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How to Become a Family Physician

May 30, 2022
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How to Become a Family Doctor: A Step-by-Step GuideHow Long Does It Take to Become a Family Doctor?Why Become a Family Physician?FAQs: How to Become a Family Physician


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 5/30/22

Have you ever wondered how to become a family medicine doctor? We've got you covered. Here’s our guide on how to become a family physician.

If you’re a medical student having a hard time choosing a specialty, you’re not alone. Each medical specialty has separate benefits and challenges and may appeal to you for unique reasons. 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 fruitful and rewarding career. If family medicine has you intrigued, you’ve come to the right place. Here is everything you need to know about becoming a family physician, including a step-by-step guide on how to get there. Let’s get started!

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

Let’s go over the steps you need to follow to help you figure out how to become a family medicine doctor. Unless otherwise specified, each step is mandatory. 

1. Complete a Bachelor's Degree

Before applying for medical school, you must first complete a bachelor's degree. At this level, your major doesn’t necessarily matter as long as you’re able to take the necessary medical school prerequisite courses. Here are some common prerequisite courses for medical school:

Although the above list includes commonly required courses, it should be noted that each school has separate requirements. You should check the requirements of your target schools to know which courses are required.

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 to be submitted alongside your other application materials, so it is highly recommended that you take the test. A competitive MCAT score varies on your target schools but is generally considered to be a 509 or above. 

3. Apply for Medical School

Once you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree and the necessary prerequisite courses (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 a unique set of requirements for its programs, so you should familiarize yourself with what your target schools are looking for. The admissions process is long and can be quite challenging. If you’re having trouble with any part of the process, consider seeking the guidance of an admissions advisor

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 osteopathic or allopathic medical school. You can become a family physician with either a DO or MD degree, the type of medical school you attend will not affect your job opportunities so long as it is accredited. 

Most medical school programs are four years in length, with the first two years consisting of general science courses and the last two years focusing more on your areas of interest. In the case of family medicine, the last two years of your degree would be when you can start taking courses that are tailored to your specialty. 

After your second year, you’ll also take the USMLE step one exam, the first of three licensing exams you’ll need to complete throughout your education. Most students also take step 2 of the USMLE in their fourth year before moving on to residency. 

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 have provided their own separate application). The residency programs may then ask you for an interview or additional application materials to get to know you better. Once you’ve completed all of your interviews, both parties can move on to the matching process. 

Using the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) system, you can create a rank order list in which you name your target programs in order of preference. Once the residency program’s top choices are taken into consideration, the Match pairs each resident with one of the programs on their list. 

Before applying to residencies, make sure to do plenty of research on each one of your target programs. Your rank order list for the match should be well informed, taking into consideration things like location, pay, length, and program-specific requirements. Doing thorough research can also help you make a good impression in your interviews, and convey your passion for the program.

6. Complete a Family Medicine Residency Program

Family medicine residency programs are only two to three years in length, 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 who are eager to begin working as soon as possible. 

7. Obtain Your Medical License

During residency, you’ll take your USMLE step 3 exam, the final medical licensure exam. Most residents choose to take the exam after one year of postgraduate training, although it is possible to take it later. Beyond the USMLE, medical licensing requirements vary from state to state. 

In most cases, applying for state licensure means submitting your test scores, proof of USMLE step 1-3 successful completion, educational background, and basic information for review. The proper authorities verify the information you’ve provided, and then state licensure is typically granted within 60 days if all goes well. 

8. Participate in a Medical Fellowship (optional)

After you’ve completed residency, you can choose to train in a fellowship if you’d like to focus on a specific area of family medicine. In fellowships, you get to train alongside top physicians in the field and sub-specialize. This can create more job opportunities and ultimately be an excellent opportunity to learn from the best. Often, fellowships can be quite selective and challenging to get into. 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. Make sure to apply for state licensure in every state you intend to work in to avoid delays later on. Now you can focus on being a family physician!

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How Long Does It Take to Become a Family Doctor?

Because family medicine is one of the shortest medical residencies, becoming a family physician takes less time than usual. It takes ten to eleven years to become a family physician: four years in a bachelor's degree, four years in medical school, and two to three in a family medicine residency program. 

Compared to more complex specialties such as general surgery, choosing to specialize in family medicine can take off five years of residency. For this reason, family medicine is a fantastic option for doctors who want to begin working as soon as possible.

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 to the position.

Family Medicine is Versatile

Family physicians are often the first point of contact when patients experience any type of abnormal health symptom. 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 constantly learning. As a family physician, no two days will ever look the same.  

Working With People

Now that we’ve covered how to become a family physician, you may have noticed it requires a lot of 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 all kinds of stories. Communication skills are certainly required for a family physician as you’ll need to make your patients feel at ease around you. 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. Not everyone speaks doctor!

It Takes Less Time

On average, it takes ten years to become a family physician. If you’re an older medical student hoping to matriculate into the workforce as soon as possible, family medicine is an excellent option. With short residency lengths and plenty of nationwide job openings, family medicine is a quick way to become a doctor without spending eighteen years in school. 

Job Security 

Family physicians are always in high demand. As a family physician, you’ll have an easy time finding good positions and maintaining those positions for as long as you like. The AAMC has projected a shortage in primary healthcare physicians that could reach up to 48,000 by 2034. By becoming a family physician, you’ll be on the front lines of combating the physician shortage and providing 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 are at the heart of every community. They work to provide health for our teachers, parents, children, elders, business owners, and everyone else. Communities depend on their 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 some frequently asked questions about family medicine. If you have further questions about how to become a family medicine doctor or how to get into a family medicine residency program, try setting up a consultation with an admissions expert.

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

Becoming a family physician takes ten years on average. The first four years are spent completing a bachelor’s degree, then four years in medical school, followed by two years in a residency program. There are factors that may affect the time it takes to become a family doctor. Some family medicine residency programs can be up to three years, and some family physicians choose to subspecialize through a fellowship program.

2. Are There Good Jobs for Family Doctors in the US?

According to the AAMC, there is currently a shortage of primary care physicians in the US that is projected to grow substantially 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. This shortage means that there are plenty of excellent job opportunities for family physicians in the US, with even more on the horizon. 

3. How Much Do Family Doctors Make in the US?

According to Indeed, family physicians in the United States make an average salary of $290,624 per year. Yearly salaries typically begin at around $168,678 and increase with years of experience. After ten or more years, family doctors in the US can expect to make around $462,371 per year.

4. How Long is a Family Medicine Residency Program?

Family medicine residency programs are typically two years in length. Some residency programs can take three years, depending on the program material and frequency of training.  

5. Can You Become A Family Doctor Without Residency?

In order to obtain state medical licensure in the US, you have to complete at least one year of residency. If you are not accepted to a residency program, you can apply in the next cycle or take a look at other jobs that are available to you in the medical field.

6. Can You Specialize in Family Medicine With A DO?

Yes, you can specialize in family medicine with a DO. The only difference between a DO and an MD degree is the way physicians are taught to consider patients. Both MD and DO degrees are valid medical degrees that will allow you to specialize in any area of medicine. 

Final Thoughts

Becoming a family physician is a great option for medical students who enjoy working with people. Practicing family medicine comes with a strong sense of community, job security, shorter training time, and many other benefits. 

As the US is experiencing a shortage of primary care physicians, now is a better time than ever to become a family physician. If you are applying to medical school or a family medicine residency program and are having difficulties with your application, or want to know more about how to become a family physician, try contacting an admissions expert to help you along your path to primary care. Good luck!

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