A General Practitioner (GP) is a physician who provides general primary and preventative care to patients. GPs are also referred to as family practitioners or family physicians, in a reference to the fact that they provide the basic general care needed for all the members of a family. Many people use a GP as their primary physician, ensuring continuity of care and establishing a long running relationship. It is also possible to encounter a GP in a setting like a health clinic or small rural hospital.
Like other doctors, General Practitioners must attend medical school, receiving training in a wide range of fields. Depending on the region in which a GP intends to practice, he or she may receive the qualifications necessary to perform minor surgeries or to provide obstetrical care. Because GPs must deal with a range of symptoms and situations in their practices, they may be asked to complete lengthy residences to ensure that they are competent.
In some cases, a GP may work in a hospital environment, while in other instances they establish medical practices outside the hospital. Patients may see a GP for a wide range of conditions, many of which can be diagnosed and treated by the GP. If a doctor senses that a condition may require specialized care, he or she can offer referrals to specialists, as might be the case with a complex surgery, a cancer, or a high-risk pregnancy.
Many people have very positive associations with the GP, because the family doctor is a familiar figure in some people's lives and in recent human history. Until the late 20th century, most people saw a GP for all of their medical needs, and many such doctors offered house calls and other special services which endeared them to patients. However, rising malpractice insurance costs made a general practice difficult for many aspiring doctors, and the old fashioned family doctor is definitely on the decline.
In some parts of the world, regional governments have recognized that family doctors provide a very valuable service, by establishing relationships with people and families which open the avenues to education and preventative care. In some cases, governments may offer incentives to medical students which are designed to encourage them to pursue a career as a GP, as these medical professionals are extremely valuable in rural and remote areas, where the services of a single very talented doctor are often sorely needed.