Family physicians in the United States may hold either an M.D. or a D.O. degree. Physicians who specialize in family medicine must successfully complete an accredited three- or four-year family medicine residency in the United States in addition to their medical degree. They are then eligible to sit for a board certification examination, which is now required by most hospitals and health plans. American Board of Family Medicine requires its Diplomates to maintain certification through an ongoing process of continuing medical education, medical knowledge review, patient care oversight through chart audits, practice-based learning through quality improvement projects and retaking the board certification examination every 7 to 10 years. The American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians requires its Diplomates to maintain certification and undergo the process of recertification every 8 years.
Family physicians deliver a range of acute, chronic and preventive medical care services. In addition to diagnosing and treating illness, they also provide preventive care, including routine checkups, health-risk assessments, immunization and screening tests, and personalized counseling on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Family physicians also manage chronic illness, often coordinating care provided by other subspecialists. Many American family physicians deliver babies and provide prenatal care. In the U.S., family physicians treat more patients with back pain than any other physician subspecialist, and about as many as orthopedists and neurosurgeons combined.
Family medicine and family physicians play a very important role in the healthcare system of a country. In the U.S., for example, nearly one in four of all office visits are made to family physicians. That is 208 million office visits each year — nearly 83 million more than the next largest medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty.