What a General Practitioner Does
General practitioners (GPs) are doctors that diagnose, manage, and treat a wide variety of conditions. This includes learning patients’ medical histories, recommending and performing diagnostic tests, and prescribing medications. They work on everything from sprains and breaks to viruses and infections. Unlike specialists, GP is a type of physician that does not specialise only in one area of medical practice.
A big part of being a general practitioner is diagnosing a patient and then determining if his or her needs require a specialized doctor. Overall, a general practitioner works to educate their patients on maintaining healthy lifestyles both emotionally and physically, through promoting healthy habits and collaborating to end negative tendencies.
Who would enjoy a career in General Practice?
To excel in this career, doctors should be both highly compassionate and empathetic toward their patients, while always remaining professional and ready for intense pressures of the job. Physicians are often heavily invested in their patients and must accept that this can often spread into other areas of their personal life. People with the mindset of “living to work” instead of “working to live” often find themselves successful in these kinds of career paths.
GPs should be willing to accept the responsibilities of caring for another human life and potentially making big decisions in their healthy lifestyles. Successful physicians also adhere to strict ethics and are unwavering in their practice of them. Excellent communication, organization, and leadership skills are also an asset for GPs.
Who mightn't like the career?
Nearly all practices in the medical field require years of education. Those wanting to be a general physician should be prepared for intense education and serious board tests. Those who reject the traditional methods of education may struggle with this. Because the medical field is competitive, aspiring physicians must also be ready to go above and beyond simply the required education.
In addition to outstanding grades and academic achievements, employers and school admissions look into an applicant’s volunteering time, internships, and extracurricular activities. Medicine can be one of the most competitive degree programs to gain admission to in many countries. After completing the required education, general physicians end up working many long, hard hours in their day-to-day lives. People not ready for these kinds of time commitments may consider other career offshoots.
Many years of education are required for becoming a general physician. The minimum education is a 4-year undergraduate program, 4-year medical program, and a 1-2-year residency program. Undergraduate programs involve courses in chemistry, anatomy, physics, mathematics, and more.
After graduation, students must apply to medical school. Getting in is extremely competitive; applicants must provide impressive transcripts, letters of recommendation, and admission essays to be considered. In addition to an interview with the admissions committee, almost all United States medical programs and many in Canada require the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). After completing medical school and the required internships, graduates must complete a residency program. This residency consists of 1-2 years of on-the-job training in a hospital/clinic. A final licensing examination is required after this residency before practice. In Australia, entry requirements can vary by undergraduate or postgraduate Medical School, however for many postgraduate courses a GAMSAT must be taken as part of the entrance criteria.
Some general practitioners choose to take extra steps toward specializing in family or internal medicine. This requires board certification. After 3 years of extra training and passing a written exam, those who aspire to be family practitioners may receive certification from the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM).
In general, employers interviewing for general physician positions are looking for applicants to share their educational backgrounds and achievements, speak to their practical experiences, and offer valuable assets to the organization. It is both an interview of personal ethics and technical experience. Interviewees should also be ready and prepared to speak to a unique quality they possess and will bring to the medical field, ideally one that will benefit potential patients.
Moving into General Practice from another career
The rigorous schooling required of physicians makes it a difficult career to transition into, though it’s not insurmountable for someone with fortitude. The transition may be easier for someone coming from another medical field, such as a specialist physician, psychologist, nurse or medical scientist.
Role: During medical school, student physicians are often required to complete an internship program in preparation for residency or another specialized track of medicine. Usually this internship lasts about a year.
Role: After graduating medical school, resident general physicians practice their careers under the direct and indirect supervision of attending doctors. This is the period of time for physicians to learn hands on the ins and outs of dealing with real patients and the often high-intensity work environments of hospitals and clinics. Medical residencies are notorious for the long hours they require, averaging about 80 hours per week with limitations on number of hours required in a row. In the UK, more limitations have been placed on residency hours in hopes of encouraging lighter work weeks.
Role: After completing a residency program a general physician can begin their unsupervised practice, often in a private office or clinic. They will be working with their own patients and diagnosing conditions to then recommend or prescribe proper and necessary treatments.
General physicians can work independently or with other groups of doctors. Working in a larger hospital means collaborating with other medical specialists for a client’s care but less independence than working in a smaller organization. Usually, general physicians practice during regular business hours, but they may often put in longer days or spend hours being on-call while away from the office.
For general practitioners wishing to build a loyal clientele and large practice, traveling may not be a large part of the job. However, willingness to travel between different office locations may be both beneficial for local clients and expanding your patient list. Certain in-demand rural doctors may be required to travel to treat their patients, such as in Australia via the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
According to PayScale, the average salary for a GP in the United States is USD $178,000. In the UK, it’s £41,000, whereas it’s CAD$208,000 in Canada and AU$145,000 in Australia. The pay can accelerate when one specialises or owns their own practice.
Bonuses are sometimes offered to GPs in clinics and hospitals. These can sometimes reach as high as USD$50,000 annually.
Why a General Practitioner moves on
Most general practitioners remain GPs for life, however, there are various factors that may influence someone to transition out of their general physician job. Experienced physicians may desire something different career-wise after feeling increasing levels of stress, an off-balance work and personal life, or lack of control or leadership in their workplace.
This may prompt people to leave clinical medicine in hopes of a new environment. Fortunately, there are career opportunities available. Former general physicians often find success and continued job satisfaction working in non-clinical medical fields.
There is also room to move up in the corporate hierarchy of a hospital or other organization as either a medical director or chief medical officer (CMO). Both of these positions require strong leadership skills and experience in the medical environment. Medical directors are responsible for overseeing the medical model at their organization, which includes hiring staff and managing fiscal operations.
Chief medical officers (CMOs) also work to oversee existing medical models and can influence patient care practices and staff satisfaction. Some physicians continue their educations and become specialists as well, though these are all non-traditional paths.