Published: 20 Oct 2008
Last Modified: 18 Sep 2015
A general practitioner, also called a GP or generalist, is a physician who does not specialize in one particular area of medicine. GPs provide routine health care (e.g., physical examinations, immunizations) and assess and treat many different conditions, including illnesses and injuries. They often have regular, long-term patients and provide ongoing medical care to both male and female patients in all age groups.
General practitioners often work in private offices or clinics. In many cases, they are assisted by a small staff of nurses and administrators. General practitioners also may be part of a large group practice or a health maintenance organization (HMO).
To become a general practitioner, students must complete a 4-year undergraduate program, a 4-year medical program, and a 1- to 2-year residency program. Pre-med undergraduate programs include courses in anatomy, biology, chemistry (organic and inorganic), mathematics, physics, and physiology. Students also study social sciences and the humanities (e.g., sociology, psychology, anthropology, foreign language, literature).
Students who are interested in the health care profession often volunteer in local clinics or hospitals while they are working on their undergraduate degree (e.g., Bachelor’s of Science). Some students attain an advanced degree (e.g., Master’s) before applying to medical school.
Admission to medical school is very competitive. Applicants must submit school transcripts, letters of recommendation, and an admissions essay. They also must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and interview with the admissions committee. In addition to the student’s academic record, his or her character, leadership qualities, and participation in extracurricular activities (e.g., community organizations, school clubs, volunteer work) also are considered.
Med students also learn how to take a patient medical history and how to perform a physical examination and diagnostic tests.
During the final 2 years of medical school, students work under the supervision of licensed physicians in hospitals and clinics. Third- and fourth-year med students learn how to provide comprehensive medical care. Their training includes rotations in several different areas of medicine (e.g., internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, surgery). Following graduation from an accredited medical school, physicians with a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree enter a graduate medical education program called a residency. Residency involves on-the-job training, usually in a hospital or clinic. Many physicians with a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree serve a 1-year internship before becoming a resident. Residency for a general practitioner is about 2 years.
After completing his or her residency, the general practitioner must take and pass a licensing examination. Every state, as well as the District of Columbia and all U.S. territories, require physicians to be licensed.
General practitioners may decide to pursue board certification. These physicians often specialize in family medicine or internal medicine. After completing an additional 3 years of training and successfully passing a written examination, family practitioners may be certified by the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) and internists may be certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM).
To maintain board certification, family practitioners and internists must regularly participate in continuing medical education (CME) programs (e.g., an average of 50 hours per year) and must pass a written examination in their specialty. Specialty boards also review the physician’s proficiency in a number of areas, including, professionalism, medical expertise, practice performance, self assessment, and lifelong learning.
Family practitioners and internists may receive additional training and pass an additional examination in order to subspecialize. Family medicine subspecialties include adolescent medicine, geriatric medicine, hospice and palliative medicine, sleep medicine, and sports medicine. Internal medicine subspecialties include allergy and immunology, cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, hematology, infectious disease, nephrology, medical oncology, pulmonology, and rheumatology.