What can I Expect from Employment in a Family Practice Setting?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A family practice setting is usually designed to treat a general population of patients. These medical groups tend to be comprised of lots of different doctors, nurses, and support staff that help keep their organization running. Sometimes one doctor maintains a family practice, but a common arrangement is for several doctors to work in concert to treat people of all ages for general medical concerns.

A medical assistant taking a patient's history in a family practice.
A medical assistant taking a patient's history in a family practice.

The types of doctors who may be employed in family practice include general practitioners and doctors of osteopathy. Some doctors may be board certified in practicing other areas of medicine like gynecology, obstetrics, or pediatrics. This can give them a range of ways to help patients with various medical needs, though any general practitioner or doctor of osteopathy is qualified to treat children, perform gynecological exams, and deliver babies, without board certification. It’s really a matter of preference whether doctors offer this service as part of family practice. At minimum most practices treat children and adults, and refer patients to specialists if needed.

Another valuable member of the family practice team can be nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners can see patients, prescribe medications, diagnose conditions, and perform most procedures. They usually work under the guidance of the physicians in charge, but are fully capable of delivering excellent care to patients. Nurses, medical assistants and physicians assistants may round out the back office team, and secretaries or medical assistants and nurses may work the front office, greeting patients, submitting insurance claims and making appointments (among many things).

Those working in a large family practice can expect a busy office with lots of patients to see, and a variety of medical conditions to treat. Some practices offer night and weekend hours. When more than one doctor, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner works at the practice, systems of alternating off hours and weekend shifts are usually established. Certain facilities also staff 24-hour nurse advice lines. At least one doctor tends to be available at all times or on-call to answer questions and direct treatment that might be necessary when the office isn’t open. Family practice facilities that offer obstetrical services may keep several doctors available around the clock to deliver babies.

People working in family practice environments often comment on the variety of their work. They may treat people for common illnesses, infections, broken bones, and they work with patients to develop strong preventative care methods. Many comment that one of the best things is ability to offer continuity of care, since a doctor may start work with a patient the moment she is born, and be there when that patient is expecting her own baby. Having this form of relationship with a physician can be enviable. However, these practices may also get a fairly constant stream of new patients who switch to their office for care for many different reasons.

In all, those working at family practices may expect a fairly constant variety of work experiences and will interact with many different patients of all ages. It’s also common for these practices to be very busy, which certainly can make the workday pass quickly. Doctors in family practices will probably work more than 40 hours a week; some of them will work quite a bit more than this. Despite these longer hours, many at work in these environments are greatly satisfied with the work they do. As for compensation, general practitioners and doctors of osteopathy tend to make less money than do specialists, but pay can be variable.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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