family physician

How Do You Become a Family Physician? Job Description, Salary and More

Family Physicians diagnose, treat, and help prevent diseases and injuries that commonly occur in the general population. They are also called general practitioners.

This is a good job choice for someone who wants to do a lot of thinking and investigative work to solve problems. Family physicians have to use what the patient says and their symptoms to figure out the best solution to their problem.

Being a family physician is also a social job where you are teaching people about what they can do to recover from an injury or illness and improve their overall health.

If you are an INFJ personality type and want to invest years into a meaningful role in your community, you might consider becoming a family physician.

Other Job Titles for Family Physician  

  • Board Certified Family Physician
  • Family Medicine Physician
  • Family Physician
  • Family Practice Medical Doctor
  • Family Practice Physician
  • Family Practitioner
  • Medical Doctor
  • Medical Staff Physician
  • Physician, Primary Care
  • Physician

What Does a Family Physician Do?

Family physicians diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests.

They often counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare.


Physicians typically do the following:

  • Take a patient’s medical history
  • Update charts and patient information to show current findings and treatments
  • Order tests for nurses or other healthcare staff to perform
  • Review test results to identify any abnormal findings
  • Recommend and design a plan of treatment
  • Address concerns or answer questions that patients have about their health and well-being
  • Help patients take care of their health by discussing topics such as proper nutrition and hygiene

What’s the Difference Between an M.D. and an D.O.?

There are two types of physicians, with similar degrees: M.D. (Medical Doctor) and D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine).

Both use the same methods of treatment, including drugs and surgery, but D.O.s place additional emphasis on the body’s musculoskeletal system, preventive medicine, and holistic (whole-person) patient care.

D.O.s are most likely to be primary care physicians, although they can be found in all specialties.

Physician Specialties

A Family physician is just one of the specialties a doctor can choose.


These doctors focus on the care of surgical patients and pain relief. They administer drugs (anesthetics) that reduce or eliminate the sensation of pain during an operation or another medical procedure.

During surgery, they are responsible for adjusting the amount of anesthetic as needed and monitoring the patient’s heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing.

They also work outside of the operating room, providing pain relief for patients in the intensive care unit, for women in labor and delivery of babies, and for patients who suffer from chronic pain.

Family and General Physicians 

These doctors assess and treat a range of conditions that occur in everyday life.

These conditions include sinus and respiratory infections to broken bones. Family and general physicians typically have regular, long-term patients.

General Internists 

They diagnose and provide nonsurgical treatment for a range of problems that affect internal organ systems such as the stomach, kidneys, liver, and digestive tract.

Internists use a variety of diagnostic techniques to treat patients through medication or hospitalization.

They work mostly with adult patients.

General Pediatricians 

These doctors provide care for infants, children, teenagers, and young adults.

They specialize in diagnosing and treating problems specific to younger people. Most pediatricians treat common illnesses, minor injuries, and infectious diseases, and administer vaccinations.

Some pediatricians specialize in pediatric surgery or serious medical conditions that commonly affect younger patients, such as autoimmune disorders or chronic ailments.

Obstetricians and Gynecologists

They provide care related to pregnancy, childbirth, and the female reproductive system.

They treat and counsel women throughout their pregnancy and deliver babies.

They also diagnose and treat health issues specific to women, such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, hormonal disorders, and symptoms related to menopause.


These are primary mental health physicians. They diagnose and treat mental illnesses through a combination of personal counseling (psychotherapy), psychoanalysis, hospitalization, and medication.

Psychotherapy involves regular discussions with patients about their problems. The psychiatrist helps them find solutions through changes in their behavioral patterns, explorations of their past experiences, or group and family therapy sessions.

Psychoanalysis involves long-term psychotherapy and counseling for patients. Psychiatrists may prescribe medications to correct chemical imbalances that cause some mental illnesses.


Family physician do not perform surgery.

They treat injuries, diseases, and deformities through operations.

Using a variety of instruments, a surgeon corrects physical deformities, repairs bone and tissue after injuries, or performs preventive or elective surgeries on patients.

Although a large number perform general surgery, many surgeons choose to specialize in a specific area.

