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What is a typical day as a family physician?

family-medicine emergency-medicine I am asking because i am trying to decide on what specialty to go in.

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James’s Answer

hi victoria. i graduated medical school in 1993 and have been a board-certified family physician for 20+ years.


when i was your age i always thought of a family physician as someone who saw patients all day long in an office. and, in fact, that's exactly what i did in my first job out of residency. so that's what i'll tell you about.



i saw patients monday through friday, mostly during usual business hours of 8am-5pm. but 1 day a week i'd stay late to see patients until 9pm. and at least 1 day a month i would see patients on a saturday.


i would come in to the office about an hour early to deal with messages, refill requests, insurance company prior authorization forms, and personnel matters. i'd also review test results and read consultation reports and medical records. and i'd stay about another hour after clinic ended to do similar things.


i saw patients with all manner of problems. probably the largest portion of my patients had depression, anxiety, grief, or other mental symptoms. the next biggest group was probably preventive visits like well woman exams, annual physical exams, sports physicals, etc. i might do 1 procedure a day, something like a skin biopsy, incision & drainage of an abscess, laceration repair, skin tag removal, etc.


sometimes a patient would need to be sent to the ER or admitted to a hospital. my staff would arrange to get the patient where they needed to go and i'd call to discuss the case with either the ER doctor or admitting physician.


several times a day i would speak on the phone with a pharmacist, or a consulting physician, or a home health agency, or a physical therapist, or a patient, etc. and then there were the dreaded phone conversations with some poorly educated person at a health insurance company who had the power to deny a requested procedure or medication or specialist evaluation.


after every patient encounter i would go to my office and dictate or handwrite a chart note for that visit. often i would need to do that for phone calls and other messages too. (nowadays we almost exclusively use electronic medical records.)


throughout the day, between patient visits, dictations, and phone calls, my staff would relay messages from patients and i'd try to give some type of coherent answer before moving on to the next patient.



some docs continue doing this for their entire career. i only lasted 3 years before moving on to another niche of medicine. and then another. and then another. and another ...


as a family physician i've used my skills in urgent cares, hospitals, ERs, house calls, addiction medicine, nursing homes, as a traveling doc, and others. this year i've already lined up a job doing telemedicine and another doing prison medicine. the vast expanse of the family practice specialty is one of the best things about it. that means that describing a "typical day" for a family physician is really an impossible task.


good luck!

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