Family Practitioners are primary care physicians who have had three years of residency to prepare themselves to treat all family members. Eligibility to take their certifying exam in family practice depends on having met certain training requirements.
In the US, general practitioners are generally physicians who have not completed a family practice residency but still work as primary care doctors. Many years ago physicians who did not specialize needed to have only one year of post medical school training (internship) before entering practice. These physicians were called general practitioners. State licensure and even hospital privileges in some areas require no more training than this. There are some very competent general practitioners around, especially older ones. I would be concerned about receiving care from a general practitioner unless he either had a very strong recommendation from a colleague or had a long association with the general practitioner and was certain of his/her commitment to continuing education.
There is no international standard for certification so that the words "general practitioner" and "family practitioner" may mean different things in different countries. For example, in the UK a general practitioner may well have completed special post medical school training in family practice.
Advantages of a Family Practitioner
Many patients who visit doctors have symptoms that are related to diet, stress, and psychosocial issues, but are manifested as bodily dysfunction. It is often impossible to disentangle family relationships, personal stress, and physical illness. The family practitioner may be better prepared to recognize and work with these interactions than the specialist who focuses on just the bodily symptoms. A good primary care doctor can become one of your family's best advisors and friends.
Prevention as well as treatment
Family practice and other primary care specialties such as pediatrics and internal medicine emphasize preventing illness as well as treating it. A good primary care physician will help you to assess your risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. She will also provide counseling and specific measures that you can take to reduce your risk.
Are There Too Many Specialists?
The US has many more specialists than primary care doctors. Some people believe that this results in excessive treatment and increased cost. Specialists tend to use more resources in treating their patients compared with primary care doctors. In 1994, about 38 percent of all US physicians were primary care doctors (internal medicine, pediatrics, family/general practice). Some governmental and private organizations encourage more physicians to enter primary care specialties and have recommended that at least 50 percent of all physicians be engaged in primary care.
Family practice doctors have some unique contributions to make to the health of you and your family. They often have a broad perspective on your family's health problems.