Specialties include orthopedic surgery (the treatment of the musculoskeletal system), neurological surgery (treatment of the brain and nervous system), cardiovascular surgery, and plastic or reconstructive surgery.

Like other physicians, surgeons examine patients, perform and interpret diagnostic tests, and counsel patients on preventive healthcare. Some specialist physicians also perform surgery.

Physician Specialties

Physicians may work in a number of other medical specialties and subspecialties. The following specialists are some of the most common examples:

  • Allergists (specialists in diagnosing and treating hay fever or other allergies)
  • Cardiologists (heart specialists)
  • Dermatologists (skin specialists)
  • Gastroenterologists (digestive system specialists)
  • Ophthalmologists (eye specialists)
  • Pathologists (specialists who study body tissue to see if it is normal or abnormal)
  • Radiologists (specialists who review and interpret x rays and other images and deliver radiation treatments for cancer and other illnesses)

Physicians in healthcare establishments work daily with other healthcare staff, such as registered nurses, other physicians, medical assistants, and medical records and health information technicians.

Some physicians may choose to work in fields that do not involve patient care, such as medical research or public policy. 

What is the Difference Between a Family Physician and a Primary Care Physician?

Although the two jobs are similar and overlap, a family physicians sees patients of all ages, usually within a family, while other doctors see only adults. Pediatricians treat children, but they too can be a primary care physician for your child. You can choose a family physician as a primary care physician, even if you don’t have a family.

Family Physician Jobs and Where They Work

Physicians and surgeons held about 756,800 jobs in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here is a breakdown of the number of doctors in each specialty.

Physicians and surgeons, all other433,700
Family and general practitioners126,600
Internists, general42,800
Pediatricians, general31,700
Obstetricians and gynecologists20,700

Many physicians work in doctors’ offices. Others worked in hospitals, in academia, or for the government.

Increasingly, physicians are working in group practices, healthcare organizations, or hospitals, where they share a large number of patients with other doctors.

The group setting allows them more time off and lets them coordinate care for their patients, but it gives them less independence than solo practitioners have.

Work Schedules

Many family physicians work regular hours but some may travel between their offices and hospitals to care for their patients.

While on call, a family physician may need to address a patient’s concerns over the phone or make an emergency visit to a hospital or nursing home.

How to Become a Family Physician

A family physician gives immunizations to children.

Physicians have demanding education and training requirements.

Family physicians typically need a bachelor’s degree, a degree from a medical school, which takes 4 years to complete, and 3 to 7 years in internship and residency programs.


Most applicants to medical school have at least a bachelor’s degree, and many have advanced degrees.

Although no specific major is required, students usually complete undergraduate work in biology, chemistry, physics, math, and English.

Students also may take courses in the humanities and social sciences. In addition, some students volunteer at local hospitals or clinics to gain experience in a healthcare setting.

Getting into Medical School

Medical schools are highly competitive.

Most applicants must submit transcripts, scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and letters of recommendation.

Schools also consider an applicant’s personality, leadership qualities, and participation in extracurricular activities.

Most schools require applicants to interview with members of the admissions committee.

A few medical schools offer combined undergraduate and medical school programs that last 6 to 8 years.

Attending Medical School

Students spend most of the first 2 years of medical school in laboratories and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, psychology, medical ethics, and in the laws governing medicine.

They also gain practical skills; learning to take medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses.

During their last 2 years, medical students work with patients under the supervision of experienced physicians in hospitals and clinics.

Through rotations in internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery, they gain experience in diagnosing and treating illnesses in a variety of areas.


After medical school, almost all graduates enter a residency program in their specialty of interest.

A residency usually takes place in a hospital and varies in duration, generally lasting from 3 to 7 years, depending on the specialty.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require physicians and surgeons to be licensed; requirements vary by state.

To qualify for a license, candidates must graduate from an accredited medical school and complete residency training in their specialty.

All physicians also must pass a standardized national licensure exam. M.D.s take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). D.O.s take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).

For specific state information about licensing, contact your state’s medical board.

Certification is not required for family physicians; however, it may increase their employment opportunities.

M.D.s and D.O.s seeking board certification in a specialty may spend up to 7 years in residency training; the length of time varies with the specialty.

To become board certified, candidates must complete a residency program and pass a specialty certification exam from a certifying board including the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), or the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS).

