You are interested in becoming a doctor. You want to make a career out of caring for people by treating disease, managing their health and wellbeing, and helping to improve their lives. Some doctors, known as specialists, specialize in treating a specific ailment or part of the body. If you would rather treat a variety of issues, you might consider becoming a general practitioner. Before applying to an accredited medical school such as Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM),* take some time to think about your interests, the skills you would like to learn, and the kinds of patients you would like to treat. There are numerous disciplines of general practice, and you’re sure to find one that meets your personal and professional goals.
What Is A General Practitioner?
Doctors who do not specialize in a particular field of medicine are known as general practitioners or general practice doctors. These versatile and widely skilled physicians are qualified to treat many different medical issues. As first points of contact—primary care physicians—general practitioners also identify problems that may require a specialist or other advanced treatment. Communication skills are key for general practitioners. They must be able to communicate a wide range of medical understanding with other healthcare professionals to ensure that patients receive all relevant and correct treatments. They should also be able to discuss conditions and procedures with patients, families, and caregivers.
One kind of general practice is known as family medicine. These doctors are called family practitioners because they care for patients of all ages—they can treat infants, adolescents, their parents, and their grandparents. Family practitioners are primary care physicians because they are often the first doctor a patient will come to with a medical concern. Many patients visit family physicians for annual checkups, and these doctors can get a good overall picture of a patient’s health as the patient visits the doctor over the course of many years.
Internists are another kind of general practitioner. These doctors focus on what is known as internal medicine. Internists are similar to family practitioners, but they only treat adults (people aged 18 and older) instead of treating people of all ages as family practitioners do. In addition, internists may not provide health services specific to women. Like family doctors, internists are sometimes called primary care physicians. They may be the first doctor a patient sees for such common medical issues as a cough, a cold, or a rash.
General practice doctors who focus on treatment of the elderly are known as gerontologists. These doctors practice geriatric medicine, diagnosing and treating conditions associated with age. On the other end of the spectrum are pediatricians. These general practitioners focus on treating infants, children, and adolescents. Another discipline of general practice is hospital medicine, where physicians are known as hospitalists. Hospitalists treat patients who have been hospitalized due to disease, an accident, or other causes.
General Practitioner EDUCATION
Now you should have a good idea of the different disciplines of general practice. But what kind of education does it take to get there? All these general practice doctors have similar educational backgrounds, but they differ in their specific qualifications and certifications.
Every medical discipline requires an undergraduate degree focused on such hard sciences as biology, chemistry, or physics. Many people wishing to become doctors participate in pre-med programs as undergraduates, and they often do a lot of extracurricular activities to gain medical experience. Before being accepted to a medical school such as RUSM, students must score well on the Medical College Admissions Test® (MCAT®). This examination evaluates a student’s readiness to attend medical school.
Before medical students can become licensed general practitioners, they must earn either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) degree and they must then complete at least three years of medical residency. Residency involves intense practical education and clinical training under the supervision of licensed physicians. Different general practice disciplines require different focuses in coursework and residency, and all doctors must pass board examinations specific to their field. A board examination evaluates a prospective doctor’s clinical knowledge, medical understanding, and diagnostic ability. Each board is an independent organization tasked with certifying physicians in a specific field of medicine. The American Board of Physician Specialties provides a wealth of information about board exams in many different medical disciplines.
Family doctors must complete a residency that includes clinical rotations in multiple areas—such as emergency medicine, general surgery, hospital care, obstetrics, and pediatrics—so that they are prepared to care for patients of any age with a multitude of medical concerns. The American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) is one of the organizations that offers board exams to certify family doctors.
Internists complete their residencies in internal medicine. Their residencies do not include rotations in obstetric or pediatric care, because internists are not specialists in health issues specific to women or children. Internists train in clinics and hospitals. A board such as the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) certifies internists.
Pediatricians may become residents in pediatrics wards, children’s hospitals, or other organizations that focus on the health and well-being of infants and children. The American Board of Pediatrics certifies pediatricians.
Gerontologists typically complete a residency in internal or family medicine, and then apply to a geriatrics fellowship program. Such fellowship programs provide doctors-in-training with additional clinical experience specific to the field of gerontology. A fellowship program may also require a larger focus on research than many other doctor training programs. Organizations such as the ABFM and ABIM certify gerontologists.
You now know what the different general practitioner disciplines are, and how the training differs between those types of physician paths. Think about what kinds of patients you want to serve, and in what capacity. You’re sure to find a discipline of general practice medicine that meets your skills and interests. Once you have decided, take the next step by applying to RUSM** and get started on your path to becoming a versatile and talented general practitioner.
- Internal Medicine vs Family Medicine: What’s the Difference?
- What is a Pediatrician? Specialization & Career Path
- What is a Hospitalist? Learn About An Important Role in Medicine
- How to Become a Family Medicine Doctor