Becoming a doctor and helping people has always been your dream. And now that you’re on the journey to becoming one, you’re considering which branch of medicine you want to pursue further. If treating a variety of health issues, instead of specializing in a particular field strikes your fancy, becoming a general practice doctor or a general practitioner is a good career option for you.

Here, we go over everything you need to know about general practice, what general practitioners do, how long it takes to become a general practitioner, and what kind of training you will need to undergo.

What Do General Practitioners Do?

A general practitioner is a medical doctor who is trained to treat medical conditions across multiple fields. As doctor in primary care, they are the first specialist a patient consults to diagnose an illness. General practitioners have the technical knowledge of a broad range of conditions and, hence, can diagnose and treat many medical conditions. They refer a patient to a specialist if more specialized treatment is required, so they often work alongside other types of doctors, nurses and specialists. General practitioners need to have strong communication skills to clearly explain the medical diagnosis to the patients.

Some general practitioners may become family doctors who treat everyone from infants to the elderly in families. Other general practitioners focus on internal medicine, where they only treat adults. General practitioners also include speciality areas such as paediatrics and geriatrics.

Some general practitioners specialize in hospital medicine, which involves dealing exclusively with inpatients in hospitals. They are trained in handling facilities and equipment that are commonly found in hospitals.

What Training Do General Practitioners Undergo?

All types of general practitioners have similar training, but they have different certifications and specific qualifications. All aspiring doctors need to go through four years of a pre-med undergraduate program, with majors in biology or other related subjects. They must also ace the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).

Upon completion of the pre-med degree, medical students go on to earn their medical degree Doctor of Medicine (MD), and complete at least three years of medical residency before earning their license to practice medicine. Residency means more intensive education and clinical practice under the supervision of other physicians. Different disciplines require aspiring doctors to pass different board exams and certifications. Board exams test the medical expertise, clinical understanding, and diagnostic skills of a student. Each field has a specific board that is authorized to certify physicians in the particular field.

For instance, if you want to become a family doctor, your residency will be in family medicine with clinical rotations across a range of disciplines, such as obstetrics, paediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine and more. You will need to pass a board examination offered by an organization such as the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM).

If you want to be an Internist, you must complete a residency in internal medicine, training extensively in hospitals and clinics. You will then need to pass the board examination offered by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM). Residency in internal medicine does not include rotations in obstetrics or paediatrics because internists do not treat children or deal with health issues specific to women.

As a gerontologist, you may want to do clinical residencies in internal or family medicine before applying to a geriatrics fellowship program, which involves additional clinical experience. If you want to get into paediatrics, your residency will be in children’s hospitals or paediatrics wards, and you will need to be certified by The American Board of Pediatrics.

Now that you have some clarity on the branch of general medicine and the kind of training you will need to undergo for each field, you should consider which branch matches your passion and skill set. Whichever subspecialty you choose, there is great scope for your career as a doctor.