As a specialty choice, family practice has come of age. It is the second most popular choice of residency among medical students, second only to internal medicine. Surprising as it may seem, as a career choice family practice is number one. More office-based physicians in the United States call themselves family physicians than any other type of practitioner.1
Since most internists subspecialize, there are more family physicians than physicians in any of the subspecialties of internal medicine—more family physicians than cardiologists, gastroenterologists or general internists or, for that matter, pediatricians, general surgeons, psychiatrists or obstetricians/gynecologists.
Despite the large number of family physicians compared with subspecialists, family physicians have struggled at times with turf issues regarding hospital privileges and academic stature. Thanks to the resurgence of interest in primary care during the 1990s, these issues are largely in the past. Family physicians are strongly recruited to practice, enjoy parity with other specialties at academic medical centers and remain near the hearts of the millions of Americans for whom they provide care.
In years past, medical students understandably wondered about the nature of family practice and the role of family physicians in the health care system. To address these questions, Scherger and other leaders in family medicine published a now-classic article, “Responses to Questions Frequently Asked by Medical Students About Family Practice.”2 This article was subsequently expanded to serve as an authoritative reference about family practice as a career, still mainly for medical students but also for others with an interest in family medicine, including residents, other physicians, policy makers and the public.3,4
In this issue, we are proud to present the fourth version of this special article, “Responses to Questions About the Specialty of Family Practice as a Career.”5 Even experienced family physicians may benefit from reading this article, perhaps just to refresh their memory, but also to keep current with statistics and information about a career in family practice. In doing so, they will be well positioned to advise students, colleagues and policy makers about the only specialty that can claim, among medical students, health organizations and, most of all, our patients: “We're number one.”