Definition and Overview

A general practitioner, also known as a GP or a primary care physician, is a doctor of medicine focused on treating acute and chronic illnesses. GPs provide a more holistic care to patients, supporting the role of medical specialists. General practitioners play an important role in the medical field because they are often the first to be contacted by patients. Since they are not confined to treating specific parts or organs of the body, they have a wide range of skills that help them treat patients of any age, gender, and with various health problems.

The roles of a General Practitioner

General Practitioners have the widest range of roles among all medical care providers. Their responsibilities encompass the following:

  • General practitioners are often stationed in primary care emergency centers to provide consultations to patients.
  • Due to their extensive knowledge regarding a wide variety of medical conditions, they are skilled in assessing problems and determining the most appropriate course of treatment.
  • They are trained to provide long-term care to patients suffering from chronic and acute illnesses.
  • It is their responsibility to educate their patients about proper health maintenance. Unlike other medical doctors who are mainly responsible for treating patients, general practitioners differ because they also have the opportunity to help prevent illnesses.
  • They are responsible for dealing with the psychological and social factors or issues that affect the care of their patients.
  • They conduct home visits as part of long-term patient care and also educate the patient's relatives to make sure they know how to provide care as well. These home visits automatically become part of their duties if the patient cannot come to the clinic or hospital, such as in the case of elderly patients and infants.
  • They are responsible for referring patients to the appropriate specialists.
  • GPs attend to patients during surgery.

The full range or specific list of roles that general practitioners play may differ based on the country they practice their profession in.

Qualities of General Practitioners

General practitioners should possess certain qualities that will help them become effective in their role. These include:

  • Ability to care for the patients, as well as their family members or relatives
  • Awareness of one's roles and responsibilities as well as his limitations
  • Ability to seek help and work closely with other types of medical doctors and specialists
  • Commitment to keeping oneself up-to-date with the latest treatments
  • Commitment to improving his own skills so he can provide better care for his patients
  • General competence in the clinical field
  • Ability to organize and pay attention to details

Training requirements

Requirements for becoming a primary care physician differs based on location.

  • Asia – In most Asian countries, medical students who wish to become primary care physicians must complete the basic medical degree equivalent to Bachelor of Medicine. In India and Bangladesh, these are Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine and Surgery or Bachelor of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery. These often take four and a half years up to five years. This should be followed by an internship divided into varying periods spent in different departments. After a satisfactory internship, permanent registration as a Registered General Practitioner follows.

  • Europe – In Europe, aspiring medical practitioners should complete six years of study followed by three years of working as a junior practitioner; this is the European equivalent of an internship. In some countries, another year of lectures as well as two residency years is also required.

  • Spain – In Spain, GPs are often hired by the state to work for state-owned community health centers. To become a GP, one has to study medicine for a total of six years and pass the MIR or Medico Interno Residente exam. They also have to complete a 4-year training program focusing on general medicine and general practice. They are also trained in major fields, such as pediatrics, psychology, orthopedics, and gynecology. They then have the choice whether to seek training in ophthalmology, infectious diseases, rheumatology, and other specialties, as long as they complete the whole four-year curriculum.

  • United Kingdom – Primary care physicians in the UK complete five years of medical school training. They may obtain degrees in Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. After this, they need to complete two years of Foundation Training and three years of GP Specialty Training Program during which they will be trained in bstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics, geriatrics, accident and emergency, and psychiatry.

General Practitioners and Family Practice: What are the differences

In the United States, general practice and family practice used to refer to the same profession or role. Both used to refer to a medical professional who graduated from medical school and completed the required internship period of one year.

Today, however, family practice is considered as a specialty, for which a physician must complete, on top of basic requirements, a residency focused solely on family medicine. Family doctors now also undergo board certification.

General practitioners, therefore, are medical doctors who have completed the basic professional requirements in becoming a health practitioner without seeking further specialization. Rather than specialize, they seek competence in and play different roles. When positioned in a certain community, a general practitioner would be the community's surgeon, internist, and obstetrician, or whatever medical role is currently needed..


  • American Academy of Family Physicians:
  • American Academy of General Physicians.
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