We’ve all had to sit in the waiting room of our local clinic at some point in our lives, waiting to be treated by a primary care physician, which could be either a family medicine doctor or a general practitioner. The terms “family medicine doctor” and “general practitioner” are often used interchangeably, leading to confusion about their roles and responsibilities. Whether you’re a patient and don’t know which physician to see or are an aspiring primary care physician exploring different career paths, knowing the difference between family medicine doctors and general practitioners is essential. 

Join us on our guide on family medicine vs general practice, and learn more about their duties, educational requirements, salaries, and more. Moreover, let us help you make an informed decision on which role is right for you.  

What Is A Family Medicine Doctor?

Family medicine doctors or family physicians are specialized healthcare professionals trained to provide comprehensive care to patients of all ages, from infantry to seniors. They diagnose and treat various medical conditions, often serving as a patient’s first contact for health concerns. 

Family medicine doctors focus on providing general outpatient care involving preventing, diagnosing, and managing acute and chronic conditions. However, within the family medicine specialty, there are several subspecialties focusing on different aspects of medicine, such as:

  • Adolescent medicine;
  • Geriatric medicine;
  • Health care administration, leadership, and management;
  • Sleep medicine;
  • Pain medicine;
  • Hospice and palliative medicine; 
  • Sports medicine. 

What Is A General Practitioner?

General practitioners are specialized doctors who provide care for various medical issues for patients of all ages, offer guidance on health concerns, and refer patients to specialists when necessary. They are also known as primary care physicians. 

The role they play greatly depends on the location in which they operate. In urban areas, general practitioners focus on chronic health problems and treat acute, non-threatening diseases. In contrast, in rural areas, they take on a broader scope of practice in pre-hospital emergency care and perform low-complexity surgical procedures.

What Does a General Practitioner Do?

General practitioners play a crucial role in diagnosing various medical conditions by carefully evaluating a patient’s symptoms, conducting physical examinations, and ordering diagnostic tests such as blood testing, x-rays, ultrasounds, etc. Moreover, general practitioners are capable of performing minor suturing and wound treatment. 

Some of the specific services general practitioners provide include: 

  • Performing routine exams and follow-up care;
  • Conducting mental health checks;
  • Administering immunizations;
  • Prescribing medications;
  • Ordering screenings and medical tests
  • Referring to specialist health professionals;
  • Coordinating healthcare. 

What Does a Family Medicine Doctor Do?

Family medicine doctors utilize their broad medical knowledge to diagnose and manage various acute and chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, heart disease, asthma, etc.. Moreover, they play a critical role in providing preventative care by educating patients on various health conditions, administering vaccinations, and counseling patients on lifestyle changes in diet and exercise, helping them improve their quality of life. 

Some of the specific services provided by family medicine doctors include:

  • Conducting routine check-ups and physical examinations, including weight measurements, heart and lung examinations, and blood pressure testing;
  • Monitoring vital signs, including heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, or temperature;
  • Managing viral and bacterial infections by running diagnostic tests and prescribing medication;
  • Performing women’s health procedures such as fetal monitoring, cancer screening, and IUD placement;
  • Developing treatment protocols and collaborating with pharmacists and nurses;
  • Providing pediatric care, including growth monitoring and developmental screening. 

Difference Between Family Medicine and General Practitioner

Difference Between Family Medicine and General Practitioner

Educations

The paths to becoming a family medicine doctor or a general practitioner have many similarities, such as completing four years of undergraduate studies, passing the MCAT, and attending medical school either in an M.D. program or a D.O. program for four years. 

However, they also have differences. For example, to become a family medicine doctor, you need to complete a residency program in family medicine. On the other hand, to become a general practitioner in the U.S., you need to complete a residency program in either family medicine or internal medicine. Both residency programs last three years. So, in total, it can take around 11 years to become a family medicine doctor and a general practitioner. Lastly, you can seek certification from the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) or the American Board of General Practice (ABGP).

Work environments

Becoming a family medicine doctor allows you to work in various healthcare settings, like private practices, community health centers, hospitals, or multispecialty group practices.  

