Understanding career paths in healthcare can be overwhelming, given the numerous physician types and specializations available. Depending on the patient’s specific needs, various types of physicians come into play, each bringing distinct expertise to the table. Even within broader categories like primary care physicians, multiple specializations exist catering to different age groups and health concerns.

So, read on as we explore the different types of primary care physicians, providing insight into these distinct roles and what each one entails.

What Is a Primary Care Physician?

A primary care physician (PCP) is a medical professional who is the initial point of contact for individuals seeking healthcare. These physicians provide comprehensive and general medical care for patients across all age groups, addressing various health concerns. Primary care physicians play a pivotal role in preventive care, early disease detection, and the management of chronic conditions. They are typically the first healthcare professionals patients consult when experiencing health issues, serving as the central coordinators of a patient’s overall healthcare journey.

These physicians diagnose and treat common ailments, provide early detection of severe conditions through regular check-ups, and manage chronic health issues, fostering long-term patient well-being. Additionally, PCPs act as guides, referring patients to specialists when specialized care is needed.

Education and training requirements 

Becoming a physician starts with earning an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution, typically in pre-med or the sciences. Following this, one must enter specific medical training by completing an accredited medical school program leading to a degree in medicine or osteopathic medicine.

Next, to qualify for practice, graduates must pass board exams such as the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States (COMLEX-USA). Once they pass these exams, they must join a residency program, which includes rotations in key areas like pediatrics, emergency medicine, obstetrics, general surgery, and inpatient hospital care. The duration of primary care residency programs is among the shortest. However, if you want to pursue a specialized role afterward, you’ll have to join a fellowship program similar to residency but focused on a particular area within primary care.

Completing all requirements and state residency allows physicians to take certification exams, marking the culmination of their extensive education and training to become primary care physicians.

Types of Primary Care Physicians


The term “primary care physician” serves as an encompassing umbrella, signifying a doctor who practices general medicine and may assume various roles based on their specific scope of focus within primary care medicine. Below, we’ll explore some of the different types of primary care doctors and other closely related roles that contribute significantly to primary care medicine.

Family medicine physicians

A family medicine physician is a specialized healthcare professional who delivers ongoing and comprehensive healthcare services to individuals and families, spanning all age groups, genders, diseases, and anatomical areas of the body. Such physicians are trained to address various medical conditions and prioritize building long-term relationships with their patients.

Family medicine physicians consider not only the immediate health concerns of their patients but also the broader aspects of their well-being, including emotional and social factors. As primary care providers, they serve as the initial point of contact for patients, helping with preventive care, diagnosis, and treatment within the context of the family unit.

These professionals enjoy excellent salaries, reflecting the value of their comprehensive and diverse medical expertise. In the United States, family medicine physicians have an estimated total pay of $240,143 per year, with individual salaries ranging from $190,000 to $306,000.

Internal medicine physicians

Internal medicine physicians, commonly referred to as internists, are healthcare professionals primarily dedicated to the care of adults. While some internists may extend their expertise to include pediatric patients, achieving this involves undergoing dual training in both internal medicine and pediatrics.

The specialized focus of internal medicine physicians encompasses the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases affecting adult individuals. These physicians are well-versed in providing comprehensive care for a diverse array of health conditions, and they actively engage in counseling patients on preventive measures and overall wellness strategies.

Internal medicine physicians also command high salaries, earning a substantial total pay of $269,415 per year, with individual salaries spanning from $205,000 to $356,000. This compensation is a testament to these professionals’ critical role in managing complex medical conditions and providing comprehensive care for adults. 


Pediatricians are dedicated to the care and well-being of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. They are usually the type of healthcare professional people go to for general health concerns, whereas pediatric specialists tackle more intricate medical issues. 

Recognizing the rapid and dynamic physical and mental changes children undergo during their formative years, pediatricians play a crucial role in assessing and maintaining their health within age-appropriate developmental norms. Beyond routine check-ups and vaccinations, they are adept at diagnosing and treating various medical conditions specific to the pediatric population. 

Primary care pediatricians in the United States enjoy competitive wages, with an estimated annual income of $234,221, and the salary range for these dedicated healthcare professionals spans $176,000 to $320,000. 

Obstetricians-Gynecologists (OB-GYNs)

Primary care OB-GYNs are skilled doctors specializing in the comprehensive care of the female reproductive system. In addition to addressing diseases and disorders specific to reproductive health, these professionals also play a crucial role in providing a holistic approach to women’s well-being. Their scope of practice encompasses treating diverse health conditions affecting menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, and the pelvic floor.

