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So You Want to Be a Primary Care Physician? 4 Things You Should Know

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There are many exciting fields of doctoral medicine you could pursue. One that’s often overlooked is primary care. Med students tend to lean towards a specialty field, but primary medicine offers a great career with many perks, including competitive pay in the six-figure range and steady hours. Primary care physicians rarely have to work weekends, and offices are open between six and eight hours a day.

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Like all careers, once you start, you’ll discover a few unexpected surprises. If you’re considering a career in primary care, don’t let these four things stand in your way.

  1. Your education will be long and extensive

Education in any medical field is long and difficult. As a primary care physician, you’ll start with a four-year bachelor’s degree in any field. If you completed your bachelor’s in a non-medical or non-scientific field of study, you may have to take an additional year of pre-requisites before you can move on to medical school, which takes four years to complete. It’s followed by a residency of between three and seven years.

The educational road for primary care physicians can be daunting because there’s a lot of material to cover. You have to know a lot about different fields to make varied diagnoses day to day.

“Primary care physicians have a tremendous background in the science that underlies the disease process, which helps them take a group of symptoms and connect them to a specific disease or condition that can then be addressed,” explains Dr. Bruce Huck, an internist at Rush University Medical Center.

Your education will also include a great deal of mental wellness topics, which can be complex and difficult to master.

“Primary care often involves going beyond physical symptoms,” Dr. Huck continues. “Primary care doctors know that social, economic and interpersonal factors all have a direct bearing on someone’s health and feelings of well-being. We help patients make the connections between issues, such as lack of sleep, and their health problems, such as being overweight.”

Because of the nature of education in this particular medical field, you must have a propensity for mastering material in multiple fields.

  1. Every single day will present different challenges

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Because your field covers a wide variety of medical challenges in both physical and mental wellness, you’ll rarely repeat experiences. You might treat several cases of the flu in one day, but each patient’s needs will differ.

“Every room I walk into is different – often vastly different – from the last,” says family medicine specialist Rob Lamberts, M.D. in a letter to med students considering primary care. “I could be walking in on a crisis or a stable recheck. The person could be elated or crying. They could be 90 years, or two days old.”

For Dr. Lamberts, this kind of daily variety is what he craves, but it’s not for everyone.

“I’d go nuts doing the same thing every day, be it looking just at skin or just dealing with the kidney,” Dr. Lamberts concludes. “But some folks do better with routine and a lack of surprise, they don’t want their days to be unpredictable.”

  1. There’s heavy demand for primary care physicians, so your job outlook is good

The United States is experiencing a vast physician shortage, which is good for those in family medicine. Cities across the nation are hiring primary care physicians in earnest to meet the constant demand for services.

This means that the job outlook is very good for you. Don’t worry about getting a job and paying off your student loans because the job outlook, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is growing at a rate of 13 percent, much faster than the average. As long as you know what you’re doing, you shouldn’t have any problem finding employment.

  1. Other medical professionals may look down on your career

In a 2014 Atlantic article, Dr. Mara Gordon, who was a family medicine resident at the University of Pennsylvania at the time, shared her story of negative run-ins with medical professionals in distinct specialties. She said many of her peers saw themselves as superior because they had chosen a specific field of medicine to study.

“At medical schools, general medicine is often considered un-challenging and quaint, even though primary-care doctors are what our nation needs most from its medical schools,” she warned.

You can’t let what others say and think stop you from pursuing your dream career in primary care, but be aware that this will probably happen among your peers. If you ignore them and find joy in what you do, a career in primary care will take you far.

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