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What Does a Primary Care Physician Do? Exploring This In-Demand Medical Career

6 min read / Medical Practice


There are many factors to consider when deciding which type of doctor to become. While students usually research their options while completing medical school, they sometimes overlook primary care despite the fact that it’s a great career path for many future practitioners.

So what is a primary care physician? What do primary care physicians do? Take a closer look.

What is a primary care physician, exactly?

In short, primary care medicine entails addressing a wide array of health concerns in all types of patients. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), a primary care physician provides care at the first point of contact and continues to manage their patients’ health concerns over time.

These physicians coordinate with various specialists and develop long-term relationships with their patients.

“Primary care doctors often develop strong relationships with their patients over their many years of caring for the same people and their families,” says Dr. Lisa Doggett, a family physician. She notes that this is one of the biggest rewards of the job.

“Whenever I think that I have seen it all, a patient will show up proving that I have not.”

Unlike other specialties that focus on specific organ systems or conditions, primary care medicine addresses health issues of all types. Because of this, primary care physicians see almost every type of medical concern.

“Whenever I think that I have seen it all, a patient will show up proving that I have not,” says Dr. Linda Girgis, FAAFP, a St. George’s University graduate with 17 years of experience in primary care.

What does a primary care physician do?

With all the conditions that fall under the primary care umbrella, there isn’t really a typical schedule for these physicians. No two days are ever the same.

That said, Dr. Doggett reveals the most common conditions she encounters include diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, headaches, and abdominal pain. Most primary care physicians focus considerably on preventive care, and they may perform procedures like skin biopsies, toenail removals, and joint injections.

“We can take care of gynecological problems, and some family physicians even deliver babies,” Dr. Doggett explains. “We also treat a lot of mental health conditions, and we are often the first doctor to see some of the more bizarre conditions, like tropical diseases, unusual skin rashes, and neurological problems.”

As you can see, primary care is far from a medical niche. They have an extensive knowledge base that allows them to treat many different patients. This also makes them some of the most-needed types of physicians.

Why are primary care physicians in high demand?

If you’re weighing your options for medical specialties, you’d be wise to consider primary care medicine—especially if employability is important to you.

“Medical students should strongly consider primary care because it will allow them the opportunity to work in any part of the country or world,” Dr. Doggett says. “You’ll never have to worry about finding a job, and you’ll have the satisfaction of providing a critical service to your patients and communities.”

Dr. Doggett is right. In fact, there is a dire need for more primary care physicians in the years to come. A report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates a shortage of between 17,800 and 48,000 primary care physicians in the US by 2034. Also, consider that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) indicates that more than half of physician office visits are made to primary care physicians.

“It’s a hot field,” Dr. Girgis says. “Primary care doctors are being sought after, and with the current structure in the health care system, where many patients are required to have a primary care physician to be referred elsewhere, this can be expected to continue.”

What are some benefits of being a primary care physician?

Whether you’re an aspiring physician or a current medical student, you need to make several considerations when selecting a specialty. You’ll want to weigh a number of factors, such as:

– What type of lifestyle do you want?
– How will your family be affected?
– What kind of advancement opportunities are you interested in?
– How much variety do you want in your career?

For those considering a career in primary care, one advantage is the potential to effectively juggle your personal and professional responsibilities. This is especially attractive when compared to some of the more demanding specialties.

“For doctors, work-life balance is a difficult accomplishment,” Dr. Girgis explains. “Primary care is unique in medicine because there is so much flexibility in how it can be practiced. It is also well suited to part-time opportunities.”

Dr. Girgis also mentions that many primary care physicians now practice outpatient medicine rather than inpatient medicine, thus, avoiding late-night admissions in the hospital. These doctors also have the option of going into private practice or working under a hospital system, both of which have their share of benefits and challenges.

One undeniable advantage of working in primary care is the variety. Not only will your days be spent examining many kinds of conditions with patients of all different backgrounds, but you also have options regarding where you’d like to work.

“The variety of job options is impressive—rural versus urban, hospital versus clinic, private practice versus a public setting,” Dr. Doggett explains. “It is fairly easy to move from patient care to academic settings, public health, industry, or administration.”

Is primary care right for you?

Instead of asking, “What does a primary care physician do?” you should really be asking, “What doesn’t a primary care physician do?” These physicians are truly invaluable members of the medical field. It takes a certain kind of person to excel in this dynamic role.

Find out if you have what it takes by reading, “8 Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Family Physician”.

Ready to start your medical school journey?

Are you considering St. George’s University Medical School? If you need any more convincing, just reach out to some graduates or current students. They’re happy to tell you what their experiences were like.

If you feel like SGU could be the right medical school for you, take the next step. Continue your research by visiting our request information page.




*This article was originally published in January 2018. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2021.


October 19, 2021