Life After Residency: Exploring Practice Options in Family Medicine


Your options are limitless, so start your job search with a clear understanding of your personal and professional interests.

Fam Pract Manag. 2021 Sep-Oct;28(5):30-35.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial affiliations.

Choosing a job after residency is an important milestone in one's medical career and can also be an overwhelming decision. Practice patterns of new family medicine residency graduates have changed over the years, with fewer providing inpatient care, for example. According to a 2020 survey of family physicians three years post-residency, 99% provided direct patient care and 81% provided outpatient continuity care.1 About 65% of family physicians practice in the state where they completed residency, which is higher than most other specialties.2 Trends indicate that although recent family medicine residency graduates feel better prepared to provide a wide range of clinical services compared with a decade ago, they have a narrower scope of practice.3 Residents graduating from unopposed programs, where there is only a single residency program, and those practicing in rural areas are more likely to maintain a wider scope of practice.4

These trends may be related to changes in health care systems as well as applicants' preferences to balance work with other interests and demands. Regardless, it remains true that family physicians are in high demand and have many career options. The following cases highlight approaches to thinking through three types of job searches: 1) a traditional primary care physician job search, 2) a job search focused on balancing professional and personal values, and 3) a job search exploring non-primary-care job opportunities.


  • Family physicians are in high demand and have many career options today, including traditional primary care practice, jobs with greater flexibility in terms of scope and work-life balance, and non-clinical positions.

  • Personal and professional referrals and networking remain the most common ways to search for and find jobs.

  • Start your job search by thinking about your interests in three categories: practice type, scope, and location.


Dr. Xena is excited to move closer to her family and has several options to consider in her hometown. She is planning to work full time while her partner stays home with their children. She has a few ideas about what she is looking for in a career but wants some guidance, so she decides to bring up some career questions during her meeting with a faculty mentor.

Unlike many universities or medical schools, her residency program does not have career counselors to whom residents can turn for advice. Residents in this situation are encouraged to reach out to a variety of people who can help with the process, such as program directors, faculty mentors, external recruiters, or their organization's own recruiters or human resources representatives.


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Dr. Hahn is associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine and Community Health....

Dr. Carlson is assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

Dr. Martonffy is associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial affiliations.


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1. American Board of Family Medicine, Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors. National graduate survey for year(s): 2020. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.

2. Association of American Medical Colleges. 2020 report on residents, table C4. December 2020. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.

3. Weidner AKH, Chen FM. Changes in preparation and practice patterns among new family physicians. Ann Fam Med. 2019;17(1):46–48.

4. Coutinho AJ, Levin Z, Petterson S, Phillips RL Jr, Peterson LE. Residency program characteristics and individual physician practice characteristics associated with family physician scope of practice. Acad Med. 2019;94(10):1561–1566.

5. CompHealth, Hanover Research. Survey: young doctors still finding jobs the old-fashioned way. March 2018. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.

6. Miller CC, Sanam Y. Young people are going to save us all from office life. The New York Times. Sept. 17, 2019. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.

7. Bodenheimer T, Haq C, Lehmann W. Continuity and access in the era of part-time practice. Ann Fam Med. 2018;16(4):359–360.

8. Arndt BG, Beasley JW, Watkinson MD, et al. Tethered to the EHR: primary care physician workload assessment using EHR event log data and time-motion observations. Ann Fam Med. 2017;15(5):419–426.

9. Nabity J. Physician employee benefits: paid time off (2021). Physicians Thrive website. Updated April 16, 2020. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.

10. Katz PS. Do you get paid time off? Today's Hospitalist. June 2013. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.

11. Weidner AKH, Phillips RL Jr, Fang B, Peterson LE. Burnout and scope of practice in new family physicians. Ann Fam Med. 2018;16(3):200–205.

12. Darves B. Outside the fold: exploring nonclinical work opportunities for physicians. NEJM CareerCenter. July 1, 2019. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.

13. Behind the scenes health care: 10 non-clinical physician jobs. The SGU Pulse blog. Aug. 7, 2019. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.

14. Non-clinical jobs for doctors. Non Clinical Doctors website. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.

15. Jackson & Coker. Study shows first job after medical residency often doesn't last. PR Newswire. July 10, 2012. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.

16. Hahn TW, Carlson J, Huffer P. Goal-oriented assessment of learning (GOAL): an individualized learning plan for residents. Society of Teachers of Family Medicine Education Columns. September 2017. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.


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