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General practitioners are medical doctors who diagnose and treat illnesses, injuries, sinus infections and other common ailments. They are often the doctors people contact first when they're sick. If patients' medical conditions are more complex, general practitioners refer them to specialists -- allergists, dermatologists or otolaryngologists -- ears, nose and throat doctors. If you are empathetic, patient and have strong manual dexterity skills, you already have some of the qualities of a general practitioner. But you will need to fulfill several other educational and training requirements to actually become one.
Most general practitioners start their careers by obtaining bachelor's degrees. Specific majors are not required but a curriculum that includes chemistry, biology, physics, anatomy and math are encouraged. In this field, you must also complete four years of medical school. Your first two years are spent in classrooms and labs. You treat patients under the supervision of licensed physicians during your final two years in medical school. A few medical schools offer six- or-seven-year programs that combine bachelor's and medical school degrees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
General practitioners are required to enter residency programs once they graduate. A residency usually takes three to seven years, according to the American Medical Association. As a general practitioner, you typically focus on family practice or internal medicine, which is the diagnosis and non-surgical treatment of various illnesses. In residency programs, you spend most of your time treating patients in a hospital or clinic.
Licensing and Certification
All states require general practitioners to obtain licenses before they can practice medicine. To qualify for a license, you must past both the written and oral versions of the standardized U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, or USMLE. Certification is optional but can enhance your number of employment opportunities.
General practitioners must have communication skills, which include listening to patients and explaining complex medical conditions to them in layman's terms. These professionals must also communicate effectively with staff members such as nurses, secretaries and medical records clerks. In this role, you need to be highly organized. Patients rely on you to keep track of their diagnoses, prescribe the right medicines and recommend specialists or surgeons if necessary. Problem-solving skills are also required because general practitioners must make accurate diagnoses. People's health and lives are contingent upon proper diagnoses and treatments.
2016 Salary Information for Physicians and Surgeons
Physicians and surgeons earned a median annual salary of $204,950 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicians and surgeons earned a 25th percentile salary of $131,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $261,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 713,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physicians and surgeons.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: How to Become a Physician or Surgeon
- American Medical Association: Requirements for Becoming a Physician
- The Apprentice Doctor: So You Want to be a General Practitioner (Medical Doctor)
- MyPlan.com: Family & General Practitioners
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Physicians and Surgeons
- Career Trend: Physicians and Surgeons
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