The Specialty of Family Medicine
Family medicine is a specialty that provides continuing, comprehensive health care for individuals and families. It is a specialty that integrates the biological, clinical, and behavioral sciences. The scope of family medicine encompasses care for all ages, gender, each organ system, and every disease entity.
Family physicians in the United States must hold either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). The training process begins with college, followed by medical school (typically a four-year program), and continues with a residency.
There are more than 170 accredited medical schools in the United States. These are accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) or the American Osteopathic Association's Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA). Medical students spend nearly 9,000 hours in lectures, clinical study, lab, and direct patient care. During medical school, students take two “step” exams called the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). They must also complete core clerkships, or periods of clinical instruction. Passing the classes, both exams, and the clerkships grants students the MD or DO degree needed to start full clinical training in a residency program.
Family physicians are trained in one of the more than 600 family medicine residency programs, which are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), and typically require three years of training.
The first year of residency, called the internship year, is when the final “step” of the USMLE (step three exam) is taken. During their three years of training, family medicine residents must meet the program requirements for both residency education in family medicine and certification by the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM). After three “program years” of training are completed and all requirements are met, residents are eligible to take the certification exam by the ABFM.
Toward the end of residency, physicians also apply for licensure from their state medical boards. Although each state is different in its requirements for initial medical licensure, it is a necessity that physicians pass step three of the USMLE. Following the completion of their family medicine residency, graduates are eligible to sit for their board examination by the American Board of Family Medicine
Family Medicine Educators
There is no single path to become a teacher of family medicine. Physicians, psychologists, researchers, and many other health care professionals choose careers in family medicine education. The key requirement is a passion for shaping and preparing the next generation of family medicine physicians.
A preceptorship is a one-on-one teaching/learning relationship between an experienced physician (a preceptor) and a medical student or resident (the learner). During what is usually known as a clerkship, a preceptor liaisons with an accredited medical school or residency program to bring a learner into a practice for a limited time. Under the guidance of a preceptor, the learner may see patients, make diagnoses, prescribe treatments, and observe or perform select procedures.