How Do Family Physicians And General Practitioners Differ?

Many people who have a mild to moderate illness will see either a family physician or a general practitioner for treatment. For conditions such as the common cold, sinus infections, or a sprained ankle, seeing a specialist is not necessary. While family physicians and general practitioners are similar, these types of doctors are not exactly the same. These are some ways that family physicians and general practitioners differ. 

Their Patients

Both family physicians and general practitioners provide care for patients of all ages. However, this is not necessarily in the same way. For instance, a 12-year-old child can go to a general practitioner to get a sports physical, but this may be the only reason this same child sees this particular doctor. The patient may also have a family physician that has been treating them since they were a toddler for a variety of different reasons over time. If there is an available appointment with a general practitioner when the family physician is booked up, the patient may instead go to the general practitioner to receive the services needed at that time.

Their Treatment

Both family physicians and general practitioners can provide the same type of care. If a patient has an ongoing medical condition, the family physician will provide regular treatments. A general practitioner may provide treatment of the symptoms of the condition but may also recommend the patient follows up with a family physician. Both of these types of doctors can also refer patients to a specialist of any health condition as needed.

Where They Work

General practitioners may or may not have their own private practice. In fact, many general practitioners provide care in emergency rooms or urgent care facilities. Family physicians most often have their own practice or work in a family care clinic along with other family physicians. In these healthcare settings, family physicians may provide care for regular repeat patients throughout their lifetimes.


Educational requirements to become a family physician or a general practitioner are also similar. Both of these careers require completing medical school followed by a few years of working at a residency as well. However, family physicians are also required to complete up to 150 hours of continuing education every three years. This is necessary so that the family physician is certified to continue treatment for their regular patients as they age over time.

Deciding whether you want to receive care from a general practitioner or a family physician can depend on several factors. However, it is best to see the doctor that gives you the most confidence in knowing you are receiving the best care possible. Speak with different doctors to learn more.