What is Family Medicine?

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What is Family Medicine?

Family medicine is a discipline only recognised by this name in the USA, Canada and India. In other parts of the world and especially in Europe, it is known as general practice. What it basically encompasses is the care of anyone, regardless of age or gender and not limited to any particular disease process or condition or part of the body. Medical students have to specialise when they have qualified and some don’t feel that they want to tie themselves down, perhaps for the rest of their careers, to the study and care of one element of the population – geriatrics, paediatrics, obstetrics etc – or one part of the body – urology, gynaecology, orthopaedics and the rest. They feel that a holistic approach to wellbeing and ill health will result in more personal satisfaction and as an end result a healthier population. Many family medicine practitioners have a particular interest in sports medicine and dietetics, as a means of keeping their patients well.

Family medicine practitioners are occasionally looked down upon by people who feel that a lack of specialisation is in fact a sign that this field is somehow not as good as the more established specialties. This is obviously not so; the family medicine practitioner needs to have a great deal of experience across the board, to recognize a huge number of conditions and to weigh up whether they need instant intervention or whether a more conservative wait and see policy to be put in place. Most doctors who have followed a narrow specialism only see a patient when a family medicine practitioner has seen them first and identified a disease process which warrants the input of a more specialised kind.

In small communities the family medicine practitioner can be a vital tool in maintaining the health of that community. He or she will get to know their patients very well and will also know the family histories. This can be an essential diagnostic tool, as often the family holds the key to working out what the matter is; in time, the family practitioner will most likely have known a large percentage of the population since birth. The idea of a local doctor who knows everyone can be something of a cliché to some people, but it really does have a beneficial effect. People are more likely to approach someone they know well and who they know is also trusted by their friends and family.

There is a shortage in family medicine specialists in the USA and this is a pity. Their jobs are perhaps not as glamorous as many and their hours can be long. Salaries, although still perfectly adequate taking into account the years spent training, but are still below those of almost any other qualified specialist. The up side of this could be considered an important one however; the average family medicine practitioner will not have entered this particular branch of medicine for the money, working conditions or the prestige, but because they have a genuine calling and a wish to help the most people possible during the course of their career.

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