What Is Involved in Family Medicine Training?

Alicia Sparks

When it comes to family health care and disease prevention, primary care physicians are often the first lines of both defense and offense. Family doctors, as they’re often called, work with patients to treat everything from ear infections to unexplained skin rashes to minor lacerations. As such, family medicine training consists of preparing doctors for a career in comprehensive health care while simultaneously helping them learn when to refer patients with more serious conditions to specialists.

Family doctors treat people of all ages.
Family doctors treat people of all ages.

In the beginning, family doctors receive the same kind of education and training as other doctors. Generally, they must complete four years of undergraduate school and earn a bachelor’s degree, often in a related field such as biology. After they obtain recommendation letters from professors and pass a standardized test, which is known as the Medical College Admission Test or MCAT in America, they can apply to medical school.

Most family doctors strive to become doctors of osteopathic medicine (DO), rather than medical doctors (MD). This means a medical school applicant looks for schools accredited to educate and train DO's and provide DO degrees. In America, the American Osteopathic Associate (ASO) accredits such schools.

Usually, medical school lasts for four years. If she hasn’t already, a student determines which kind of doctor she wants to be at this time. She’ll complete certain curriculum courses required of all medical students, such as anatomy, pharmacology, and medical ethics. Once she completes those courses, she’ll take classes more specific to her chosen medical specialty. For a student who chooses to be a primary care physician, this means beginning family medicine training geared toward comprehensive health care such as health promotion, disease prevention, and of course, treatment for injuries and illnesses from wounds in need of stitches to strep throat.

A doctor’s family medicine training doesn’t end once she’s finished with classes. Most doctors spend several years working as interns and residents. They might work at small community clinics or larger facilities like hospitals, but they spend those years putting to use the kind of family health care skills they learned in medical school. Patients will range from babies to the elderly, and conditions might include everything from the common cold and flu to allergies, broken bones, and respiratory infections. Family doctors can consider this time period the last stretch of their family medicine training, during which time they will learn how to treat within their specialty as well as refer patients to specialists for conditions outside their expertise.

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