The Specialty of Family Medicine

What is family medicine?

Family medicine is a holistic medical specialty that focuses on treating the entire person, not just a disease.  While most specialties focus on one part or one aspect of the human body (e.g. cardiologists treat the heart and blood vessels), family physicians look at a person as a whole--not only physically but also mentally, spiritually, and socially.  They see their patients over time (continuity) and often see all the members of a family, giving them a significant advantage in making diagnosis and treatment decisions.  Family medicine is called a primary care specialty because family physicians are the main (primary) ones to treat most conditions.

The scope of family medicine

Your family physician is who you generally go to for most medical problems--they can manage just about any condition you can think of.  Family physicians see people of all ages (including infants and children) and can evaluate and treat the vast majority of acute and chronic problems.  In fact, they are experts in common conditions (which includes most acute injuries and illnesses and most chronic conditions).  Family physicians also emphasize preventive care because it is far better to prevent a problem than to treat it, whenever possible.


Most family physicians do the things mentioned above--treating a broad range of medical problems for patients of all ages.  Many family physicians also see patients in hospitals (in-patient) and in nursing homes.  Many also deliver babies (obstetrics).  Some even do extensive procedures and surgeries (like colonoscopies, appendectomies, tonsillectomies, C-sections, etc.)


In conditions requiring specialty treatment, rare conditions, or in conditions that have not responded to usual treatments, family physicians refer to and help to coordinate the care of other specialists.  

How can family physicians be so multi-talented?

How are family physicians able to competently manage so broad a range of problems?  The most important skill for a physician is that of reasoning through problems--being a problem solver.  Because family physicians see people in all stages of life, see their patients over time, see families, and encounter a broad range of problems, they are usually very skilled at figuring out practical solutions to common problems (i.e. diagnosing and treating these problems). 


The other thing that makes it possible for family physicians to manage so broad a range of problems is that everything is connected.  Humans are not just a collection of isolated organ systems or body parts.  The non-physical part of a person connects with and interacts with the physical part.  Each part of the body is connected to and interacts with the whole.  Knowledge about one part of the body gives understanding about another part.  Frequently, family physicians are in the best position to figure out the root cause of several seemingly unrelated problems--because they are looking at the person as a whole.

The history of family medicine

Family medicine, as a concept, has been around for a long time, but it formally became a medical specialty in the United States in 1969.  It was originally known as family practice; the name was change to family medicine in 2005.  Family physicians (physicians who specialize in family medicine) complete a 3-year residency after medical school.  They are different than general practitioners (general practice) because they have completed further training.  However, physicians who have not attended a family medicine residency, but who have sufficient training and experience, do also work in the specialty of family medicine.


See our Services section to see some of the conditions we treat.

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