How to Become a Family Doctor

October 10, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 10/10/23

Are you wondering how to become a family medicine doctor? We've got you covered. Here’s our guide on how to become a family doctor.

If you’re a medical student having difficulty choosing a specialty, you’re not alone. One way to incorporate many medical fields of practice is by becoming a family physician. 

Becoming a family physician is a popular choice among medical students and can lead to a rewarding career. Here is everything you need to know about becoming a family physician, including a step-by-step guide on how to get there.

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How to Become a Family Doctor: A Step-by-Step Guide

Let’s outline the steps you need to follow to help you figure out how to become a family doctor. 

1. Complete a Bachelor's Degree

Before applying to med school, you must complete a bachelor's degree. Your major doesn’t necessarily matter as long as you take the necessary medical school prerequisite courses. Here are some common med school prerequisite courses:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Mathematics
  • English
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Although these are commonly required courses, each school may have its own requirements. You should check the requirements of your target schools to help direct your timetable. 

2. Take the MCAT

Once you’ve completed the necessary prerequisite courses, you should plan to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Most schools require an MCAT score, so taking the exam is a necessary step. 

3. Apply for Medical School

Once you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree (or are on track to do so), you can begin gathering your medical school application materials. To apply to medical school, you’ll need:

Every medical school has unique requirements, so you should familiarize yourself with what your target schools are looking for.

4. Complete an MD or DO Degree at an Accredited Medical School

Once you’ve decided on a program, you can complete your DO or MD degree at an accredited med school. You can become a family physician with either degree, and the type of medical school you attend will not affect your job prospects. 

Most medical school programs are four years long, with the first two years consisting of general science courses and the last two years focusing more on your interest areas. 

After your second year, you’ll also take the USMLE Step 1 exam, the first of three licensing exams you’ll need to complete throughout your education. Most students also take the USMLE Step 2 in their last year before residency, a crucial step in family doctor schooling. 

5. Match Into a Family Medicine Residency Program

Once you’ve completed your medical degree, it’s time to match into a family medicine residency program. First, you apply to your target programs with an ERAS application (unless they’ve provided their own separate application). Then you can participate in residency interviews to learn more about programs. 

After your interviews, you can use the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) system to rank programs. Once the residency program’s top choices are considered, the Match pairs each resident with programs on their list. 

Before applying to residencies, ensure you research each program. Your list for the match should be well-informed and consider factors like location, pay, length, and program-specific requirements. 

6. Complete a Family Medicine Residency Program

Family medicine residency programs are only two to three years long, making them one of the shortest residency programs available. Considering other residencies can take up to eight years to complete, family medicine is an excellent option for doctors eager to begin working as soon as possible. 

7. Obtain Your Medical License

Beyond completing the USMLE, medical licensing requirements vary by state. Applying for state licensure typically means submitting your test scores and other information for review. The proper authorities verify the information you’ve provided, and then state licensure is typically granted within 60 days. 

8. Participate in a Medical Fellowship (Optional)

While not a family doctor education requirement, pursuing a fellowship allows you to train alongside top physicians in the field and sub-specialize. 

Taking advantage of fellowships can create more job opportunities and ultimately be an excellent opportunity to learn from the best. Often, fellowships can be selective. Most doctors consider it an honor to be invited to train in a fellowship program. 

9. Begin Practicing!

Once you’ve obtained licensure and completed residency, you’re ready to begin looking for jobs. Now you can focus on being a family physician!

What Do Family Medicine Doctors Do? 

Now that you know how to become a family doctor, you may wonder what your daily life would look like. 

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “family physicians are the only specialists qualified to treat most ailments and provide comprehensive health care for people of all ages.” 

The spectrum of care a family medicine doctor provides includes: 

  • Caring for patients of all ages and health statuses 
  • Understanding social and community factors related to health
  • Serving as a patient's first point of contact for health-related concerns/issues
  • Helping patients navigate the healthcare system
  • Considering “the impact of health on a patient’s family”

Family doctors diagnose and treat illnesses, provide preventative care, offer routine health check-ups, and more. No matter what ails you, your first point of contact is likely a family doctor (unless it’s an emergency). 