Primary care OB-GYNs are often the first point of contact for women seeking medical care related to their reproductive health. They offer services such as routine gynecological exams, family planning, and addressing general health concerns. They establish long-term relationships with their patients, fostering a continuum of care that extends from adolescence through menopause.

The salary range for these dedicated healthcare professionals varies from $162,000 to $290,000, with the estimated total pay reported at $215,559 per year.

Nurse practitioners (NPs)

In addition to physicians, primary care medicine also encompasses other healthcare roles, with nurse practitioners being a notable example. NPs are advanced practice registered nurses prepared at the master’s or doctoral level to offer primary, acute, chronic, and specialty care to patients across all ages and backgrounds.

These highly trained professionals play a multifaceted role, dealing with both acute and chronic diseases while emphasizing health promotion and disease prevention. Their scope of practice is broad, encompassing patient assessment, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, making diagnoses, initiating and managing treatments (including prescribing medications and non-pharmacologic interventions), coordinating care, counseling, and educating patients, their families, and communities. 

In the United States, NPs have an estimated total pay of $128,058 annually. The salary range for these advanced practice registered nurses is diverse, with individual salaries spanning from $105,000 to $157,000. 

Physician assistants (PAs)

Another important healthcare professional, the physician assistant, works collaboratively with primary care physicians, providing crucial medical treatment and support in various healthcare settings.

Their responsibilities can vary depending on the supervising doctor, encompassing tasks such as checking on patients, conducting examinations, assisting in surgeries, diagnosing illnesses, prescribing medications, and creating and managing patient treatment plans. PAs also play a pivotal role in offering valuable advice to patients on preventive care and optimal health practices. 

Despite working alongside a supervising doctor, PAs operate as independent clinicians within the scope of state law. This collaborative partnership allows them to exercise a high level of autonomy while contributing to the overall effectiveness of patient care.

They receive competitive compensation, with an average annual income of around $141,291. However, this profession has plenty of room for growth, as individual salaries can vary from $110,000 to $182,000. 

Future Outlook

The job outlook for physicians, including primary care physicians, reflects a steady growth. Projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate a 3% increase in overall employment from 2022 to 2032, aligning with the average growth rate for all occupations. Over the decade, an estimated 24,200 annual openings for such professionals are anticipated, indicating a high demand for healthcare professionals to meet the evolving medical needs of society.

Which One Should You Choose?

Choosing the most fitting primary care career path involves careful consideration of your individual preferences and the specific needs of those seeking medical care. Family medicine might be the ideal choice if you’re focused on providing comprehensive healthcare across all age groups. However, if you’re more interested in specialized care for adults, internal medicine could be the preferred route, similar to how, for individuals passionate about nurturing the health of children and adolescents, a career as a pediatrician might be the best fit.

It’s crucial to evaluate personal inclinations and align them with each specialty’s unique care. If becoming a doctor does not align with your interests, you can explore fulfilling roles as a nurse or physician assistant, contributing valuable skills to the healthcare field. Ultimately, the key is to find a career that resonates with personal interests, ensuring a fulfilling and impactful journey in primary care.

The Bottom Line

All in all, primary care physicians, encompassing family medicine practitioners, internists, pediatricians, and more, stand as indispensable in healthcare. Each type brings unique strengths, ensuring that individuals of all ages receive comprehensive and tailored medical care. Whether you’re aspiring to be a generalist or a specialist catering to specific age groups, choosing a career in primary care is a commendable and impactful decision.

If you’re ready to begin your medical career journey, consider joining us at the American University of Antigua. We can guide you every step of the way through our comprehensive pre-med program as well as medical school. Let us be the bridge to your aspirations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a primary care physician?

A primary care physician is a medical doctor who serves as the initial point of contact for patients, addressing a wide range of health concerns, offering preventive care, and coordinating specialized care when needed.

What is the function of a PCP?

The primary function of a PCP is to serve as the main point of contact for patients’ healthcare needs. They also serve as care coordinators, referring patients to specialists when necessary.

Is internal medicine primary care?

Yes, internal medicine can be considered a primary care specialty. Internal medicine physicians, also known as internists, represent a type of PCP specializing in preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases in adults. 

What kind of doctor is best for PCP?

There isn’t a particular “best” PCP type, as each, whether it be a family medicine physician, internist, or pediatrician, brings distinct strengths to patient care. Generally, the most suitable PCP depends on the specific healthcare needs of the patient and their context.