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What is the difference between Family and General Physician and Internist?

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Suzanne’s Answer

Hi Maria, this is a great question and as a retired family physician I will try to answer it. In the United States the word family physician is used for those who have done (at least) a three-year residency in family medicine after graduating from medical school. "GP or general physician" is an older term not used much anymore since the requirements for being a family physician have become more demanding in recent years. Family physicians are trained to care for most of the problems which both women and men and children and adults might experience. When necessary, they consult with other physicians for more specialized care. Some family physicians even deliver babies so the field can be very broad.

Internists are physicians specializing in the care of adult patients, They may be general internists who, after doing a three year residency, take care of the primary care needs of adults Some internists in addition have done a fellowship (such as cardiology or gastroenterology) and specialize in specific diseases and conditions. Internists do not take care of children.

Generally speaking when you hear of "primary care providers or PCP's" this refers to physicians (or physician's assistants or nurse practitioners) who take care of patients who turn to them first for care. Most of the time PCP's can provide care for the patients who come to them for help. Sometimes the patient will have a more complicated or rare condition and then a referral to a specialist is necessary. Physicians who are considered PCP's are typically family physicians, general internists and general pediatricians.

Suzanne recommends the following next steps:

If possible see if you can "shadow" someone who is working as a primary care provider. This will be easier after the pandemic but you could see if you could at least talk to someone now who works in one of these careers.
If you are in college now see if there is a pre-healthcare advisor and/or pre-healthcare/premed club at your school. Talk to others also interested in these careers.

I definitely have a stronger understanding about the difference of both careers. Thank you so much for taking your time to answer my question. Maria P.

You're very welcome, Maria. Feel free to write again if you have more questions. Suzanne Sorkin

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