How Long Does It Take to Become a Family Doctor?

Because family medicine is one of the shortest medical residencies, becoming a family doctor takes less time than other specialties. It takes ten to eleven years to become a family physician: 

  • Four years in a bachelor's degree
  • Four years in medical school
  • Two to three in a family medicine residency program

Precisely how long it takes to be a family doctor depends on your residency length and whether or not you pursue a fellowship. Compared to more complex specialties such as general surgery, choosing to specialize in family medicine can have you working in your specialty up to six years sooner. 

Why Become a Family Physician?

There are many reasons a medical student may want to become a family physician. Let’s go over a few benefits of the position.

Family Medicine Is Versatile

Family physicians are often the first point of contact when patients experience abnormal health symptoms. This means family physicians must be adaptable and well-versed in a little bit of everything. 

The versatility of the job can be an attractive feature to medical students who dislike repetition and enjoy constant learning. As a family physician, no two days will ever look the same.  

Working With People

Becoming a family doctor requires honed interpersonal skills. If you enjoy communicating and working with people, family medicine may be the specialty for you! 

Family physicians see all kinds of patients with different stories. You must be an effective communicator, as you need to make patients feel at ease. You’ll also need to learn to interpret symptoms from what your patients are telling you, which is a skill family physicians master over time. 

It Takes Less Time

On average, it takes ten years to become a family physician. Family medicine is an excellent option if you’re an older medical student hoping to enter the workforce as soon as possible. With short residency lengths and numerous nationwide job openings, family medicine is a quick way to become a doctor.

Job Security 

Family physicians are always in high demand. As a family physician, you’ll have an easy time finding positions and maintaining those positions for as long as you like. The AAMC has projected a shortage in primary healthcare physicians that could reach 48,000 by 2034

By becoming a family doctor, you’ll help fight the physician shortage and provide quality healthcare for your country.

Making a Difference in the Community

If you value community health and doing your part to contribute, family medicine may be perfect for you. Family physicians work to improve the health of teachers, parents, children, elders, and everyone else. 

Communities depend on family physicians, which may inform your decision if you enjoy feeling connected to the people around you. 

FAQs: How to Become a Family Physician

Here are our answers to frequently asked questions about family medicine. If you have questions about how to become a family physician or how to get into a residency program, consider connecting with an admissions expert.

1. What Is a Family Doctor? 

Family doctors are qualified to diagnose and treat various illnesses and provide healthcare to most people of any age. Their specialty is much more diverse than others. 

2. How Many Years Does It Take To Become A Family Doctor?

Becoming a family physician takes ten to eleven years on average. The first four years are spent completing a bachelor’s degree, then four years in medical school, followed by two or three years in a residency program. 

3. Are There Good Jobs for Family Doctors in the U.S.?

According to the AAMC, the U.S. shortage of primary care physicians is projected to grow in the coming years. Data shows that by 2034, there may be a primary care physician shortage of between 17,800 and 48,000 physicians. There are numerous job opportunities for family physicians in the U.S.

4. How Much Do Family Doctors Make in the U.S.?

According to Indeed, family physicians in the United States make an average salary of $281,674 per year. Yearly salaries typically begin at around $163,848 and increase with years of experience. After ten or more years, family doctors in the US can expect to make around $448,133 per year.

5. How Long Is a Family Medicine Residency Program?

Family medicine residency programs are typically two years long. Some residency programs can take three years, depending on the program material and frequency of training. It takes many years to become a family doctor, but it’s worth it. 

6. Can You Become A Family Doctor Without Residency?

To obtain state medical licensure in the U.S., you must complete at least one year of residency. If you’re not accepted to a residency program, you can apply in the next cycle or seek other jobs available to you in the medical field.

Get Into Med School or Your Dream Family Medicine Residency With Inspira Advantage

As the U.S. is experiencing a shortage of primary care physicians, now is a better time than ever to become a family physician. Practicing family medicine comes with a strong sense of community, job security, shorter training time, and many other benefits. 

If you’re planning to apply to medical school or a family medicine residency, Inspira Advantage is here to help. Whether you’re wondering how to boost your profile or have any questions, our door is always open!

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