How to Become Family Medicine Physician: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated on January 9, 2024


Becoming a family medicine physician takes commitment, but the rewards of providing comprehensive care for patients of all ages are immense. First and foremost, aspiring family doctors must earn an undergraduate degree, typically focusing on pre-med studies in biology, chemistry, anatomy, and other sciences. Next, they must complete four years of medical school and obtain their MD or DO, as explained by the American Academy of Family Physicians. After this, they enter a three-year family medicine residency program to gain hands-on training. Finally, they must become licensed in their state and pass exams to be fully certified. If you are passionate about building meaningful relationships with patients over time, read on to learn the step-by-step path to becoming a family physician.

What is a Family Medicine Physician?

A family medicine physician is a primary care doctor who provides comprehensive health care for all ages. Responsibilities include:

After medical school and 3-year residency, board certification demonstrates expertise. Various work settings include private practice, hospitals, and community health centers. Their personalized, whole-person method and preventive care focus make family physicians a vital community health resource.

What do Family Medicine Physicians do?

Family medicine physicians provide comprehensive primary care for patients of all ages. As primary care doctors, they are often the first doctors patients see for any health issue. Family medicine doctors assess patients’ overall health, diagnose illnesses and injuries, create treatment plans, and coordinate care with specialists if needed.

Some key responsibilities of family medicine physicians include:

In summary, family medicine physicians act as primary care providers responsible for most aspects of patient care. They build long-term relationships with patients while treating various health conditions. Their whole-person approach focuses on disease prevention and health maintenance.

Educational Requirements for Becoming an Family Medicine Physician

To become a family medicine physician, you must complete several years of training beyond a bachelor’s degree. The educational path typically involves:

Undergraduate Education

You will need to complete a Bachelor’s degree, usually taking four years, before applying to medical school. Common majors for aspiring doctors include biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or another science-related field, but any major is generally acceptable as long as you take the prerequisite coursework for medical school. This includes biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and English classes. Maintaining a high GPA and scoring well on the MCAT exam increases your chances of getting into medical school.

Medical School

After college, the next step is to earn a Medical Degree (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. This involves an additional 4 years of education at an accredited medical school, which includes classroom instruction and clinical rotations. Courses cover topics like anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, medical ethics, and laws. Clinical clerkships allow students to gain hands-on experience in various medical specialties.

Residency Training

After finishing medical school, prospective family medicine physicians must complete a 3-year residency program. This advanced clinical training is supervised and allows residents to develop skills by treating patients in an outpatient clinic or hospital setting. They gain exposure to treating patients across all age groups with a wide range of acute and chronic medical conditions.

Board Certification

One final step to practice as a board-certified family physician is passing exams through the American Board of Family Medicine. This helps demonstrate expertise in areas such as diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and comprehensive care for people of all ages. Maintaining board certification requires ongoing education and re-examination every 7-10 years.

Postgraduate Training for Family Medicine Physician

After completing medical school and obtaining their MD, aspiring family medicine physicians must then complete a three-year residency program in family medicine. Residency provides hands-on training under the supervision of experienced faculty physicians. Residents rotate through various departments and clinics, treating patients across the lifespan for various health conditions.

Residency programs are very competitive to get into. Applicants submit their credentials through the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) system and list their preferred programs. Applicants are matched to residency programs based on factors like medical school performance, letters of recommendation, exam scores, and interviews.

During their residency, future family doctors gain proficiency in areas vital for primary care, such as

They learn how to diagnose illness, develop treatment plans, prescribe medications, and provide ongoing care for both acute and chronic health problems. Communication, patient education, and care coordination skills are also honed.

Licensure and Certification

Becoming a licensed family medicine physician requires completing medical school and residency training and then passing licensing exams. After finishing the requirements, family doctors must maintain their licenses and certifications through ongoing education and exams.


Family medicine physicians must hold a state-issued medical license to practice medicine legally in the United States. Each state has its own requirements and application process, most involving:


Board certification demonstrates a family medicine physician’s primary and continuing care expertise. It requires passing an exam through the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM). Doctors take the exam after completing residency training or practicing for a set period [].

To maintain certification, family physicians must complete a minimum number of continuing education hours over seven years and then pass the ABFM Family Medicine Certification examination again. Recertifying shows ongoing competency and learning. It is not legally required but considered essential for hospital privileges and reputation.

Family Medicine Physician Salary

Years of ExperienceAverage Salary
0-5 years$195,000
6-10 years$210,000
11-20 years$230,000
20+ years$250,000

Career Opportunities and Advancement

With broad capabilities, family medicine offers diverse roles – from private practice to leadership.

Clinical Practice After residency, many enter:

Beyond patient care, opportunities include:

Leadership & Advocacy

Continuing Developments Pursuing added credentials opens new prospects:

Continual learning helps family physicians evolve, ensures excellent patient care, and enables advancement over a long career.

The field allows pros to shape diverse, rewarding paths to improving community well-being through patient care, mentorship, administration, or policy work.


In conclusion, becoming a family medicine physician requires dedication through several years of education and training. Still, it is a rewarding career helping people of all ages as a primary care provider. First, you must earn a bachelor’s degree, typically in a science field, before attending four years of medical school to earn your MD or DO degree (see medical school requirements). Next, you enter a three-year family medicine residency program to gain hands-on training treating patients across family medicine specialties. Finally, you must become licensed in your state to practice medicine.

Additional Resources

Resource Description Website
American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Provides extensive details on family medicine residencies, board certification, continuing medical education, and clinical resources. An excellent starting point for understanding family medicine. AAFP Website
American Medical Association (AMA) Outlines the medical school application process, choosing a medical specialty, and planning your medical career. Offers advice directly from doctors on pursuing medicine as a career. AMA Website
Volunteering or Working at a Community Health Clinic Offers hands-on experience, exposure to underserved populations, and insight into a family physician’s daily work. Inquire directly with clinics for opportunities. N/A
Informational Interviews through Medical Student Orgs Arrange interviews with family medicine physicians through medical student organizations or your medical school’s career counseling services. Allows you to ask working doctors about their specialties. N/A
Speaking with Family Medicine Faculty and Residents Seek mentorship and gain insights from family medicine faculty and residents at your medical school. Learn about how they chose family medicine and residency programs in your area. N/A


How much does a family medicine physician make?
The average salary for a family medicine physician in the United States is around $230,456 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics salary data. However, salaries can vary widely depending on your years of experience, geographic location, type of practice, and other factors. Many family medicine doctors earn between $180,000 to $270,000 annually.

What degree do you need to become a family medicine doctor?
Becoming a family physician requires the completion of a bachelor’s degree, preferably with coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, etc. You must then complete 4 years of medical school to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. After this, you must complete a 3-year family medicine residency program to get licensed and board-certified for independent practice.

What type of training and experience is required?
In addition to your MD or DO medical degree and 3-year family medicine residency, you also need a state medical license and board certification from the American Board of Family Medicine. Many doctors also pursue fellowships or added certifications in areas like sports medicine, geriatrics, obstetrics, etc. At a minimum, you need at least 7 years of specialized education and clinical training after college.

How competitive is getting into family medicine residency programs?
Family medicine is less competitive than many medical specialties, with an acceptance rate of around 95%. However, strong academic performance, high test scores, research experience etc. can still help get into more reputable training programs. Applicants who demonstrate a clear commitment to family care tend to do best in the matching process.

What are some subspecialties within family medicine?
While many family physicians provide comprehensive primary care, some specialize in geriatrics, maternity care, sports medicine, adolescent medicine, urgent care, palliative care, sleep medicine, and more. Pursuing a fellowship after residency allows doctors to focus within one of these realms.