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Health Care Providers: Family Doctors

What Is Family Medicine?

Family medicine is the branch of medicine that provides care for any and all members of a family. This includes babies, children, teens, and adults. It’s health care for people who are well (to prevent them from getting sick) and for those who are sick.

What Is a Family Doctor?

Family doctors, also called family physicians, care for patients of all ages and genders, from birth to the end of life. This includes diagnosing and treating both acute and chronic illnesses, including mental health problems. It also includes preventive care. Sometimes it can include prenatal care and childbirth (obstetrical care).

Why Would Someone Need One?

People often go to their family doctor first to discuss health concerns. The family doctor can diagnose and treat most illnesses. Sometimes the family doctor will refer people to specialists, but they can follow up and continue taking care of the person together with the specialist. For example, a family doctor can diagnose and treat asthma. But if it is hard to control, they may send the child to an asthma specialist. If a few specialists are involved, the family doctor can help to coordinate care.

People also go to family doctors when they feel well (preventive care). This can include:

What Is Their Training?

Family medicine training includes:

  • 4 years of pre-medical education at a college or university
  • 4 years of medical school — a medical degree (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree
  • 3 years of training in a family medicine residency program (some residency programs take 4 years)

They also might have:

  • expertise in a subspecialty area (for example, adolescent medicine, emergency medicine, addiction medicine, or sports medicine) from training in a 1-year fellowship program 

There are also 5-year combined programs, where a doctor will become certified in both family medicine and a different specialty, such as emergency medicine, obstetrics, psychiatry, or preventive medicine.

Good to Know

Family doctors follow their patients throughout their lives and can also take care of all their family members. This lets the doctor to get to know the patient very well, which can lead to more personalized care and a relationship built on trust.

A family doctor is a kind of primary care physician (PCP). A PCP is a person’s main doctor who is usually the first stop for all medical care. Other kinds of primary care physicians include pediatricians and internal medicine doctors.

Reviewed by: KidsHealth Medical Experts
Date Reviewed: Apr 1, 2024

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