Difference Between a General and Family Practitioner

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Until the 1960s, medical doctors in the United States were either general practitioners or specialists. In 1969, a new medical specialty known as "family practice" was established under the supervision of the American Board of Family Medicine. General practitioners were grandfathered into this specialty, and the term "family practitioner" largely replaced "general practitioner." In 1995, however, the American Board of General Practice was founded to re-establish general practitioners as separate and distinct from family practitioners.


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Both family and general practitioners complete medical school to obtain their doctoral degree. Medical school graduates who choose to pursue family medicine enter a 3-year residency program approved by the American Board of Family Practice. Family medicine practitioners are considered specialists. General practitioners complete a general practice training program offered by the American College of General Medicine after completing medical school. The program typically takes 3 to 7 years to complete. General practitioners consider their body of knowledge and practice of medicine separate and distinct from that of family practitioners. General practitioners do not consider themselves specialists.


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Both family and general medicine practitioners are primary-care doctors, meaning they treat people of all ages with a variety of medical conditions. As primary-care doctors, family and general practitioners care for patients with short- and long-term illnesses. When a patient’s condition requires treatment outside of the usual practice of family or general medicine, a specialist is typically consulted and works with both the patient and the primary-care doctor.