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How to Become a Family Physician

Alternate Career Title:

Family Practitioner, Family Doctor

Family Physician Job Description: Family Physicians oversee general patient health and treats acute injuries, illnesses and other conditions

Family Physician Salary (Annual): $205,590

Anesthesiologist Salary Range: $85,590 to $250,000

How Long To Become a Family Physician: 8 years

Family Physician Requirements: Doctor of Medicine Degree

Family Physician Medical Career

Become a Family Physician

Career Description

A Family Physician is a Medical Doctor (MD) who provides comprehensive healthcare in the field of Medicine Careers. Qualified to assist patients of any age or sex, these professionals can provide ongoing care to all members of a family and this is where the title “Family Physician” stems from.

Duties of a Family Practitioner include obtaining and recording a patient’s health history, updating a patient’s medical record appropriately, performing or ordering tests as needed and reviewing all results. When abnormal findings are discovered, these Physicians will establish treatment plans to directly address an illness, injury or concern. They may alternatively refer a patient to a specialist. Along with addressing patient issues, Family Physicians will also discuss best health practices to ensure that their patients are practicing preventative care.

“I would definitely describe my career as rewarding. I have been intellectually challenged and have formed long-term relationships with the patients I’ve seen throughout the different phases of their lives,” Kenneth Lin, MD, a Family Physician practicing in Maryland, explained. “I work for a practice with four or five other Physicians, and we provide women’s care, perform wellness exams and address acute complaints.”

With a passion for academia, Lin chooses to split his time between seeing patients, teaching and editing a medical journal. He believes that an involvement in academics helps Physicians to stay up-to-date on all industry trends, advancements and technology.

Family Physicians will routinely work with LPNs, Registered Nurses, Medical Assistants and Pharmacists.

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Education & Training

To become a Family Physician, professionals must first obtain a bachelor’s degree. Usually during the junior or senior year of an undergraduate program students study for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). After securing their best score, these students then gather transcripts and letters of recommendation to apply to medical schools.

“I went straight from completing my undergraduate degree to entering medical school and then completing a residency,” Lin recalled. “Although I didn’t take any time off in between, I think that taking a few years off between college and medical school is now more of the norm. This can be beneficial because, by the time someone enters medical school they have gained more perspective on the patients they will eventually see.”

Once enrolled, medical school is comprised of another four years of learning: two years of in-class didactic and two years of clinical experience through rotations. After completing medical school, a professional must obtain a state license, certifications and/or registration necessary to practice in their respective state. Most Family Physicians become licensed by taking the standardized U.S. Medical Licensing Examination. Then, they typically go on to complete a residency and possibly, a fellowship.

“Residencies are traditionally three to four years long,” Lin explained. “The process to become a Family Physician was pretty challenging. While the first year of residency is comprised of a lot of inpatient time, the second and third year involves more outpatient time as you rotate through the specialties.”

Lin noted that during a residency program prospective Family Physicians gain a little knowledge about the many areas of medicine. This involves learning enough to know when a patient should be advised to see a Surgeon or see another specialist like a Urologist, Toxicologist, or Physical Therapist.

Oppositely, this knowledge can help a Family Physician to determine which cases are acute and can be treated directly. Remember Family Physicians takes care of children, adults and the elderly, so these specialists will need a broad understanding of many fields of medicine.


To advance in a career as a Family Physician, professionals can choose to break away from all-inclusive care and pursue a specialty, although many low-income and underserved communities are in great need of these professionals. Yet, in pursing a specialty, Family Practitioners can consider expanding their careers into sports medicine, addiction medicine and geriatrics.

If selecting a specialty area of practice is not desirable, Family Physicians can alternatively consider entering the fields of either research or academics. Splitting their time between clinical practice and research or academics is yet another possibility.

“Entering academics is extremely helpful because this forces Physicians to stay very up-to-date in the field. If a student questions something, I must be able to cite sources to defend or justify the information or practices being taught,” Lin emphasized.

Experience & Skills

I’ve known several Family Physicians who had other careers, like that of a teacher, park ranger and radiologist, prior to entering medical school,” Lin noted. “I believe any significant life experience allows professionals to connect better with their patients. Intellectual skills also aide in a Family Physician’s ability to complete their day-to-day responsibilities.”

Leadership skills are imperative to becoming a successful Family Practitioner. These professionals often supervise members of a healthcare team and must be able to help lead a practice or facility in the direction of optimal patient and service outcomes.

Additionally, Family Physicians should be organized and detail-oriented to ensure that patients are receiving the correct and appropriate forms of treatment and care and that the overall practice or facility is running as efficiently as possible. Problem-solving skills further assist these professions in being able to best evaluate a patient’s condition, and to determine and administer proper treatments. Lastly, strong communication skills are imperative to understanding the needs of both patients and staff members.


“You have to have a certain personality to work in medicine, period. This includes being flexible, patient and able to work with a wide variety of patients,” Lin stressed. “Know that patients aren’t perfect either, and even when they don’t take your advice you should keep suggesting the proper treatments and measures of prevention.”

Along with patience, Family Physicians should be compassionate. When ill or injured patients enter the practice, Family Practitioners must know how to approach patients who are frustrated, in distress or in pain.

