When starting medical school, most people have an idea of what specialty they want to choose. For most people, what they think they want to do ends up being completely different from what they actually do. The best parts of being in clinical years are exploring different specialties and narrowing down what you might like to be doing in the next few years.

I started medical school convinced I wanted to work in primary care. I was waiting for the change in heart to come as I completed my rotations, but surprisingly it never did. Family Medicine has a broad career scope, so if you are somebody that enjoyed all your rotations and couldn’t pick a favorite, this might be the field for you! 

Variety of cases

Family physicians are often referred to as ‘pluripotent stem cells’. They can adapt to whatever they need to be. They have the skills and training to look after a wide range of patients, some caring for multiple generations!

When you ask any family physician what they love most about their work, most will say the diversity of cases. In any one day, you can be seeing patients for diabetes follow up, IUD insertion or sleep apnea.

In short, it is difficult to get bored. Family medicine residencies keep you on your toes and ensure that all aspects of your medical knowledge are used, while giving you the lifelong skills to learn and evolve with your patients.  

Continuity of care

When managing patients with chronic conditions, it is important to take a holistic approach to their treatment. Being a family physician allows you to form lifelong relationships with patients and their families.

Knowing patient histories and backgrounds is what distinguishes family practitioners from specialist doctors. While specialist care is essential, most people want a doctor who knows and understands them.

A fascinating story I heard from a family physician was how he delivered multiple generations of family members in one household! During rotations, I realized how this is actually very common, and this connection to patients and families is definitely a plus-point in Family Medicine.

Prevention vs cure

Benjamin Franklin once said ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ This is a fundamental principle of Family Medicine. When working in primary care, it is essential to ensure that patients are encouraged to promote healthy habits which will later prevent disease.

The COVID-19 pandemic has really shown us how important patient education and prevention of disease is. These public health measures lie at the heart of Family Medicine and show us that prevention really is better than cure.

Flexibility – direct patient contact, teaching, academics

Family Medicine is such a diverse field that there truly is something for everyone. Most practicing physicians will tell you that no two days in the week are the same.

In an outpatient or hospital setting, you can have direct patient contact. This is what most of us would typically associate with being in family practice. Even within this setting, days can vary between procedures, counselling and follow ups. No two patients will ever be the same and that means even a typical day is anything but static. 

An important skill required to be a good family physician is the ability to be a good teacher. Not only is it important to be able to teach patients about their condition in a way that is informative and digestible, supervising medical students and residents is also crucial to the job. Many established doctors comment on how rewarding it is to be teaching students and residents and being able to inspire someone else to join this profession.

Another possible route to explore through Family Medicine is academia. Because this field is so broad, physicians must always keep up to date with recent advances in medicine. Most family doctors enjoy participating in clinical studies and being in a primary care setting allows you to explore new research and really see it work in practice.

First point of contact

The reason that initially attracted me to Family Medicine was how it is a pathway to all routes of medicine. When somebody starts having joint pain, they don’t automatically turn up to see the Rheumatologist or the Orthopaedic surgeon. For practically all patients, the first point of contact is their family physician.

Family Medicine is the doorway to patients receiving more specialized care and it is the relationships that physicians cultivate with their patients that allow them to give personalized care to each patient and their families.

Problem solving

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of Family Medicine is the problem solving and playing detective. A cough can be a cold, allergies, a medication side effect, GERD, or in current times, COVID-19! In many cases, specialists see patients with an already-made diagnosis, investigations ordered and a clear history.

Using the clues from patient history and physical exam to form an initial diagnosis is a job best done by a family doctor. After all, there is no one else who knows their patients as well as they do!

Lifestyle

In medicine, we are often led to believe that wanting a work-life balance is taboo. Medicine should be a passion, a career and an important part of your life but not your whole life. Burnt-out physicians do not make better doctors.

More and more young physicians are now considering a work-life balance as an important factor in choosing a career. While every field of medicine, including Family Medicine, is demanding, we can still prioritize having a life outside of medicine.

I’m not saying that family medicine is any easier than any other specialty!  The rigors of knowing all medicine broadly is not for the faint-hearted. Not including the time training as a resident, which is tough in all specialties, Family Medicine offers a better lifestyle where you can still focus on family, hobbies and personal projects – while still caring for patients!

Procedures

An interesting scope of Family Medicine is the ability to perform minor procedures. Family physicians can be trained to perform a variety of different procedures ranging from colposcopies to colonoscopies and everything in between.

During medical school, I quickly figured out that surgery was not for me. However, I still enjoyed my Orthopedics and OBGYN rotations, mainly because of the ability to learn minor outpatient procedures. I loved seeing patients being in immediate relief and being told they could go home the same day.

Family Medicine is more than just a medical science. There is an art to being a family physician, one that encompasses excellent communication skills and the ability to keep a holistic approach. I hope this article may have convinced you to consider a career in Family Medicine. For more information, check out the AAFP website for medical students here.

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