Become Medical Doctor (General Practice)
With all the medical shows on television, fictional or factual, you may have wondered if pursuing the path to become a medical doctor is something you’d like to do. You’re reasonably sure you have to go to school for a long time. You’re also confident you have to enjoy working with people, especially those who are not feeling well. You may even believe the profession is lucrative. All of those things may be true. If none of them are deal breakers for you, then becoming a medical doctor or general practitioner (GP) could well be ideal for you.
A medical doctor who goes into general practice will rarely experience a routine kind of day. That’s because a GP is “patient-facing.” In other words, everything a GP does, and most interactions they conduct is with patients. While other allied health professions, such as researchers, are behind the scenes and rarely, if ever, communicate directly with patients, physicians do. So being a people person is one of the most critical characteristics to possess. Education can provide you with the medical knowledge and tools, but it can’t teach you how to enjoy working with people. You have to bring that to the table going in.
What if you know you’re very social and gain energy from working with people and helping them in various ways, but still aren’t sure if becoming a medical doctor is the right fit? By reading on, you can gain insight on other elements that are vital to being a successful GP physician.
What is a general practice medical doctor?
Although many doctors specialize in specific areas of medicine, such as obstetrics, gerontology, or rheumatology, to name a few, a physician going into general practice is knowledgeable about all kinds of illnesses and diseases. A GP is capable of treating many ailments, but can also determine if you need to see a specialist. In that case, the doctor will make a referral to an appropriate medical specialist. Every patient presents differently, so the day of a general practitioner is varied.
Many general practice doctors set up private practices for themselves or will join an office with a small group of doctors. The demographic they serve tends to be families who most need routine care to stay well. Routine care means that a person is in good health, but occasionally needs to see a GP for the flu, a head cold, an earache, a minor skin rash, or another ailment that occurs to people on occasion. Most of these kinds of conditions can be easily treated by a general doctor.
Regardless of the type of medical doctor a person chooses to be, the paths start out the same. To become a medical doctor, you must complete formal training at an approved medical school, receive a medical degree and satisfy all the requirements called for by the professional healthcare registration board of country/state you intend practicing in.
Pre-steps to become a medical doctor in general practice
If you are in high school, registering for a college preparatory curriculum is the best way to start the road to becoming a medical doctor. Although it may not feel as if your high school grades are important, they are. High school grades are one of the things admissions committees look at when determining someone’s eligibility to enter a pre-medical program in college. In addition to general education and humanity courses such as psychology, literature, and English composition, your curriculum should include some or all of the following courses:
- Math, algebra, calculus
- Sciences – physics and chemistry
- Business or economics
- Language, particularly Spanish
Once you are in a pre-med program at a college or university, you want to focus on science courses. As in high school, maintaining a high grade-point average is essential if you’re going to get into a medical school.
What are the characteristics of successful general practice medical doctors?
The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education lists core competencies or characteristics that are necessary to be a successful and competent general medical practitioner. Some of them are:
- Interpersonal and communication skills – GPs listen and take seriously what patients say. Taking time to review the prognosis, diagnosis, and treatment options to patients and their families are essential to building trust and ensuring an ongoing relationship.
- Medical knowledge – Becoming a medical doctor takes years of education. Putting that knowledge into practice, and being willing to look up what you may not know or remember is vital.
- Patient care and systems-based practice – General practitioners deal with patients. Each one has a name and a story. They provide care for people in an industry operating within systems and prescribed procedures. Being able to remain personable with patients while working within a large system that seems almost impersonal can be tricky, but the better you can balance this, the more satisfaction and fulfillment you’ll attain.
- Practice-based learning and improvement – As you practice medicine, you get better at it and improve along the way. Since advances in medicine occur almost daily, you also develop your skills through life-long learning.
- Professionalism – This includes behaving respectfully, civilly and courteously to patients, their families, and colleagues. General practitioners must also conduct themselves at the highest levels of ethics and integrity.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists other vital qualities physicians and surgeons should have. They include:
- Attention to detail – General practitioners running their own practice have to keep good records, manage administrative details, supervise people, and be aware of regulatory details. Even if you hire someone to manage these particulars for you, you still must inspect what you expect since you are the one ultimately responsible.
- Dexterity – In a general practice you’ll be working with instruments both large and small, each designed to treat or diagnosis injuries, illnesses, and diseases. Good hand-eye coordination is important to the success of most allied health professionals since smaller tasks, like suturing, require high levels of care and attention.
