A general practitioner (GP) is a medical doctor who provides comprehensive general care to patients, rather than focusing on a specific organ system, family of conditions, or type of medical issue. Many people see a GP for their primary care, and these medical professionals are usually the first point of contact with the medical system for patients. Training for this job requires attending medical school and completing a residency in family medicine.
In some regions, general practitioners are referred to as “family doctors.” They are familiar with a wide range of medical conditions and issues, and many like to establish relationships with their patients so that they can work with them for life. In addition to providing medical attention as needed for both acute and chronic conditions, a GP also offers health education, preventative care, and medical advice to patients.
When people think of the classic family doctor making house calls with a little black bag, this is the type of doctor they are thinking of. At one time, these medical professionals provided the bulk of medical care, from obstetrics to setting broken bones. Today, many medical tasks are performed by people who have received training in specific specialties, and a GP may refer a patient to a specialist if he or she feels that a condition requires attention from someone who has specialized in it. For example, this doctor might set a simple broken bone, but he or she would refer a complex fracture to an orthopedic surgeon.
Work as a general practitioner can be very rewarding, although it can take time to build up a practice. GPs can work in hospital environments, but they usually work in clinics or offer house calls. They tend to build up a practice of repeat patients, establishing relationships with people from childhood through old age, and they can do everything from managing a chronic condition to addressing an emerging medical concern. People who want to interact directly with lots of people and see a variety of medical conditions may enjoy working in this role.
Rates of compensation in this branch of the medical profession vary. In some regions, a general practitioner may be able to command a very high salary, especially in remote regions where specialists are not readily available, requiring a doctor to have a diverse skill set. Other areas of the world may offer less pay, which — combined with very high costs for malpractice insurance — can make the field less appealing to some medical students.