How to Become a General Practitioner: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated on January 9, 2024


Becoming a general practitioner (GP) takes commitment, but the ability to care for patients across their lifespan can be incredibly rewarding. First, you must complete a bachelor’s degree, typically focusing on pre-med requirements like biology, chemistry, and anatomy. Next, you’ll apply to medical school, which involves four years of intense education and hands-on clinical rotations. After earning your MD, you must complete a three-year family medicine residency program to train under experienced GPs. You can attain this fulfilling career as a primary care physician with hard work and dedication to serving people through medicine. The journey requires perseverance, but the impact you can have makes it worthwhile.

What is a General Practitioner?

A general practitioner (GP) is a doctor who provides a range of medical care and treatment to patients of all ages. GPs are usually the first point of contact when someone falls ill or needs a health concern addressed. They assess patients, diagnose conditions, prescribe medications, and refer patients to specialists when needed.

GPs are primary care physicians who have completed medical school and residency training in family medicine. This broad training allows them to treat common illnesses and injuries, manage chronic diseases, and provide preventive care. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), family medicine is the medical specialty that provides continuing and comprehensive health care for individuals and families across all ages, genders, diseases, and parts of the body.

Some of the most common conditions that GPs treat include colds and flu, skin conditions, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and anxiety, and minor injuries. They can order and analyze diagnostic tests like blood work, urinalysis, x-rays, and EKGs and provide counseling on maintaining a healthy lifestyle through proper diet and exercise. GPs can also perform minor surgical procedures if needed.

What do General Practitioners do?

General practice is a demanding career path requiring compassion and extensive medical expertise. But for those dedicated to whole-person patient care, it offers unmatched fulfillment, making a difference in people’s lives.

Educational Requirements

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to becoming a general practitioner (GP) is earning a bachelor’s degree. While any major is acceptable, aspiring GPs typically major in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or another science-related field. Coursework emphasizes life sciences, physics, mathematics, and social sciences. A strong academic record is essential for admission into medical school. Students should strive for a GPA of 3.6 or higher. Getting involved in undergraduate research can also strengthen medical school applications.

Complete Medical School

After earning an undergraduate degree, the next educational requirement is the completion of a 4-year Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program at an accredited medical school. Coursework during the first two years focuses on biomedical sciences, pharmacology, pathology, anatomy, medical ethics, and more through lab work, lectures, simulations, and working with standardized patients. The final two years involve clinical rotations and direct work with patients under physician supervision in specialties like family medicine, internal medicine, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery.

Complete a Residency

After earning their MD or DO, prospective GPs must then complete a 3-year residency program in family medicine. This hands-on training prepares them to provide comprehensive medical care for patients of all ages. Residents treat various health conditions and gain skills in nutrition counseling, mental healthcare, managing chronic illnesses, sports medicine, and minor surgery. They also learn how to document patient cases and manage a physician’s practice properly.

Postgraduate Training for General Practitioners

Becoming a general practitioner (GP) requires significant postgraduate training beyond medical school. After completing a medical degree and obtaining a license to practice medicine, aspiring GPs must complete a residency program in family medicine. This usually takes 3 years to complete (AAFP).

The family medicine residency exposes young doctors to treating patients of all ages with a wide variety of health conditions. Residents rotate through various departments like internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, surgery, psychiatry, and outpatient clinics. This provides well-rounded training in diagnosing and managing all types of acute and chronic diseases. Critical thinking and communication skills are also honed through interacting with patients.

After finishing the family medicine residency, some doctors choose to complete a 1-3 year fellowship program in a subspecialty like sports medicine or geriatrics (AAFP). This allows them to gain more in-depth expertise in niche areas of interest. However, pursuing a fellowship is optional for general practice.

Before being able to work independently, all GPs must become board-certified by passing exams like those offered by the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM). Maintaining certification through ongoing education and assessments is also essential throughout a GP’s career. Proper licensing at the state level is likewise required to treat patients legally.

With the necessary postgraduate training and credentials in place, many exciting career paths are open to family physicians. General practitioners are vital as primary care providers and coordinators of patient care within the community. The journey begins with residency.

Licensure and Certification

Becoming a licensed general practitioner (GP) requires completing medical school and residency training and then passing licensing exams. While the path takes 7-9 years on average, it enables you to practice medicine independently across a broad scope.


In the United States, all physicians must hold a state-issued license to practice medicine. State medical boards manage licensure processes with specific eligibility rules, documentation requirements, and applications. Most states use the Federation Credentials Verification Service (FCVS) system to verify identities, education, national exam scores, and other qualifications.

To qualify for medical licensure, the core requirements are:


Board certification is an optional credential after licensure, indicating expertise in a particular specialty. For general practice, the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) offers board certification (ABFM). Initial certification involves passing an exam on outpatient primary care topics after residency. Diplomates then complete self-assessment programs and recertify every 7-10 years to stay current.

Many employers and health plans now expect board certification for GPs and other physicians. As a voluntary process with ongoing learning requirements, it signifies a commitment to best practices in primary care. For physicians, promoting certification status can build professional credentials and patient trust.

In summary, fulfilling state licensure allows general practitioners to treat patients, while board certification reinforces qualifications legally. Meeting both standards provides the best foundation for the long-term practice of competent, ethical primary care medicine.

Being a general practitioner (GP) requires a broad set of medical skills and personal qualities to provide competent, comprehensive patient care. Successful GPs have expertise across a range of areas while also connecting with patients personally.

