What is family medicine — and what type of physician is right for your family?

What is family medicine? If you’re an adult, your primary health-care provider is likely to be a physician who is either an internal medicine physician or a family practice physician. What’s the difference?

What is family medicine?

A family practice physician is a medical professional whose training focuses on providing health care for the entire family. This includes pediatrics, or medical treatment for children, as well as OB/GYN care and caring for adults. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), a society of physicians and medical students, family physicians are “dedicated to treating the whole person.” They’re devoted to providing primary care for patients of every age and all genders.Stethoscope and medical supplies.

A pediatrician will see children, usually until they’re 21 years old. An internist only sees adults. But a family physician provides primary medical care for everyone from newborns to seniors. But like pediatricians and internists, family physicians complete medical school and a three-year residency after graduation.

Where do family physicians practice?

The AAFP says that family physicians provide care for underserved rural and urban populations in the United States. They can be found in all regions of the U.S. and, according to the University of Chicago, they provide nearly one-fourth of all primary care visits.

What kind of care do family physicians provide?

The University of Chicago emphasizes that family medicine is focused on long-lasting, caring relationships with patients and their families. Family medicine physicians provide what is called primary care—the first-line care that people seek not only when sick, but for preventive care like annual physicals, vaccinations and well-baby visits.

The scope of family medicine is comprehensive. Because it’s built around a social unit—the family system—family medicine is different from specialties that focus on a patient population (such as adults, children or women), an organ system (such as urology or cardiology), or the nature of an intervention (such as surgery), explains the American College of Physicians (ACP).

The ACP further explains that there are significant differences between internists and family physicians in terms of how they are trained and the clinical approach they take. Family physicians are often trained more broadly, learning how to provide procedures and services that are often otherwise the scope of specialists, as well as knowing how to care for children. Their training often emphasizes wellness and disease prevention. In contrast, internal medicine physicians receive comprehensive, deep training in subspecialties like neurology, endocrinology, psychiatry and dermatology.

What type of primary care physician is right for you and your family?

As an adult, you can choose an internal medicine physician or a family physician. If you’re considering care for your children, they could see a pediatrician or a family physician. If you have children and value everyone seeing the same provider and developing a long-standing relationship with your primary care physician, a family medicine practice might best fit your needs.

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