Family medicine is the medical specialty that provides continuing, comprehensive health care for the individual and family. It is a specialty in breadth that integrates the biological, clinical and behavioral sciences. The scope of family medicine encompasses all ages, both sexes, each organ system and every disease entity.
AAFP. “Family Medicine, Definition of.” http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home/policy/policies/f/fammeddef.html.
First, let’s start with what it takes to become a doctor. After completing an undergraduate degree (usually 4 years), one must go through the 4 fun years of medical school. While each school operates differently, the fundamentals are the same – learn book stuff, learn clinical stuff, see patients.
After medical school is residency (the first year of which is called internship) and this is where the training starts to really differ. Pediatrics residents focus on babies and children, surgical residents focus on surgery, ophthalmology residents focus on eyes, internal medicine residents focus on adults.
Family medicine residents focus on…everything. Family medicine residents learn adult medicine (including ICU), pediatric medicine, gynecology, obstetrics (although many if not most don’t continue to practice after residency) and psychiatric care. There is time devoted to most specialties (cardiology, dermatology, orthopedics, gastroenterology, etc) and more time is spent in an area of interest to that particular resident.
Internal medicine residents also get time devoted to specialties, but don’t have the pediatric or obstetric training that the family medicine residency requires. Internal medicine offers more options to specialize after residency – cardiology, rheumatology, pulmonology, etc. Family medicine is more limited in this manner – geriatrics, sports medicine, obstetrics.
Both family physicians and internists can provide high quality primary care. Importantly, you want a physician who will look at you as a whole person, not a disease or ailment. Remember, your goal is a long term commitment and working relationship. When you’re seeking a medical spouse, a one night stand just won’t do.
Written by M. Mitchell, M.D.