There are three main types of family medicine courses: those geared to doctors-in-training, those geared to doctors already in the field, and those intended to educate family medical professionals such as nurses and physicians' assistants. In medical school, family medicine courses relate to the broad care of infants, children, adults, and elderly persons. Practicing doctors often take seminar-based family medicine courses to become familiar with new discoveries and trends in the field. Courses aimed at non-doctor family professionals are usually focused on providing basic care to persons of all ages.
The most basic family medicine courses are usually taught in the first years of medical school. Family practice is generally very broad, and it is rare to find a course specifically labeled "family medicine" outside of clinical placements where students practice treating patients of all ages. Rather, the field of family medicine is made up of many more discrete pieces, usually beginning with obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, and adolescent and hormonal studies. Internal medicine is usually the lynchpin, as family practitioners are primarily concerned with the overall health and well-being of patients of all ages. Some psychology and geriatrics courses are usually also included in family medicine curricula.
At all levels of medical school, students must usually practice their book learning through a series of practical labs and clinical work. This kind of family medicine course allows students to apply knowledge to patients directly, either in a legitimate clinic or in a mock hospital setting. These are not traditional courses in that they do not involve classwork, lectures, or note-taking. Just the same, many argue that hands-on applications, particularly in the family medicine sector, are some of the most important ways for doctors to prepare for practice.
Another type of family medicine course is designed for doctors who have already been in practice for awhile, usually five to ten years. Most countries require that doctors keep their education current by attending supplemental education seminars at regular intervals. These sorts of courses are often grouped under the heading "continuing medical education" (CME).
In family medicine, CME courses tend to focus on developing practice trends, new technologies used to diagnose certain conditions, and different techniques for handling patients at a variety of age levels. These courses are designed to be primarily informational. They keep practitioners up to speed with new developments but rarely require exams or classroom discussion.
Not all family medicine courses are geared to primary health care providers, however. Nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants can often also specialize in family care. Most family medicine courses in this category are taught in nursing schools or other professional medical education programs.
In many ways these courses are similar to those offered in medical school, but they are usually designed to be much less intensive. Nurse and assistant courses focus on basic techniques in caring for patients of varying ages, including drawing blood, calculating vital statistics, and recording and keeping patient charts. Family practice is often difficult in these disciplines, because professionals must be prepared to meet any sort of patient, from an infant to an infirm elderly person. The main goal is to train professionals in how to provide the most comprehensive care possible.