What is Family Medicine?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Family medicine is a medical specialty dedicated to providing generalized medical care to patients of all ages and levels of health. It can also be known as “general practice” in some regions of the world. Practitioners must attend medical school and complete a residency in family medicine in order to practice, and can work in hospitals, clinics, and private medical practices. Some offer services like mobile doctor visits to reach more patients. Many choose to pursue board certification in this specialty.


Commonly, a family medicine provider is a patient's primary care practitioner, the doctor the patient sees for most medical needs. The doctor evaluates the patient and can treat basic medical issues, ranging from a seasonal cold to a sexually transmitted infection. If the attention of a specialist is needed due to the complexity of a condition, a referral can be provided. A patient with a stubborn dermatological problem, for instance, would be sent to a dermatologist for further care.

People in this medical specialty work with people from infancy through old age. Their patients may have disabilities that need to be accommodated and considered in the course of treatment, for example, and these practitioners can work with people through extended illnesses and the diagnosis and treatment of complex or mysterious medical problems. Many establish lengthy relationships with their patients and create lifelong connections with the people they encounter in their practices.

Family medicine includes preventative care to address common medical issues before they become a problem, along with responses to medical issues as they arise, and long-term management of disease. Patients with chronic illnesses may choose to be treated by a family medicine specialist, as they can receive care for other health issues at the same time. When services a family medicine practitioner cannot provide, like surgery or specialty care, are required, the doctor provides patients with recommendations for specialists so they can seek the treatment they need.

Numbers of people working in this medical specialty vary worldwide. In some communities, increased interested in medical specialization has led to a decline in family practitioners. Others have a steady market for such care providers, especially in rural and remote communities where it is not feasible to maintain an array of specialists for medical care. Having a skilled family medicine practitioner in such areas can provide patients with rapid intervention and basic care, allowing those patients to survive until they can reach a specialist in another area.

Mary McMahon
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.

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