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What is a General Practitioner?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A general practitioner (GP) is a medical doctor who provides comprehensive general care to patients, rather than focusing on a specific organ system, family of conditions, or type of medical issue. Many people see a GP for their primary care, and these medical professionals are usually the first point of contact with the medical system for patients. Training for this job requires attending medical school and completing a residency in family medicine.

In some regions, general practitioners are referred to as “family doctors.” They are familiar with a wide range of medical conditions and issues, and many like to establish relationships with their patients so that they can work with them for life. In addition to providing medical attention as needed for both acute and chronic conditions, a GP also offers health education, preventative care, and medical advice to patients.

When people think of the classic family doctor making house calls with a little black bag, this is the type of doctor they are thinking of. At one time, these medical professionals provided the bulk of medical care, from obstetrics to setting broken bones. Today, many medical tasks are performed by people who have received training in specific specialties, and a GP may refer a patient to a specialist if he or she feels that a condition requires attention from someone who has specialized in it. For example, this doctor might set a simple broken bone, but he or she would refer a complex fracture to an orthopedic surgeon.

Work as a general practitioner can be very rewarding, although it can take time to build up a practice. GPs can work in hospital environments, but they usually work in clinics or offer house calls. They tend to build up a practice of repeat patients, establishing relationships with people from childhood through old age, and they can do everything from managing a chronic condition to addressing an emerging medical concern. People who want to interact directly with lots of people and see a variety of medical conditions may enjoy working in this role.

Rates of compensation in this branch of the medical profession vary. In some regions, a general practitioner may be able to command a very high salary, especially in remote regions where specialists are not readily available, requiring a doctor to have a diverse skill set. Other areas of the world may offer less pay, which — combined with very high costs for malpractice insurance — can make the field less appealing to some medical students.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By tlcJPC — On Apr 10, 2011

Personally, I think our family practice is great! I love that my husband, both of my children and I are seen by the same person. I also like that our doctor really sees us as a whole unit. It makes me feel as though she is a member of our clan, rather than an outsider that one of us pops in to see if we are sick. And, it is so much more convenient! There have been many times that I've carted the whole family in at once because they were all down with the same bug. I’m sure she likes getting paid to see three or four patients in one sitting, and I really like being able to get them all taken care of as quickly as possible.

By nanny3 — On Apr 09, 2011

@Numberwand - Hi! You've made a great point, and asked an important question. I think that for some people this may be the case, particularly if the folks in question are fairly healthy. However, for people who have conditions that must be managed continually, ER visits and walk-in clinics are probably reserved for late nights and weekends when the GP is unavailable.

For instance, I have a family member who has a severe case of bipolar disorder. The GP was the one who diagnosed the condition, and is generally one of the first people called when there is a flare-up in episodes. There is a rapport there, and the GP (general practitioner) knows the case inside and out. An ER doctor wouldn't have a clue where to start helping this family. It probably just depends on the situation.

By Numberwand — On Apr 03, 2011

I know that in the past your GP might be first port of call for any minor/major worries you might have regarding your health, but do you think that that mindset is declining? I mean, we have so many walk-in clinics and ERs now that many people don't even see their GP except for their yearly check up.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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