Specialization in medicine is a growing trend, thanks to increased knowledge and technology. Doctors are more capable than ever of focusing on designated areas such as women's health, geriatrics or even the ear. Despite this trend, general practice remains a staple in the medical industry, with general practitioners often being a patient's primary care provider.

What Is a General Practitioner?

A general practitioner, also known as a GP or generalist, is a medical doctor without a specialty. Instead, GPs provide care to patients regardless of the patients' gender, age, or condition. They provide routine health care through physical examinations, preventative care through immunizations and health education, and diagnose and treat various illnesses and injuries.

General practices are usually a patient's first stop when seeking non-emergency medical treatment. From there, they may be referred to a specialist better equipped to treat their condition.

Reasons to See a General Practitioner

GPs work in private offices or clinics, usually alongside a small team of nurses and assistants. Some are involved in larger health organizations and may act as part of your treatment team. There are many reasons to see a GP, including, but not limited to:

  • Non-emergency medical services
  • Annual health and wellness check-ups
  • Immunizations
  • Referrals to specialists
  • General healthcare

Typically, GPs provide long-term care to their patients and see them for all routine care.

What Does a General Practitioner Do?

GPs tend to be the first person you see on your healthcare journey. At the first appointment, they review your medical history and discuss the reason for your visit. They may do a general physical during which they listen to your heartbeat, check your eyes, and take various other vital measurements.

Depending on your situation, they might ask specific questions. For example, if you show symptoms of type 2 diabetes, the doctor will probably ask about your lifestyle and assess your blood glucose levels.

If you are also seeing specialists (or being referred to them), your GP may discuss your medical history with them to ensure that you're receiving the treatment you need. Clear communication between providers can prevent you from being prescribed medications that are not supposed to be taken together. It can also point out discrepancies in your medical history that have been preventing better treatment.

How Is a General Practitioner Certified?

GPs must undergo extensive training. All must have both an undergraduate and medical degree. Typically, doctors enter medical school with pre-medical training from undergraduate coursework. After medical school, they spend at least three years in a family medicine residency (and some opt for a year or more of additional training in areas such as sports medicine, urgent care, geriatrics, or obstetrics), after which they may receive their general practice license.

Certification as a GP is not always necessary. Those who do pursue certification often choose to pursue more specialized fields such as family medicine or internal medicine. The American Board of Family Medicine and the American Board of Physician Specialties can certify someone in these specialties after the person passes an exam and meets other requirements. To find out more about your GP, you can check your state medical board's physician and surgeon credentials.

Referral and Research

You do not need a referral from another doctor to see a GP. However, many people ask for recommendations from people they trust, such as friends, family members, and coworkers. Often, people on state health plans are assigned a GP to start with, and many insurance companies let you search their databases to find GPs close to where you live.

On the other hand, a referral from a GP is often necessary for you to see a specialist for more extensive care.

First Meeting With Your General Practitioner

Your first meeting with a GP can set the stage for a long and fruitful relationship. You (and your family members) will probably see this person a lot, so it is critical that you trust this doctor. Good "bedside manner" is a major component here.

Before you go into the first meeting, know what its purpose is. It could be simply to receive an immunization, to get a checkup or to investigate a troubling problem such as drastic weight loss. It could be that you have moved to a new area and are setting the groundwork with a new doctor. Consider asking the following questions to get a better understanding of your GP's care style:

  • How long have you been a GP?
  • How do you communicate best?
  • Can I get ahold of you in case of emergency?
  • Will I see you every time I visit, or will it depend on who is available in the group practice?

If you require a doctor with particular training or sensitivities, it's good to ask specific questions regarding those needs. For example, someone with type 1 diabetes might ask, "Do you have expertise in type 1 diabetes?" For LGBTQ patients, doctors with experience treating these populations may be beneficial; you may want to ask your doctor if they are familiar with these sensitivities.

It is essential that you feel comfortable with your GP. Some people visit two or three (or even more) before making a final decision on who their ongoing doctor will be. After all, you are likely to see your GP more than you see any other doctor.

If you need help finding a practitioner, try Caredash's doctor search.