What Family Medicine Is Really Like

Family medicine is one of the most exciting specializations in medicine. Medical students considering what specialization to take should consider the field. 

What is Family Medicine?

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), family medicine refers to that branch of medicine that delivers acute, chronic, and preventive medical care to families. Family physicians not only diagnose and treat illnesses, they also give their patients preventive treatments such as checkups, immunization and screening tests, health risk assessments, and personalized counseling regarding their health. Family physicians often play a coordinating role for subspecialists in managing chronic illness.

What is a Family Physician’s Typical Day Like?

The AMA shadowed Dr. Sumi Makkar Sexton, a family physician practicing in a private group practice. Dr. Sexton has been practicing for 21 years, so her experience is quite rich and instructive for prospective family physicians. 

According to Dr. Sexton, as a family medicine doctor, she gets to deal with a variety of cases every day, so her days are never weighed down by monotony. On Monday, Tuesday and Friday mornings, she sees patients at a female-led private family practice. She often works with a medical student, preparing charts before seeing her patients. In the afternoons, she edits her charts and completes any clinical work that still needs to be done.

Dr. Sexton is also a medical researcher, and so, after these tasks, she then takes care of her academic work, specifically her work as editor-in-chief of the academic journal, American Family Physicians. She also writes or edits her articles and mentors fellows or residents on medical editing. Her Wednesdays are free as well as her Thursday mornings, so she can do this work then, if there’s any spillover. She also teaches at Georgetown University. 

On Thursday afternoons, she returns to her office to see her patients. Evenings are dedicated to resolving any lingering patient care, academic or other work, including attending medical group meetings where she discusses quality measures as well as population health. 

Her days end between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. depending on whether or not she has to attend a meeting or go to her teenage children’s school, or attend to some other matters. 

Weekends are usually free, although she likes to spend her weekends editing her articles. She no longer sees patients at hospitals, because her patient volume at her practice is so high and balancing that with her duties as a mother was becoming too much. 

The Beauty of Family Medicine

Family medicine is very demanding. You form a close bond with your patients and often know them for decades. Some family doctors even treat generations of patients. This adds pressure on the doctor to make sure that nothing goes wrong with their patient.

However, those demands are what makes family medicine so beautiful. Over time, a unique bond is formed with patients. Family physicians grow and learn alongside their patients. 

Family medicine is also very broad. In the United Kingdom, a family physician is referred to as a “general practitioner” and that captures what a family physician does. As a generalist, you get to deal with so many different problems, and it constantly stretches your skillset and challenges you.