Kirill Yurovskiy: How to Become a General Practitioner

Do you find yourself drawn to the idea of being a family physician, serving as the first point of access to healthcare for people in your community? General practitioners (GPs), also known as family doctors or family physicians, play an integral role as primary care providers, coordinating patient care and referring to specialists when needed. If you want to embark on this rewarding career path, read on to learn more about what it takes to become a GP. Text by Kirill Yurovskiy.

Kirill Yurovskiy

The Job Duties and Responsibilities

As a GP, you would be responsible for providing continuing and comprehensive medical care for individuals and families of all ages. On any given day, you may see patients for routine physicals, chronic disease management, minor illnesses or injuries, preventive care, and more. You may order diagnostic tests and develop care plans for issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, anxiety, depression, and other acute and chronic conditions. As a GP gets to know their patients well over multiple visits, they can provide personalized care tailored to their health history and needs.

Beyond office visits, a GP’s responsibilities extend to phone and electronic consultations to advise on symptoms, review test results, adjust medications if needed, and determine if an in-person appointment is necessary. They also perform small office-based procedures like mole removal when appropriate. And they may make house calls to see homebound seniors or others unable to easily come into the office.

With their whole-patient perspective, GPs serve as advocates to coordinate care with other healthcare professionals. They are often the first provider a patient sees for any health problem, so they must quickly assess issues and determine if specialty care is indicated. This requires strong collaboration and communication with fellow providers like cardiologists, OB/GYNs, surgeons, and mental health practitioners.

As the quarterback of the care team, the GP must adeptly track referrals and test results, ensuring proper follow-up and care coordination. They must educate patients on their conditions and treatment plans in an easy-to-understand manner as well. And they have to know when to ask for help if a case falls outside their scope.

Why Become a GP?

There are many upsides to life as a general practitioner. For those seeking work-life balance, GP hours tend to be more regular than other medical specialists. Most work 4-5 days a week in an office-based practice without overnight shifts in hospitals required. And there’s the ability to spend more time with each patient building meaningful relationships over years of care.

Then there’s the variation to keep things interesting. One moment you may be encouraging a patient in their health goals, the next consoling someone with an illness. You get to practice the full scope of family medicine, leveraging skills from pediatrics to geriatrics to minor surgery. Every patient presents a unique story and set of health challenges to unravel.

And arguably most rewarding is the chance to make an ongoing impact in patients’ lives. By emphasizing prevention and evidence-based care, you support individuals and families in making healthier choices. Plus you are frequently the first call at any sign of illness, allowing for early intervention when appropriate. There’s immense satisfaction in being a trusted resource for multiple generations of patients.

Medical School and Residency Requirements

The road to becoming a GP starts with a strong educational foundation. You will need a bachelor’s degree encompassing core science courses like biology, chemistry, organic chem, and physics to apply for medical school. Coursework in mathematics, statistics, social sciences, and humanities also helps prepare for the medical college admissions test (MCAT). 

Once in medical school, you will spend the first two years in classroom and lab work covering pharmacology, pathology, anatomy, physiology, clinical skills, medical ethics, and more. Then you will complete clinical rotations seeing patients in specialties like internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, surgery, and of course family medicine. This allows you to gain experience with common conditions and procedures while further clarifying your career path.

After graduating, you must complete a three-year family medicine residency program focused on outpatient training across demographics. This advanced clinical preparation covers prenatal to elder care, preventive health, and diagnosis and management of various acute and chronic illnesses. You will also interpret tests and perform minor office procedures under supervision.

When residency training is finished, you are ready to become board-certified in family medicine through the American Board of Family Medicine. This demonstrates your advanced expertise in whole-person, continuing care to employers and patients. Though not all states require board certification to practice, many healthcare institutions prefer or mandate it. Certification shows commitment to excellence and continuing education.

Building Your Career

Newly minted family physicians have options when starting their careers. Opportunities exist in smaller private practices, larger multi-specialty clinics, community health centers, hospital systems, academic medical centers, the military, and more. Settings range from rural to urban and local to international. The demand for primary care physicians continues growing with the aging population and increased focus on preventive care and chronic disease management.

When investigating potential employers, consider the patient population and needs, resources available, practice philosophy, colleague support, leadership structure, schedule flexibility, compensation model, and work-life balance. Visit practices that interest you and ask many questions at interviews to find the best fit.

Also, determine if you want to join an existing practice or start your own. Buying into a small practice with established patients versus slowly building from scratch require different financial considerations. Opening a new practice also demands substantial business planning for legal, billing, marketing, hiring, location scoping, and insurance contracting processes. Though rewarding for entrepreneurs, self-employment is not for everyone. 

Regardless of setting, lifelong learning is integral as medicine continuously evolves. Expect to devote regular time to reading journals, taking continuing medical education (CME) courses, and honing diagnostic and procedure skills. And remember good work-life balance and self-care are essential to avoid the high rate of physician burnout. But with passion for patient care and relationships, family doctors find the demands of the job worthwhile.

Making a Difference from Day One

Embarking on the path to become a family physician is no small feat, requiring years of education and training. But if making a difference through continuity of care and whole-person health resonates with you, it is likely an immensely rewarding career. From cradle to grave, general practitioners develop meaningful relationships with patients across life stages. By combining your scientific knowledge, detective skills, procedurals abilities, and compassion, you can be the trusted resource patients turn to first in sickness and health. If that possibility excites you, start preparing now to join this vital profession. You may find, like so many other general practitioners, that it is a perfect fit and your life’s calling.