General practitioners and family physicians (NOC 3112)

High opportunity occupation

About this job

General practitioners and family physicians diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries. The terms “general practitioner”—or GP—and “family physician” are names for the same job with the same duties.

Family physicians provide primary care, which means that they act as a patient’s main health care contact and they work with the patient to manage their general health over the long term.

In this job, GPs may:

  • Work in a private practice, at a community health centre, clinic, nursing home, hospital, or for government and other types of health organizations
  • Travel to hospitals to give specific types of patient care
  • Provide in-home care to patients
  • Help patients from the community at large or focus on a specific type of patient care, such as maternity, palliative, mental health and addiction, and others

GPs need to have good social skills, as they must be able to talk to patients about problems with their health, which can be very serious. To give patients the best possible care, they must keep updating their technical skills and knowledge throughout their careers. They must also have good analytical skills.

Watch the video below to see what a day in the life of a general practitioner is like.

5:14

General practitioner


Common job titles
  • GP (general practitioner)
  • locum doctor
  • MD (doctor of medicine)
  • medical - civil aviation
  • medical - industrial
  • missionary, medical

Duties

In general, family physicians and general practitioners:

  • Co-ordinate or manage primary patient care
  • Screen for health risks and talk to patients about preventing health problems
  • Advise patients and their families on health care, including staying healthy, accident prevention and treating disease and illness
  • Examine patients and review/add to their medical histories
  • Assess and treat illnesses ranging from minor to life-threatening
  • Order laboratory and other tests and X-rays to help find illnesses or injuries
  • Provide in-office or hospital-based emergency care
  • Refer patients to community-based resources, such as peer and group support and home care services
  • Consult with and refer to other health care workers, including specialists, to evaluate patients' physical and mental health
  • Prescribe medicine and give treatments
  • Perform minor surgeries and assist with other surgical procedures
  • Manage acute care in office and, in some cases, in hospital
  • Give vaccinations
  • Act as a patient advocate
  • Provide ongoing care to patients, including end-of-life care, pre- and post-natal maternity care, newborn and children’s care, and pain management
  • Report births, deaths and diseases to government agencies

Work environment

Family physicians mostly work in community-based, independent medical offices and can set their own hours and workload. Some may have to work nights and weekends, and may also be on call 24 hours a day when they need to respond to emergencies. Most family physicians work long hours, which could be from 60-100 hours per week.

Family physicians often work in teams and with other health care providers, such as pharmacists, nurses and nurse practitioners. In the coming years, physicians in primary and community care settings will be expected to work more in teams which include nurses and health care workers with a range of skills.

Better technology has led to changes in the way that care is provided. General practitioners often use resources such as video, telephone and email communication to support patients, including electronic medical records, prescriptions and results. They are also using computer-based education and information resources more regularly.

In this career, family physicians see patients who need different types of help, support or treatment each day. Due to this kind of work, they are exposed to illnesses. They must be careful while examining patients, which means using safety equipment and clothing and making sure that these are removed or properly cleaned when they are done using them.

General practitioners must be ready to deal with patients who may be upset and worried about their health. This, along with working long hours, treating a large number of patients, and strict safety precautions, means that this can be a difficult job.

Practice management and clinical training programs, combined with targeted incentives, have greatly improved professional satisfaction. In addition, physicians are often driven by the need to help others.

Insights from industry

A growing and aging population will require more health services. This means that there will be more job openings for family physicians who want to run a family practice anywhere in B.C.

Overall, in the last few years, there has been an increase in the number of doctors treating patients. Still, in parts of the province, it is hard for some patients to find a family physician. Industry sources report that there is, and will continue to be, a strong demand for general practitioners throughout B.C., especially in northern and rural communities.

Physicians may receive incentives, such as signing bonuses, fee-for-service, flat-rate premiums or travel subsidies, if they move to certain rural communities to practise.

Even though opportunities for medical education in B.C. have gone up, there are still not enough graduates to meet the needs of our aging population. As a result, B.C. has filled gaps by recruiting physicians from other parts of Canada and around the world.

Career paths and resources

Career paths

It is common for new family physicians to begin their careers by taking over for doctors who are on leave or on vacation. By doing this, they build experience and get a chance to try out different settings.

Currently, many family physicians choose to join an existing medical office when they graduate. Some continue through their career of providing primary care to patients, and many add a special interest area to their practice, such as hospitalist, palliative care, or occupational medicine. Many new graduates also add skills at the end of their training and work in areas such as emergency or maternity.

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

Additional resources