- Leadership skills – General practitioners are seen as leaders. Patients and staff coming into contact with a doctor put trust in doctors. They are given respect by virtue of the fact that they are doctors, so taking that leadership role seriously contributes to overall success.
- Patience and compassion – Everyone is different and has a different level of tolerance for pain and suffering. Doctors must be able to treat patients and families that are in emotional and physical distress.
- Physical stamina – Lots of energy is required to be a medical doctor of any sort.
- Problem-solving capabilities – Although medical doctors in general practice may not see a lot of emergency situations if a patient believes his or her condition is serious, or an emergency, it is one. The perspective of the patient is what is true at the moment and the only one that matters. A doctor must be able to communicate effectively regardless of the patient’s emotional state.
- Willingness to work long hours – Although GPs can set the hours their office is open for appointments, managing a successful medical practice is more than seeing patients. A doctor in private practice is running a small business. As the owner of that business, additional hours are required to keep up with other tasks.
These are all general characteristics that both patients, and employers, look for above and beyond a medical degree. Softer skills, such as compassion, a positive attitude, and a certain amount of humility are a few others that contribute to the success of any physician.
What is the educational path to become a medical doctor in general practice?
Once you graduate from high school, there are additional steps you have to take to become a medical doctor. The following chart provides a snapshot of a general doctor’s educational path.
|Step||Length of Time|
|Earn a bachelor degree, preferably in a science field.||At least four years.|
|Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) for admission into medical school.||Check the MCAT site for the best time to take it.|
|Complete medical school.||At least four years.|
|Complete a residency that reflects your interests.||Three to six years (depending upon what field of medicine you want to go into).|
|Take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) to obtain your license to practice.||Check the USMLE site for the best time to take it.|
What are the benefits of a career in general practice medicine?
- Satisfaction – A medical doctor experiences personal and intellectual achievement in an environment of helping people.
- Flexibility – The opportunity to follow some different careers within the general field of medicine. A researcher at a university, a thriving private practice as a GP, a hospital medical doctor, a medical advisor to a healthcare organization or a medical specialist, are some of the career options that the field of medicine has to offer.
- Job security – As long as people get sick or injured, there will be a need for doctors. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physicians-and-surgeons.htm#tab-4), there were 691,000 doctors employed in the United States in 2010. The department predicts a 24 percent increase in that number between 2010 and 2020.
- Variety – People, diseases, and medical conditions are all variables in the daily life of a doctor. A wide variety can present challenges in diagnosing and treating individuals, but it also means each day is different.
- Mobility – Doctors are not tied to their desks, and career opportunities are available worldwide.
- Relationships – As a family practitioner, you will be able to build long-term relationships with the families and individuals you serve.
General practitioners have the option to further their studies in specific fields. Entering any of these fields means more education, all of which require additional years of study as an intern. Although specialization careers are available, remaining a general practitioner medical doctor is still an excellent career and can provide a good quality of life for you.
What are the disadvantages of becoming a medical doctor general practice?
Years of study – The educational path to becoming a medical doctor is long and rigorous. In addition to four years of college and another four years of medical school, there are internships, residencies, and possible fellowships.
Extended work hours – There will be times in a general practitioner’s life where you are on call or have to work holidays and weekends. This can be a strain on relationships and curtail personal pursuits.
Legal issues – Doctors, especially those in private practice, always run the risk of facing unreasonable medical-legal claims. Such events may exercise psychological stress on a doctor.
Start-up time – Building any business, including a private medical practice, takes several years to do. In addition to the length of time, it also requires significant financial resources. You may have to rent space, buy equipment, and hire employees. It could be a few years before you have enough of clientele to support yourself and/or a family.
Unexpected complications – All doctors must be able to cope with complications that may arise during an illness. They must also be able to navigate the emotional challenges of interacting with people who are suffering. They must also cope with their feelings should a patient they are treating die.
No career is without a certain number of disadvantages. Nevertheless, most physicians would probably say the advantages of becoming a medical doctor outweigh the disadvantages. If you are someone who is prepared to step into the field of medicine as a general practitioner, you’ll be stepping into a rewarding career.
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Best wishes for fulfilling your dreams!
Dr. Anton Scheepers, BChD, MDent, FFD(SA), MFOS
Director of The Apprentice Doctor® Academy