On the other hand, as a general practitioner, you can work in a private or larger practice with multiple doctors, residential care facilities, and hospitals, either in a rural or urban area. 

Salaries

According to national estimates by the BLS, the mean annual wage of family medicine physicians is $224,460. On the other hand, the salary of general practitioners depends on the country they practice in. According to Glassdoor, their salary in the U.S. is $240,300

Several factors may influence the salary of family medicine doctors and general practitioners, including:

  • Geographic location: salaries vary between countries and regions; 
  • Experience: professionals with more experience typically command higher salaries; 
  • Additional skills or qualifications: doctors with advanced expertise may earn more due to their additional skills and qualifications; 
  • Work environment: doctors and practitioners working in outpatient care centers may receive higher compensation compared to those working in physicians’ offices. 

Job outlooks

The BLS doesn’t specify the job outlook for family medicine doctors and general practitioners, rather than estimating a 3% job outlook for physicians and surgeons. This employment growth translates into about 24,200 openings for physicians and surgeons in the 2022-2032 period. The high demand for physicians, especially family medicine doctors and general practitioners, is due to the essential role they play in providing primary care services to a broad range of patients. Moreover, as the population ages, the need for preventative care, chronic disease management, and geriatric care also increases. 

However, the demand for these primary care physicians remains stable overall; it can fluctuate depending on the need for general practitioners in rural and unserved areas and family medicine doctors in larger population demographics.

Family Medicine vs General Practitioner: Which Role Is Right for You?

As you consider a career in healthcare, particularly in primary care medicine, it’s crucial to consider several factors to determine which role is better for you. Here are some of them:

  • Personal preferences: While family medicine doctors and general practitioners treat patients of all ages, usually general practitioners don’t treat infants. So, if you enjoy working with patients from infants to seniors, becoming a family medicine doctor may be better for you. 
  • Lifestyle considerations: As family medicine doctors and general practitioners may have different practice settings and schedules, choosing a role that allows you to maintain a healthy work-life balance is essential. General practitioner practices can be open past regular office hours and weekends, whereas family medicine doctors maintain regular office hours. 
  • Career goals: If you’re interested in pursuing additional training or certifications in specific areas of medicine, such as geriatrics, sports, sleep medicine, pain medicine, etc., a career in family medicine might be better for you. 

Ultimately, the decision between a career as a family medicine doctor and a general practitioner should be based on your career aspirations, values, and interests. 

The Bottom Line

While family medicine doctors and general practitioners provide primary care services, there are significant differences in their educational paths, work environments, salaries, and job outlooks. Despite their divergent paths, both play a crucial role in providing primary care to their patients and promoting well-being for individuals and communities. They also serve as the first point of contact for patients, offering preventative care, managing chronic conditions, and addressing acute medical needs. 

So, now that you know the main differences between these two honorable career paths, you can get started on your journey to a medical career. Apply now and get high-quality foundational education for a successful future as a physician. 

FAQ

What are the principles of family medicine?

There are five principles of family medicine and general practice. They include compassionate care, a generalist approach, continuity of relationships, reflective mindfulness, and lifelong learning. These principles define the characteristics of the specialty.

Is the future of family medicine/general practice bleak?

The future of family medicine and general practice is bright. With the BLS estimating a job outlook of 3% for physicians and surgeons in general and about 24,200 job openings each year in the 2022-2032 period, these medical professionals are in demand. Moreover, AAMC predicts a shortage by 2034 of between 17,800 and 48,000 primary care physicians, leading to more job opportunities for you as either a family medicine doctor or a general practitioner.

Is a Family Medicine Doctor a good job?

Family medicine is an excellent specialty choice and a fulfilling career for many reasons. As a family medicine doctor, you receive a high compensation of $224,460. Moreover, AAMC estimates a shortage between 87,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, meaning there will be a higher number of future job vacancies. You’ll also work with a variety of patients, from newborns to older adults, establishing long-lasting relationships with patients and their families.