy because you have people's lives in your hands and what you do could help or hurt them. They are entrusted with a great responsibility and must live up to it.
Gauging how people react and read their body language to decipher their feelings and predict their actions. They must be able to determine if people could be a risk to themselves or others and to distinguish truths from lies.
A family practice medical office is run like a small business, with front office staff who are often trained medical assistants, and a billing manager.
The office-based practice is the common business model, although training in the family practice specialty prepares physicians to work in non-traditional locales, including wilderness, rural and international situations.
Family physicians may locate their practice in any of the following common locations:
Hospitals, especially rural care facilities
Community health centers
Urgent care centers
Many physicians aspire to own private practices. They may team up with a few other physicians and open a practice together. To run a private practice, a doctor must have good business skills. A private practice office usually has a front office staff such as receptionists, medical assistants, and billing management. Training in outpatient facilities could prepare a family medicine medical doctor to work in less traditional settings such as the rural wilderness and internationally.
Most family medical doctors work in outpatient clinics. Many outpatient clinics close on weekends and holidays, so a family medicine doctor will likely work the standard 40-hour work schedule. Typical working conditions involve working indoors and in close proximity to others. Doctors often have to wear protective attire such as gloves and masks during examinations. There is also a risk of exposure to infectious diseases on a weekly or even daily basis.
Those in family practice report a high level of professional satisfaction, ease in balancing career and home and a comfortable lifestyle.
The flexibility of a family practice gives the physician the authority to arrange work hours, work schedules and provisions for family time.
A family practices gives a physician a wide range of lifestyle options. The median numbers of hours a family physician works is 51, according to Medical Economics magazine.
The family physician is often the first one in a position to learn about the appearance of new symptoms and the first to diagnose an emerging condition.
Family physicians see patients in different environments, including homes, clinics and hospitals in areas that are traditionally under served by other medical providers.
The U.S. government estimates that a physician shortage translates into an estimated 20 percent of people in the U.S. have inadequate access or no access to primary care.
These are generally people in rural areas and regions of socioeconomic deprivation. Family physicians provide the care that fills this gap.
It is estimated that fully 25 percent of family physicians extend their practices into rural areas. Uninsured patients are often part of the family physicians’ patient pool, especially children and families receiving public assistance.
If you're interested in learning more about How To Become a Family Medicine Doctor, you should take a look at our Family Medicine Career Path, and also check out the Salary Trend Insights for Family Medicine Physicians.