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What is a GP?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A General Practitioner (GP) is a physician who provides general primary and preventative care to patients. GPs are also referred to as family practitioners or family physicians, in a reference to the fact that they provide the basic general care needed for all the members of a family. Many people use a GP as their primary physician, ensuring continuity of care and establishing a long running relationship. It is also possible to encounter a GP in a setting like a health clinic or small rural hospital.

Like other doctors, General Practitioners must attend medical school, receiving training in a wide range of fields. Depending on the region in which a GP intends to practice, he or she may receive the qualifications necessary to perform minor surgeries or to provide obstetrical care. Because GPs must deal with a range of symptoms and situations in their practices, they may be asked to complete lengthy residences to ensure that they are competent.

In some cases, a GP may work in a hospital environment, while in other instances they establish medical practices outside the hospital. Patients may see a GP for a wide range of conditions, many of which can be diagnosed and treated by the GP. If a doctor senses that a condition may require specialized care, he or she can offer referrals to specialists, as might be the case with a complex surgery, a cancer, or a high-risk pregnancy.

Many people have very positive associations with the GP, because the family doctor is a familiar figure in some people's lives and in recent human history. Until the late 20th century, most people saw a GP for all of their medical needs, and many such doctors offered house calls and other special services which endeared them to patients. However, rising malpractice insurance costs made a general practice difficult for many aspiring doctors, and the old fashioned family doctor is definitely on the decline.

In some parts of the world, regional governments have recognized that family doctors provide a very valuable service, by establishing relationships with people and families which open the avenues to education and preventative care. In some cases, governments may offer incentives to medical students which are designed to encourage them to pursue a career as a GP, as these medical professionals are extremely valuable in rural and remote areas, where the services of a single very talented doctor are often sorely needed.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By BabaB — On Jun 04, 2011

Even in this country, there are a lot of fairly isolated small towns that need GPs. Those GPs who work in rural areas probably need some extra training to deal with minor surgery etc. It is difficult to get enough doctors to serve in these areas. I'm sure the pay is lower than they deserve.

Of course, when serious illnesses are diagnosed, the patients must be referred to a specialist in the nearest city.

Hopefully, enough GPs can be trained and are willing to come to the rural areas of our country.

By Misscoco — On Jun 02, 2011

In this day and age, a GP or family doctor, serves a somewhat different service than in days gone by. In the past, a GP was a doctor and a friend to his patients. He did what healing could be done at the time, and supported the patient and family when nothing could be done, except wait and see if the body healed itself.

Medical science didn't know that much about the diseases that affected the internal organs, so there were few specialists.

Today, a GP has a new face. He has a responsibility to educate his patients about nutrition and good health practices. He is still trained and qualified to treat a lot of ailments.

He has to be able to detect the signs of serious disease and refer the patient to a specialist.

Our GPs should be given recognition for doing an important job.

By SailorJerry — On Jun 02, 2011

@jennythelib - Yes, I think the term is more common in the UK. I studied abroad there one summer. The GP term has definite meaning there, while in the US the term is more casually used. You can see a GP through the NHS (National Health Service) in Britain.

By jennythelib — On Jun 02, 2011

It's sad in some ways that the old GP Dr. is on the decline. I think another cause is that there are more mini-specialists, if you will, than there used to be. An adult might see an internist for her own preventative care and take her five-year-old to a pediatrician and her fourteen-year-old to an adolescent medicine specialist, while in the past they might all have seen the same doctor. I'm sure that way of care has both advantages and disadvantages.

Their practice is also getting more limited. In the past, a lot of family doctors delivered babies, for instance, while now more and more are being forced out of that area by rising malpractice insurance.

You don't hear the term GP much in the United States--you would hear "family doctor." Is it a British term?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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