A Family Physician is a Good Job For

People with O-NET Interest Profiler Results

investigative job

If your O*NET Interest Profiler results listed investigative as your top job want, a family physician job might appeal to you. You can learn more about the O*NET free career test here. 

Investigative occupations frequently involve working with ideas, and require an extensive amount of thinking.

These occupations can involve searching for facts and figuring out problems mentally.

Diagnosing patients involves interpreting the facts to come up with a solution, often in a small amount of time. 

According to O*NET Interest Profiler categories, this job is also social. social occupations frequently involve working with, communicating with, and teaching people.

These occupations often involve helping or providing service to others. As a family physician, you would be working with and teaching patients how to improve their health.

Family Physician Personality Type

INFJ personality type

If your Myers-Briggs personality type is INFJ family physician is a must-see on your list of possible occupations.

As an INFJ you love helping people and truly being a counselor to them. You can also spend time with patients and treat the whole family, which means developing lasting relationships.

If you don’t know your personality type, you can take a free personality test at 16Personalities.

Other healthcare-related jobs that would be a good match are:

Soft Skills You Need as a Family Physician

Communication Skills 

Family physicians need to be excellent communicators. They must communicate effectively with their patients and other healthcare support staff.


Patients who are sick or injured may be in extreme pain or distress. Physicians must treat patients and their families with compassion and understanding.


 Patients must receive appropriate treatment and medications. Physicians must accurately monitor and record various pieces of information related to patient care.

Leadership Skills

Physicians who work in their own practice must manage a staff of other professionals.

Organizational Skills

Good recordkeeping and other organizational skills are critical in both medical and business settings.

How Much Money Does a Family Physician Make?

Wages for physicians are among the highest of all occupations, with a median wage equal to or greater than $208,000 per year. The average annual wages for physicians according to BLS in May 2019 were:

The median hourly pay of family physicians was $102.53 or $213.270 a year nationwide. This means that half of the workers made less than this amount and half earned more.

Obstetricians and gynecologists233,610
Family and general practitioners213,270
Physicians and surgeons, all other203,450
Internists, general201,440
Pediatricians, general184,410

Many physicians and surgeons work long, irregular, and overnight hours.

Physicians and surgeons may travel between their offices and hospitals to care for their patients.

While on call, a physician may need to address a patient’s concerns over the phone or make an emergency visit to a hospital or nursing home.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow 7% by 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.

The growing and aging population is expected to drive overall growth in the demand for physician services.

As the older population grows and rates of chronic illnesses increase, consumers will seek high levels of care that use the latest technologies, diagnostic tests, and therapies.

Demand for physicians and surgeons is expected to increase despite factors that can temper growth.

New technologies, such as improved information technologies or remote monitoring, are expected to allow physicians to treat more patients in the same amount of time.

Demand for physicians’ services is sensitive to changes in healthcare reimbursement policies.

Consumers may seek fewer physician services if changes to health coverage result in higher out-of-pocket costs for them.

Job Prospects

Job prospects are expected to be very good because almost all graduates of domestic medical schools are matched to residencies (their first jobs as physicians) immediately after graduating. 

Prospects should be especially good for physicians who are willing to practice in rural and low-income areas, because these areas tend to have difficulty attracting physicians. Job prospects also should be good for physicians in specialties dealing with health issues that mainly affect aging baby boomers.

For example, physicians specializing in cardiology and radiology will be needed because the risks for heart disease and cancer increase as people age.

Employment, 2018Projected Employment, 2028Change,
Physicians and
Family and general
Internists, general42,80044,4004
Obstetricians and
Physicians and
surgeons, all other
SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

More Resources

For more information about physicians and surgeons, visit

American Medical Association

American Osteopathic Association

For more information about various medical specialties, visit

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Board of Medical Specialties

American Board of Physician Specialties

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

American College of Surgeons

For a list of medical schools and residency programs, as well as for general information on premedical education, financial aid, and medicine as a career, visit

Association of American Medical Colleges

American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine

For information about licensing, visit

Federation of State Medical Boards

If you need help with your job search, be sure to check out these tools to help you in the journey.

Job description and salary information is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physicians and Surgeons.