General practitioners and family physicians (NOC 3112)

High opportunity occupation

About this job

General practitioners (GPs) and family physicians diagnose and treat diseases, physiological disorders and injuries. Residents in training to be general practitioners and family physicians are included in this unit group.

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General practitioner

People in this occupation:

  • look for health risks, address health prevention (immunizations, treatments, etc.), and manage end-of-life issues
  • are the primary contact for an individual and provide continuous care toward the management of a patient's health.
  • work in private practices, community health centres, clinics, nursing homes and hospitals
  • work for government and other types of health organizations
  • provide care to a specific client base or to the community at large
  • should have strong communication and interpersonal skills, as doctor-patient relationships are central to their roles
  • must have strong analytical skills and a background in the sciences
  • are required to continually update their skills and knowledge to provide patients with optimal care
Common job titles
  • GP (general practitioner)
  • locum doctor
  • MD (doctor of medicine)
  • medical - civil aviation
  • medical - industrial
  • missionary, medical


General practitioners and family physicians:

  • examine patients and take their histories, order laboratory tests, X-rays and other diagnostic procedures and consult with other medical practitioners to evaluate patients' physical and mental health
  • prescribe medications and administer treatments
  • perform minor surgery and assist with other surgical procedures
  • provide emergency care
  • provide acute care management
  • inoculate and vaccinate patients
  • advise patients and their families on health care including health promotion, disease, illness and accident prevention
  • provide counselling and support to patients and their families on a wide range of health and lifestyle issues
  • perform patient advocacy role
  • co-ordinate or manage primary patient care
  • provide continuous care to patients, including palliative care support
  • supervise home-care services
  • report births, deaths, and contagious and other diseases to governmental authorities
  • deliver babies and provide pre-natal and post-natal care

Special duties

GPs and family physicians are increasingly adding a special interest to their practice or developing focused practices, including obstetrics, research, addiction medicine, mental health care, sports medicine, anaesthesia, hospital care (hospitalist), care of the elderly (geriatrics), end-of-life care (palliative care), cosmetic surgery, administration and occupational health

These special focus areas may arise in response to identified needs and opportunities in the health system.

A GP or family physician may pursue the focus area as a part-time interest or it may lead to full-time involvement.

Many family physicians' practices evolve through their career in response to community needs, family and health issues, opportunities and interests.

Work environment

Family physicians and GPs often work irregular hours, including nights and weekends, and may also be on-call 24 hours a day when required to respond to emergencies. Resident physicians generally work long hours, which could be up to 60 hours per week, however, this trend may be decreasing.

Family physicians and GPs are increasingly practicing in groups, and with other health professionals such as pharmacists, nurses and nurse practitioners.

Improvements in technology have led to changes in the way care is provided, and general practitioners and family physicians are increasingly using electronic resources to support patient care, including electronic medical records, electronic prescribing and electronic results access. They are also using computer-based education and information resources more frequently and interaction between patients and doctors happens more often via electronic means such as telephone or email. Most physicians are also using PDA-type devices.

Family physicians spend the majority of time in their practice, however, they may be required to travel to hospitals to provide specific types of patient care. Family physicians are also occasionally required to provide in-home patient care.

General practitioners and family physicians generally see a large volume of patients requiring different types of assessments, support or treatment each day so there is a great deal of variety in a physician's work.

Due to the nature of the work, family physicians and general practitioners are exposed to infectious diseases and physicians must be very careful while examining patients. Necessary precautions include the use of safety equipment and clothing, as well as sterilization or disposal of some equipment and protective clothing after use.

Family physicians and GPs must also be prepared to handle the often fragile emotional state of their patients, and when combined with long working hours, a high volume of patients, a diverse array of treatments administered and strict safety precautions, it can be a stressful working environment.

Industry sources report that practice management and clinical training programs combined with targeted incentives have drastically improved professional satisfaction. Physicians often feel a sense of satisfaction from the nature of their job - helping people.

Insights from industry

A growing and ageing population will require more health services. As such, there will be many opportunities throughout the province for physicians who wish to operate a family practice.

Despite the steady increases in the ratio of physicians to population over the last several years, some patients in parts of the province are having difficulty finding an available family physician. Industry sources report that there is, and will continue to be, a strong demand for GPs throughout the province. However, smaller, northern, rural communities are in particular need. The demand is driven by the need to reduce the number of patients who do not have doctors, and to handle the extra work associated with an aging population and chronic disease management.

The Government of British Columbia has increased the opportunities for medical education in the province through the establishment of two medical programs at the University of Victoria and at the University of Northern British Columbia. The initiative, which has an emphasis on training physicians for rural practice and to meet the needs of an aging population, will help to increase B.C.'s supply of general practitioners and family physicians.

Physicians who move to rural communities to practice may receive incentives such as signing bonuses, student loan reductions, fee-for-service and flat sum premiums or travel subsidies.

Industry reports that even though increased opportunities for medical education in B.C. is a positive measure, there are still not enough medical school graduates to replace the family physicians who retire every year. Consequently, B.C. is increasingly dependent on importing physicians from other Canadian and international jurisdictions.

Career paths and resources

Career paths

New graduates commonly begin their career by taking over for physicians who on holidays, education leave, etc. This provides an opportunity to build experience in practice and to assess a range of practice settings and communities. Currently, few GPs and family physicians set up independent practices and most join an established group.

The majority of GPs and family physicians continue providing primary care to patients throughout their professional career, though they often add a special interest component to their practice and may also focus on a specialty area (hospitalist, palliative care, occupational medicine, etc.)

Senior physicians may also work as hospital administrators, teach and or conduct research at educational institutions, or work for government health authorities and other health-related organizations.

Additional resources