Medical Knowledge

A solid medical knowledge base is essential for GPs. They must be familiar with a wide scope of common acute and chronic illnesses, preventative care recommendations, and evidence-based treatment guidelines to diagnose and develop care plans accurately. GPs require a strong foundation in areas like pathology, pharmacology, and radiology interpretation to integrate information for clinical decision-making. Staying current through continuing education is vital as medicine progresses. [1]

Communication Abilities

Excellent communication and interpersonal skills enable GPs to obtain necessary information from patients, explain conditions and treatments in understandable ways, and build trusting relationships over time. These skills include active listening, clear verbal explanation, sensitivity to patients’ cultural/social backgrounds, and the ability to deliver difficult news with empathy and compassion. Honing communication on both complicated and routine matters is an important area of ongoing development.

Patient-Centered Care

Successful GPs embrace patient-centered care principles by involving patients in healthcare decisions and tailoring treatment approaches to individual circumstances and priorities. This requires understanding the whole person, not just their symptoms. GPs must gather lifestyle information to provide personalized wellness and preventative care advice alongside diagnosing and treating medical issues. [2] Patient advocacy is also part of the GP’s role.

Procedural Skills

While GPs focus on outpatient medicine, essential procedural skills include injections, wound closure, specimen collection, minor surgery, basic life support, and point-of-care ultrasound. These allow GPs to perform more procedures in the office rather than referring patients to specialists. Given the wide scope of family medicine, lifelong procedural skill development is necessary.

Time Management

Working efficiently is critical for GPs as they manage patient volume with limited time per visit. Excellent time management skills allow physicians to thoroughly address the main reason for a visit while multitasking background care needs like health screenings, medication refills, referrals, and follow-ups. GPs must adeptly redirect tangential conversations to make the most of short appointments.

General Practitioner Salary

Years of ExperienceAverage Salary
0-5 years$135,000
6-10 years$168,000
11-20 years$210,000
20+ years$230,000

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Becoming a general practitioner (GP) can open up many career opportunities and advancement potential. As a GP, you have the foundation to pursue specialization or take on leadership roles.


After establishing yourself as a GP, you may choose to specialize in a particular field of medicine that interests you most. Some common specialties that GPs go into include family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics/gynecology. Specializing allows you to focus your practice while potentially increasing your salary. For example, according to PayScale, the average salary for a family medicine physician is $200,938 per year, compared to $242,401 for an internal medicine specialist.

Leadership Roles

With experience, GPs may take on more senior positions managing groups of doctors or entire healthcare organizations. Some advancement opportunities include:

Academic Medicine

Many experienced GPs pursue careers in academic medicine. As a faculty member at a medical school, you can teach future healthcare providers, conduct research in your field of interest, and work with medical residents and fellows. Academic leadership positions include titles like Medical School Department Chair and Dean.

The career of a general practitioner offers diverse options to advance your practice or transition into management and academic roles. By establishing yourself as a top GP, you open doors to specialize, publish research, take on more responsibility either in a clinic or hospital system, or train the next generation of doctors.


Pursuing a career as a general practitioner requires years of education – a bachelor’s degree, four years of medical school, and 3-5 years of residency. However, extensive training can lead to a rewarding career for those willing to commit. General practitioners develop long-term patient relationships and serve as the first point of healthcare access, providing tremendous fulfillment. With a focus on whole-person care and preventative health education, they play a vital public health role. If you have the dedication and desire to impact lives through primary care, a GP career can lead to professional and personal growth in this valuable medical field. Consider why you’re pursuing this path during challenging times, and seek mentorship from established general practitioners to understand the nature of their fulfilling work.

Additional Resources

Resource Type Description
American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Extensive material on pursuing a GP career, covering education, skills, salaries, and day-to-day responsibilities. Advice on choosing medical schools and residency programs.
Medical Journals Publications like American Family Physician and The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine offer articles on family medicine trends, best practices, clinical guidelines, and patient management tips.
Books Titles like “Handbook of Family Medicine” and “Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Family Medicine” provide comprehensive knowledge. Test preparation books for the American Board of Family Medicine exam.
Hands-on Experience Volunteering or interning at a local family physician’s office, shadowing general practitioners, and conducting informational interviews for real-world insights and experience.
Additional Resources Utilizing online and print resources, seeking mentorship and peer guidance for navigating training challenges and gaining exposure to the field.


How much does a general practitioner make?
The average salary for a general practitioner in the United States is around $208,670 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, salaries can vary widely depending on your years of experience, location, and practice setting. Generally, those working in hospitals and specialty clinics earn higher wages than private practice physicians.

What degree do you need to become a general practitioner?
Becoming a general practitioner requires 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 either a Medical Doctor (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. After this, you must complete a 3-year residency program in general practice or family medicine. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education approves family medicine residency programs.

How much experience is needed?
Aspiring general practitioners need around 7-11 years of education and training before they can work independently. This includes 4 years of medical school, 3-year residency program, and optional 1-3 year fellowship for additional specialty training. Many newly graduated residents also work under the supervision of experienced physicians for their first few years in practice. With more clinical experience over time, you gain more expertise in diagnosing and developing treatment plans.

What are the day-to-day responsibilities?
General practitioners have a wide scope of practice. Typical duties involve examining patients, ordering tests, making diagnoses, prescribing medications, developing treatment plans, monitoring chronic health conditions, making referrals to specialists, hospital care, preventive care and patient education. GPs coordinate comprehensive care for the whole person rather than just treating specific symptoms or illnesses. Workdays can vary from office-based to hospital settings.