Family Medicine: Comprehensive Care for the Whole Person

Family medicine integrates a broad-spectrum approach to primary care with the consideration of health-impacting social determinants and community factors, while also serving as an advocate for the patient in an increasingly complex health care system. Unlike other narrowly focused specialties, family medicine includes the biological, clinical, and behavioral sciences, encompassing all ages, sexes, each organ system, and every disease entity.

The focus of a family physician is the whole person. They shepherd male and female patients of all ages through the complex health system, and coordinate the care of their health. By building relationships with their patients over time, family physicians are able to develop a comprehensive understanding of their patients’ health, and offer insightful, personal guidance and treatment.

Family Medicine Facts

Studies reveal that family medicine:

  • Reduces health care costs and increases health care quality.
  • Plays an important role in access to health care. Family physicians are geographically distributed across the country more equitably than physicians from any other specialty.
  • Helps to reduce health disparities. Family physicians are more accessible geographically and financially to underserved populations lacking access to quality health care than other primary care physicians.
  • Improves overall health. Individuals who regularly visit a family physician are more likely to receive preventive services, better management of chronic illnesses, and decreased chance of premature death.

Relationships: The Heart of Family Medicine

The patient-physician relationship is at the heart of family medicine. Beyond reported concerns, family physicians take the time to consider additional health factors in their patients' lives, including family and community situations and relationships.

While there are similarities between family medicine and the other primary care specialties, it is the extent to which family physicians value, develop, nurture, and maintain a relationship with each patient that distinguishes family medicine from all other specialties.

The Variety of Ways that Family Physicians Serve Their Patients


As part of their primary care practice, family doctors offer diverse services to their patients.

  • 36% perform minor surgical procedures
  • 45% treat patients in the ICU
  • 40% deliver care in hospital ERs
  • 59% care for newborns
  • 77% have hospital privileges
  • 19% provide routine OB care


Family physicians are trained to perform multiple types of procedures, including:

  • Colposcopy/LEEP
  • Colonoscopy
  • Endoscopy
  • Family planning and early pregnancy evaluation and management
  • Musculoskeletal injections
  • Spirometry
  • Skin procedures
  • Suturing lacerations
  • Ultrasound imaging
  • Vasectomy
Family Physicians meeting with a patient.

What Family Physicians Do

  • Care for patients regardless of age or health condition, sustaining an enduring and trusting relationship.
  • Serve as a patient's first contact for health concerns.
  • Offer insight on preventing, understanding, and managing illness.
  • Navigate the health care system with patients, including specialist and hospital care coordination and follow-up.
  • Use data and technology to prioritize and coordinate services, enhancing access, continuity, and relationships.
  • Care for patients in the context of their family and the ways in which the health of each family member affects the others.
  • Understand the effects of community-level factors and social determinants of health, helping patients to identify community resources available.

Q&A for Med Students

Learn more about studying to become a family physician from the article, Responses to Medical Students' Frequently Asked Questions about Family Medicine »(7 page PDF)

Medicine Based upon a Broad Scope of Knowledge

Family physicians complete extensive training beyond medical school in order to be able to provide the best possible patient care, including:

A 3-Year Residency
There are more than 470 family medicine residency programs in the United States. Settings include: academic, community, military, inner-city, urban, suburban, rural, and more. A few 4-year residency programs are available.

In-Depth Training Across the Lifespan
All family physicians are trained in labor and delivery; emergency medicine; surgery and procedures; pediatrics; hospital medicine (including intensive care, inpatient, and outpatient); and geriatrics.

Additional Training Options
Available fellowships and Certificates of Added Qualification (beyond Board certification) range in duration from three months to three years.

Adolescent medicine
Emergency medicine
Faculty development
Geriatric medicine

International medicine
Sleep medicine
Sports medicine

Hospice and palliative medicine
Integrative medicine

Family physicians who meet the criteria may obtain Board certification from the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM). Learn more about Board certification in family medicine by visiting the ABFM website(

A Specialty in High Demand

Recruitment data indicates that family physicians are in high demand. According to Merritt, Hawkins & Associates(, family physicians have been the most recruited physicians for hospitals, medical groups, and health care organizations for eight years in a row.

Recuitment Numbers by Specialty

 2014-20152013-20142012-2013 2011-2012 2010-2011
Family Medicine 2014-2015: 7342013-2014: 714 2012-2013 : 624 2011-2012 : 631 2010-2011: 532
Internal Medicine2014-2015: 2372013-2014: 2352012-2013 : 1942011-2012 : 2352010-2011: 295
Hospitalist2014-2015: 1762013-2014: 2312012-2013 : 1782011-2012 : 1552010-2011: 160
Psychiatry2014-2015: 2302013-2014: 2062012-2013 : 1682011-2012 : 1682010-2011: 133
Nurse Practitioner2014-2015: 1432013-2014: 1282012-2013 : 692011-2012 : 232010-2011: N/A
Pediatrics2014-2015: 712013-2014: 922012-2013 : 872011-2012 : 702010-2011: 64
Emergency Medicine2014-2015: 802013-2014: 892012-2013 : 1112011-2012 : 1062010-2011: 92
OB/GYN2014-2015: 1122013-2014: 702012-2013 : 772011-2012 : 812010-2011: 80
Physician Assistant2014-2015: 632013-2014: 612012-2013 : 502011-2012 : 222010-2011: N/A
Neurology2014-2015: 602013-2014: 612012-2013 : 712011-2012 : 412010-2011: 79
General Surgery2014-2015: 632013-2014: 582012-2013 : 742011-2012 : 1302010-2011: 69
Orthopedic Surgery2014-2015: 1062013-2014: 582012-2013 : 572011-2012 : 1052010-2011: 104
Gastroenterology2014-2015: 432013-2014: 542012-2013 : 372011-2012 : 512010-2011: 32
Hematology/Oncology2014-2015: --2013-2014: 502012-2013 : 452011-2012 : 532010-2011: 35
Otolaryngology2014-2015: 522013-2014: 322012-2013 : 402011-2012 : 402010-2011: 31
Cardiology2014-2015: 362013-2014: 322012-2013 : 382011-2012 : 462010-2011: 26
Urology2014-2015: 402013-2014: 292012-2013 : 262011-2012 : 572010-2011: 56
Nerosurgery2014-2015: --2013-2014: 202012-2013 : 232011-2012 : 122010-2011: 7
Pulmonology2014-2015: 382013-2014: 182012-2013 : 242011-2012 : 682010-2011: 32
Endocrinology2014-2015: --2013-2014: 172012-2013 : 222011-2012 : 162010-2011: 14
Dr. Joane Baumer and patient

Dr. Flora Sadri-Azarbeyejani

"Why I love being a family physician."

Read in-depth interviews with family physicians as they share about their career choice, a typical day in practice, and more.

Q&A for Med Students

Learn more about studying to become a family physician from the article, Responses to Medical Students' Frequently Asked Questions about Family Medicine »(7 page PDF)