In order to understand a patient’s needs, these Physicians must be able to communicate and listen to their patients so they can understand their needs. Family Physicians should genuinely care about the well-being of their patients, wanting to help them improve their conditions by any means necessary.

“You must also be willing to tolerate some uncertainty,” advised Lin. “Despite your best efforts, you won’t always make the correct diagnosis upon a patient’s first visit. This is especially true when their symptoms are vague.”


Most Family Practitioners are employed full-time, however, their exact hours on the clock may vary. Depending on the practice or facility, Family Practitioners can be required to start their day early or work late into the evening. This is often because many patients have a difficult time scheduling appointments around their own work schedules. Varying degrees of illness and emergency will impact appointment needs as well.

Family Physicians can be required to work weekends and to be placed on call. Obviously, many ill or injured patients cannot control when they will require healthcare, and thus Family Practitioners should expect their lifestyles to largely reflect the needs of their patients.

“I would say the lifestyle of a Family Physician is pretty comfortable,” Lin shared. “There’s a lot of variety between my days, and I never really know with certainty which cases the day will bring. I think that helps keep my career interesting.”


Partially due to an aging baby-boom population and increased awareness of the benefits of comprehensive and preventative healthcare services, the career outlook for Family Physicians is strong. Over the course of the next decade, this career in healthcare is projected to grow 7 percent.

For those seeking employment in the field, job prospects are considered to be the highest in rural, low-income areas where Family Practitioners are in the highest demand. While it’s true low-income areas really need more Family Physicians, affluent areas have a shortage too. Yet, Family Physicians really can work anywhere they want, as there are openings in most regions across the country. However, states with the highest employment rates for Family Physicians are California, Florida, Illinois, Texas and Missouri.

During his career, Lin has worked in a variety of settings including urgent care environments, private practices, universities and for the federal government. Through his diverse career, Lin observed applying for and obtaining different positions was relatively easy, especially when geographic limitations were not present.

“There’s actually a shortage of Family Physicians in this country, and that’s probably only going to get worse over the next few years because the pipeline in medical school has been relatively low,” Lin explained. “However, I do think more students are going into family medicine as a result of this shortage. For the next several years I think the jobs will be plentiful.”


“You often hear about the salary difference between Physicians and different kinds of specialists. There’s truth in that Family Physicians tend to be on the lower end of the pay scale,” Lin pointed out. “Relative to the population and people in other fields with similar education, I think we still do pretty well.”

The average Family Physician makes roughly $205,590 per year, but the salary is known to range from $85,590 to $250,000. However, earnings typically vary based on a Family Practitioner’s experience, hours worked, location of practice, level of local demand, willingness to do extra work, professional reputation and skill. Currently, the top-paying state for Family Practitioners is Iowa, followed by New Hampshire, Alaska, Wisconsin and Mississippi.

“Ultimately, I don’t think students should be too concerned with whether or not they’ll be able to pay off their loans,” Lin affirmed. “While they’re probably not going to become a millionaire, most Physicians don’t enter the field solely to make a lot of money. I’m happy with the money I make.”

Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations

The American Medical Association (AMA) is an organization comprised of American physicians with the objective of promoting the science and art of medicine and the betterment of public health.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) is an organization dedicated to improving the health of patients, families and communities by serving the needs of members through professionalism, creativity, resources and networking opportunities.

The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) is an organization designed to advance the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine. Serving as the professional family for more than 137,000 osteopathic physicians (DOs) and osteopathic medical students, the American Osteopathic Association promotes public health and encourages scientific research.

Getting Started

  • Volunteer to gain healthcare experience
  • Enroll in a Bachelor’s Degree program
  • Research medical school programs
  • Take the MCAT and apply to medical school
  • Become licensed in the state of desired practice
  • Begin a residency
  • Consider pursuing a fellowship

All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Family Physician Kenneth LinMeet the professional: Kenneth Lin, MD

Age: 42
Practice: MedStar Health Family Medicine at Spring Valley (and Georgetown University Medical Center)
Location: Washington, DC

What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

“At some medical schools there exists the pressure to enter a specialty because they can be seen as more prestigious and lucrative. Medical schools create an atmosphere that pushes for producing the ‘big money specialties.’ For those interested in family medicine or primary care, push back against this pressure. You want to enter a career you can pursue for 40 or 50 years and still find rewarding. If you find practicing primary care rewarding, just make a point to seek out mentors and role models.”

What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?

“The number one mistake prospective Family Physicians can make is to focus on the pay to the exclusion of other reasons that they may want to enter a specialty.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

“They should ask how much potential for change exists in this career path. Entering the career open-minded is extremely important. They might end up being a completely different Family Physician than they originally envisioned.”

Why did you choose to become a Family Physician?

“I became a Family Physician because I loved the intellectual challenge of figuring out confusing symptoms. I also enjoyed all of my medical school rotations and couldn’t imagine no longer seeing kids or older people. I didn’t want to be limited by those divisions. Every day I have a couple of patients who puzzle me and push me to learn more about something new. This keeps me on my toes and prevents me from ever becoming bored.”

If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?


Credentialing organizations: The American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS), The American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM)

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