Not every aspiring MD has their mind made up about what type of doctor they want to be. You’ve always intended to go to medical school, but you aren’t sure about which specialty you should ultimately pursue. Making such a big decision feels a bit daunting. How do you know which medical career is right for you?
While no two doctors are the same, those within the same specialty typically have a handful of common qualities. You might be surprised to hear that having some difficulty homing in on a particular field is actually quite common among family physicians. Many doctors end up pursuing family medicine so they don’t feel too limited.
If you’re curious about the possibility of becoming a family physician, you might want to know about some of the other similarities these doctors share. Family medicine could turn out to be your true calling.
You might be a good family physician if …
1. You crave variety in your work
People either love routine or find it restricting. More often than not, family physicians fall in the latter camp. Most of them will tell you that no two days are the same. And that’s exactly how they like it.
"I chose a career in family medicine because I enjoy taking care of people of all ages and backgrounds."
“I chose a career in family medicine because I enjoy taking care of people of all ages and backgrounds,” reflects Dr. Lisa Doggett, a family physician and medical director for AxisPoint Health. “And I like the variety of clinical cases.”
Going into a highly specialized field could actually leave you wanting more if you enjoy many different facets of medicine. Some doctors end up pursuing family medicine because they don’t want to limit themselves to one arena. This was the case for Dr. Robert Raspa, a family physician and a former board member of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
“What students will notice as they complete their rotations is they’ll find very positive things in each rotation,” Dr. Raspa says. Choosing family medicine allows these future MDs to do a little bit of everything.
2. You’re great at solving problems
Not everything is straightforward in medicine. Two patients with similar symptoms could have vastly different health issues. Family physicians need to maintain a clear head and devise a treatment plan in these situations.
“We’re pretty good at handling uncertainty,” Dr. Raspa says.
"We’re pretty good at handling uncertainty."
Family physicians may have to get a little creative as well. Plan A might not be an option for patients who are unable to afford health care, for example. Dr. Doggett experienced this firsthand when she was still in clinical practice.
“I am a resourceful and creative problem-solver,” she says. “Those skills were essential when I cared for those with limited means.”
3. You’re a natural communicator
It’s not enough to have great technical skills and stay on top of continuing education requirements in family medicine. You also have to be able to empathize with patients and convey information to them in a way that’s easy to understand.
“You will always be learning, and you will always have to look things up, but bedside manner makes all the difference,” says Dr. Latisha Rowe, a family physician and founder of The Rowe Network.
"Bedside manner makes all the difference."
As communities continue to diversify, the ability to communicate in other languages is becoming more important. Dr. Doggett suggests medical students learn Spanish if at all possible.
“Being able to communicate well in Spanish will be a huge asset and make you a stronger candidate for almost any job,” she says.
4. You enjoy building meaningful relationships
If your friends and family often call you a people person, you’d be wise to consider going into family medicine. Family physicians don’t often have a one-off patient visit. They see the same individuals year after year.
“You have to really value interpersonal relationships,” Dr. Raspa advises. “And you don't have to be an extrovert.”
"You have to really value interpersonal relationships."
Family medicine may even be more relationship-oriented than the other primary care specialties. Why? Because family physicians see patients over a wide age range. They might even have a number of patients who are related.
“Over the years, I sometimes cared for three generations from the same family,” Dr. Doggett reflects.
5. You’re comfortable calling the shots
While doctors typically work as part of a larger health care team, family physicians need to be comfortable taking the reins. They’re the ones who facilitate communication with other providers. On top of that, family physicians are expected to treat patients with any number of health issues.
“You should feel like you can handle a really broad range of problems without needing somebody else there to bail you out,” Dr. Raspa offers.
6. You’d enjoy job security
There’s a huge demand for more primary care physicians. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects the shortage of primary care doctors, which includes family physicians, could reach up to 49,300 by 2030. It’s easy to see why employment of family physicians is expected to grow seven to 10 percent through 2028.
“Job security wasn’t a primary factor in my decision to become a family doctor, but it is a great advantage,” Dr. Doggett says. “Jobs for family physicians are everywhere—there is no shortage of opportunity.”
“Jobs for family physicians are everywhere—there is no shortage of opportunity.”
7. You like to have options
Even if you’re certain that you want to pursue traditional practice, it’s nice to know that family medicine affords plenty of different opportunities. Advancing health care technology has helped create positions that once seemed like far-fetched ideas.
“With telemedicine on the rise, you can do primary care from home or practice internationally if you choose,” Dr. Rowe mentions.
Some family physicians ultimately wind up in careers that don’t involve direct patient care. Dr. Doggett has since transitioned to a nonclinical position.
“The range of career options—even outside of traditional practice—is tremendous,” she says.
8. You want to serve a greater purpose
Aspiring doctors often have some idea of what their future will entail. Dr. Raspa says one commonality among those who pursue family medicine is the desire to come back and serve their own community once they’re ready to begin practicing. And he’s not the only one who thinks so.
“If you want to serve your community, family medicine is the way to go,” Dr. Doggett advises. “A lot of disadvantaged communities need primary care doctors to help deal with the disproportionate amount of chronic disease.”
Ready to join their ranks?
While not everyone is cut out for a career as a family physician, those who choose this route often find their work incredibly rewarding. They get to enjoy the variety they desire and fill one of the most vital roles in health care. You stand to make a big difference by pursuing a career as a family physician.
Perhaps you’re feeling inspired to start planning for your future. Attending medical school is an obvious requirement, but you first need to get accepted. You’ll need to show admissions committees you have what it takes, and that involves more than maintaining a high GPA.
Learn more about how you can put your best foot forward when applying by reading our article, “Medical School GPA: Why Good Grades Are Only Part of the Equation.”
* This article has been updated from a previous version to include current facts and figures.
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