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How to Become a Family Medicine Physician

Family Medicine is a unique field in which you can make the most of your interests and skill set. Imagine your typical work day: your first patient is a well woman who seeks an IUD placement. She is followed by someone who needs a joint injection for chronic knee pain. The next patient is a poorly controlled diabetic, and finally you have a well child visit.

As a family physician, you enjoy the opportunity to care for patients from ‘womb to tomb’ as the saying goes. There are many ways to pursue your desired focus, from sports to holistic medicine or weight management. We have come up with some steps to help you succeed in becoming a family physician.  

The first few semesters of medical school are preclinical. This time is perfect for learning about what family medicine has to offer. Most medical schools have Family Medicine Interest Groups (FMIGs), and joining one is a great way to get your foot in the door. FMIG typically will bring in speakers to lecture about relevant family medicine topics, career options, advocacy opportunities, and more.

The FMIG also is a great way to find volunteer and leadership opportunities. These will provide you with insight into the field, and they also will bolster your CV and residency application. Aside from the interest group, I’d encourage you to shadow a family medicine doctor in order to see what clinical life is like. While shadowing, note the variety of patients on the panel, ask the physician to weigh in on pros and cons of the field, and glean some experience from a seasoned professional. 

Most medical schools have Family Medicine Interest Groups (FMIGs), and joining one is a great way to get your foot in the door.

Family medicine is primarily outpatient based; still, there are FM physicians who work as inpatient hospitalists or participate in obstetrics care on the floor of labor and delivery. Family docs can be found on the sidelines of sporting events as team doctors and in urgent care clinics. The variety of practice settings can be just as diverse as the patient population – and that’s what makes this field so interesting. During your training, make sure to experience the gamut that family medicine has to offer so you’ll have an idea of which aspects you enjoy. 

The American Academy of Family Physicians has resources for medical students that can be helpful in your journey to becoming a family practitioner. Each state has its own division of the AAFP that hosts conferences, often with scholarships for students to attend. Participating in these conferences will give you an opportunity to network with other family physicians and students with similar interests. Leadership roles within these organizations will ensure involvement in the field. Every July, the AAFP hosts a National Conference for medical students and residents. It includes a residency fair where you can learn about family medicine residency and fellowship programs.  

During the latter half of your medical school career, do your best to excel in the family medicine core clerkship. This will be a time to earn strong letters of recommendation from your family medicine preceptors. Many medical schools have primarily outpatient-based clerkships, but expressing interest with the clerkship director early on may allow you to be placed with a preceptor who is more aligned with your interests such as sports medicine or geriatrics.

Other ways to get letters and to learn about the field are through electives such as procedure clinics. Ace the shelf exam and honor the rotation, then request a personalized letter of recommendation. You also can obtain a letter of recommendation from your sub-internship. The sub-internship is a unique rotation  that focuses on preparing you for residency. You will be an acting intern with increased responsibilities in patient care.  

In your fourth and final year, you can begin your ERAS application and start interviewing at residency programs. Remember that a good fit at a residency program goes both ways. You’ll be there a minimum of three years, so ensure you choose the right program. [Check out this post for tips on picking the most suitable residency program.]

Whether you want to work solely outpatient, to perform various procedures such as injections or contraception management, or to see and treat adult and pediatric patients, you can find what you love in family medicine.  You don’t have to choose only one thing you love – you can have it all!

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About the Author

Mike is a driven tutor and supportive advisor. He received his MD from Baylor College of Medicine and then stayed for residency. He has recently taken a faculty position at Baylor because of his love for teaching. Mike’s philosophy is to elevate his students to their full potential with excellent exam scores, and successful interviews at top-tier programs. He holds the belief that you learn best from those close to you in training. Dr. Ren is passionate about his role as a mentor and has taught for much of his life – as an SAT tutor in high school, then as an MCAT instructor for the Princeton Review. At Baylor, he has held review courses for the FM shelf and board exams as Chief Resident.   For years, Dr. Ren has worked closely with the office of student affairs and has experience as an admissions advisor. He has mentored numerous students entering medical and residency and keeps in touch with many of them today as they embark on their road to aspiring physicians. His supportiveness and approachability put his students at ease and provide a safe learning environment where questions and conversation flow. For exam prep, Mike will help you develop critical reasoning skills and as an advisor he will hone your interview skills with insider knowledge to commonly asked admissions questions.