How to Become a General Practitioner

General practitioners are also called family doctors and are the ones that patients come to see on a regular basis. General practitioners are also referred to as a patient’s primary care physician. When people are coming down with a cold or experiencing a chronic health issue, they seek out a general practitioner for a proper diagnosis. Patients are typically required to get a referral from their general practitioner before going to see a specialist. A general practitioner will diagnose a patient’s illnesses and injuries before referring a patient to a specialist.

A general practitioner usually works within a private practice, but some do work in medical facilities. The direct care of treatment provided by a general practitioner typically includes common issues. If a patient has a life-threatening issue, he/she will not seek out a general practitioner, but go to an ER. General practitioners do not have a specialty area, but still, have a broad enough knowledge to provide primary care.

General Practitioner Education Requirements

The first step towards becoming a general practitioner begins with earning a bachelor’s degree. There is not a particular undergraduate major that is required, although it is recommended that students become well-versed in chemistry, math, physics, and biology. Medical schools require a certain amount of chemistry and biology credits. Some schools offer Pre-Med programs, which is a way of guiding aspiring doctors through the courses that will benefit them the most in route to becoming a doctor. However, it is not a necessity for medical school applicants to have gone to a university that offers a pre-med program.

All of the educational choices made at the undergraduate level should consider how they affect an individual’s chances of getting accepted to a medical school. Getting accepted into medical school is no easy task as it is a highly competitive field. Therefore, applicants further their credentials in addition to completing their undergraduate studies. Some will even choose to get a Master’s Degree to increase their chances of getting accepted.

All medical school applicants need to take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and those scores carry a great deal of influence. It also helps if applicants have some kind of experience working in the healthcare profession. That could include an internship or volunteer work in a healthcare facility. Medical schools have committees that not only make decisions on who gets accepted, but committee members also interview applicants. For that reason, applicants often take measures to sharpen their interviewing skills.

There is a select group of medical schools that actually combine undergraduate studies with its medical school program, which usually lasts seven years in total. However, the number of these schools are rather limited.

Once a student is enrolled in medical school, the first two years involve classroom and lab work. A portion of the coursework includes biochemistry, pharmacology, medical ethics, in addition to other topics. Practical skills are also taught as students learn how to diagnose illnesses and examine patients.

The final two years of medical school allow students to work with patients while being under the direct supervision of physicians in an actual hospital or clinical setting. Students are able to follow physicians during actual rotations.

Once medical school is completed, graduates are awarded a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.). However, there is still more education to follow. Next, graduates are required to complete a three-year residency program. This involves working in a hospital or clinic as a resident. Most general practitioners complete their residency in Family Medicine while others choose Internal Medicine.

General Practitioner Salary and Job Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, general practitioners make an average salary of $200,810 annually. That comes to a pay rate which averages out to $96.80 per hour. The average general practitioner salary varies according to location. The state of Iowa has the highest average pay rate for general practitioners at $243,580 per year. New Hampshire comes in second, followed by Alaska, Wisconsin, and Mississippi as those states feature average salaries between $226,000 and $236,000 annually.

The state of California leads the way in the overall number of general practitioners at 14,360, with Florida coming in second at 10,003, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Coming in a distant third is Illinois with 6,530 general practitioners. However, there is still a need for general practitioners, particularly with so many new doctors opting for specializations. That has opened up the window of opportunity for those looking to become a general practitioner. There is expected to be 5,000 new positions opening up each year and that accounts for both turnover and employment growth.

General Practitioner Licensing/Certification

Operating as a general practitioner will require a state license. However, that can only be obtained upon the completion of medical school and a residency program. Licensing exams to become a general practitioner are required as each state sets its own guidelines. Conditions differ among all states as some have established more extensive requirements than others. Some of those requirements include background checks and continuing education credits. Before obtaining a state license, general practitioners must earn a passing score on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

Board certification is optional for general practitioners who are looking to enhance their credentials. This is a way of evidencing a higher level of expertise. The American Board of Medical Specialties issues a certification in general practice and family medicine. In order to obtain either of these, passing scores are required on each respective exam and there may also be specific requirements in terms of residency programs.


American Academy of Family Practice

This group provides information on practice management, patient care, residency programs and more.

American Medical Association

This association provides career information, practice news and extensive resources for doctors at all levels.

American College of Physicians

Internal medicine is covered in depth on this website, along with an abundance of resourceful information.

American Board of Family Medicine

This specialty board aims to improve the quality of care as well as the standards for medical education within the United States.