General Practitioners in US Medical Practice Compared With Family Physicians

Ann Fam Med. 2020 Mar;18(2):127-130. doi: 10.1370/afm.2503.


Purpose: General practitioners (GPs) are part of the US physician workforce, but little is known about who they are, what they do, and how they differ from family physicians (FPs). We describe self-identified GPs and compare them with board-certified FPs.

Methods: Analysis of data on 102,604 Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Osteopathy physicians in direct patient care in the United States in 2016, who identify themselves as GPs or FPs. The study used linking databases (American Medical Association Masterfile, American Board of Family Medicine [ABFM], Area Health Resource File, Medicare Public Use File) to examine personal, professional, and practice characteristics.

Results: Of the physicians identified, 6,661 self-designated as GPs and 95,943 self-designated as FPs. Of the self-designated GPs, 116 had been ABFM certified and were excluded from the study. Of the remaining 102,488 physicians, those who self-designated as GPs but were never ABFM certified constituted the GP group (n = 6,545, 6%). Self-designated FPs that were ABFM certified made up the FP group (n = 79,449, 78%). The remaining self-designated FPs not ABFM certified constituted the uncertified group (n = 16,494, 16%). GPs differed from FPs in every characteristic examined. Compared with FPs, GPs are more likely to be older, male, Doctors of Osteopathy, graduates of non-US medical schools, and have no family medicine residency training. GPs practice location is similar to FPs, but GPs are less likely to participate in Medicare or to work in hospitals.

Conclusions: GPs in the United States are a varied group that differ from FPs. Researchers, educators, and policy makers should not lump GPs together with FPs in data collection, analysis, and reporting.

Keywords: family medicine; family practice; general practice; general practitioners; physician, family; primary health care; workforce.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Family Practice / education
  • Female
  • General Practitioners / education
  • General Practitioners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians, Family / education
  • Physicians, Family / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Primary Health Care
  • United States
  • Workforce