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General practitioners intend to practise a holistic approach that takes into consideration the biological, psychological and social factors relevant to the care of their patients. Their duties are not confined to specific organs of the body, and they have particular skills in treating people with multiple health issues. They are trained to treat patients of any age and sex to levels of complexity that vary between countries.
The role of a GP can vary greatly between (or even within) countries. In urban areas of developed countries their roles tend to be narrower and focused on the care of chronic health problems; the treatment of acute non-life threatening diseases; the early detection and referral to specialized care of patients with serious diseases; and preventative care including health education and immunization. Meanwhile, in rural areas of developed countries or in developing countries a GP may be routinely involved in pre-hospital emergency care, the delivery of babies, community hospital care and performing low-complexity surgical procedures. In some healthcare systems GPs work in primary care centers where they play a central role in the healthcare team, while in other models of care GPs can work as single-handed practitioners.
The term general practitioner or GP is common in the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and several Commonwealth countries. In these countries the word physician is largely reserved for certain other types of medical specialists, notably in internal medicine. While in these countries, the term GP has a clearly defined meaning, in North America the term has become somewhat ambiguous, and is not necessarily synonymous with the term "family doctor" or primary care provider, as described below.
Historically, the role of a GP was once performed by any doctor qualified in a medical school working in the community. However, since the 1950s general practice has become a specialty in its own right, with specific training requirements tailored to each country. The Alma Ata Declaration in 1978 set the intellectual foundation of what primary care and general practice is nowadays.
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Malaysia has about 7000 General Practitioners. Either practicing in a Group Practice, Solo Practitioner or attached to Teaching Institutions. The training in General Practice is by 2 main pathways. The MMED (Family Medicine) Program in Public Universities, or via The Academy of Family Physicians of Malaysia (AFPM), which offers a 2+2 years of General Practice Training Program. After completing the 4 year training program by AFPM, a candidate can sit for the Conjoint MAFP/ FRACGP Exam which is held once a year in Kuala Lumpur.
India and Bangladesh
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The basic medical degrees in India and Bangladesh are MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery), BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine and Surgery), BHMS (Bachelor of Homoeopathic Medicine and Surgery) and BUMS (Bachelor of Unani Medicine and Surgery). These generally consist of a four-and-a-half-year course followed by a year of compulsory rotatory internship in India. In Bangladesh it is five years course followed by a year of compulsory rotatory internship. The internship requires the candidate to work in all departments for a stipulated period of time, to undergo hands-on training in treating patients.
The registration of doctors is usually managed by state medical councils. A permanent registration as a Registered Medical Practitioner is granted only after satisfactory completion of the compulsory internship.
In Pakistan, 5 years of MBBS is followed by one year of internship in different specialties. Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) then confers permanent registration, after which the candidate may choose to practice as a GP or opt for specialty training.
The first Family Medicine Training programme was approved by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Pakistan (CPSP) in 1992 and initiated in 1993 by the Family Medicine Division of the Department of Community Health Sciences, Aga Khan University, Pakistan. In 1997, the Royal College of General Practitioners, UK, unconditionally approved the Programme for the MRCGP Examination and additionally declared it as amongst the top 10 programmes in UK.
In France, the médecin généraliste (commonly called docteur) is responsible for the long term care in a population. This implies prevention, education, care of the diseases and traumas that do not require a specialist, and orientation towards a specialist when necessary. They also follow the severe diseases day-to-day (between the acute crises that require the intervention of a specialist).
They have a role in the survey of epidemics, a legal role (constatation of traumas that can bring compensation, certificates for the practice of a sport, death certificate, certificate for hospitalisation without consent in case of mental incapacity), and a role in the emergency care (they can be called by the samu, the French EMS). They often go to a patient's home when the patient cannot come to the consulting room (especially in case of children or old people), and have to contribute to a night and week-end duty (although this was contested in a strike in 2002).
The studies consist of six years in the university (common to all medical specialties), and three years as a junior practitioner (interne) :
- the first year (PACES, première année commune aux études de santé, often abbreviated to P1 by students) is common with the dentists, pharmacists and midwifery. The rank at the final competitive examination determines in which branch the student can choose to study.
- the following two years, called propédeutique, are dedicated to the fundamental sciences: anatomy, human physiology, biochemistry, bacteriology, statistics...
- the three following years are called externat and are dedicated to the study of clinical medicine; they end with a classifying examination, the rank determines in which specialty (general medicine is one of them) the student can make his internat;
- the internat is three years -or more depending on the specialty- of initial professional experience under the responsibility of a senior; the interne can prescribe, he can replace physicians, and usually works in a hospital.
This ends with a doctorate, a research work which usually consist of a statistical study of cases to propose a care strategy for a specific affliction (in an epidemiological, diagnostic, or therapeutic point of view).
Netherlands and Belgium
General practice in the Netherlands and Belgium is considered advanced. The huisarts (literally: "home doctor") administers first line, primary care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In the Netherlands, patients cannot consult a hospital specialist without a required referral. Most GP's work in private practice although more medical centers with employed GP's are seen. Many GP's have a specialist interest, e.g. in palliative care.
In Belgium, one year of lectures and two years of residency are required. In the Netherlands, training consists of three years (full-time) of specialization after completion of internships of 3 years. First and third year of training takes place at a GP practice. The second year of training consists of six months training at an emergency room, or internal medicine, paediatrics or gynaecology, or a combination of a general or academic hospital, three months of training at a psychiatric hospital or outpatient clinic and three months at a nursing home (verpleeghuis) or clinical geriatrics ward/policlinic. During all three years, residents get one day of training at university while working in practice the other days. The first year, a lot of emphasis is placed on communications skills with video training. Furthermore all aspects of working as a GP gets addressed including working with the medical standards from the Dutch GP association NHG (Nederlands Huisartsen Genootschap). All residents must also take the national GP knowledge test (Landelijke Huisartsgeneeskundige Kennistoets (LHK-toets)) twice a year. In this test of 120 multiple choice questions, medical, ethical, scientific and legal matters of GP work are addressed.
Most Spanish GPs work for the state funded health authority through the regional government (comunidad autónoma). They are in most cases salary-based healthcare workers.
For the provision of primary care, Spain is currently divided geographically in basic health care areas (áreas básicas de salud), each one containing a primary health care team (Equipo de atención primaria). Each team is multidisciplinary and typically includes GPs, community pediatricians, nurses, physiotherapists and social workers, together with ancillary staff. In urban areas all the services are concentrated in a single large building (Centro de salud) while in rural areas the main center is supported by smaller branches (consultorios), typically single-handled.
Becoming a GP in Spain involves studying medicine for 6 years, passing a competitive national exam called MIR (Medico Interno Residente) and undergoing a 4 years training program. The training program has includes core specialties as general medicine and general practice (around 12 months each), pediatrics, gynecology, orthopedics and psychiatry. Shorter and optional placements in ENT, ophthalmology, ED, infectious diseases, rheumathology or others add up to the 4 years curriculum. The assessment is work based and involves completing a logbook that ensures all the expected skills, abilities and aptitudes have been acquired by the end of the training period.
Nowadays some of the specialists in family practice in Spain are forced to work in other countries (mainly UK, Portugal and France) due to lack of stable work in their home country.
In the United Kingdom, doctors wishing to become GPs take at least 5 years training after medical school, which is usually an undergraduate course of five to six years (or a graduate course of four to six years) leading to the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MB,ChB/BS).
Up until the year 2005, those wanting to become a General Practitioner of medicine had to do a minimum of the following postgraduate training:
- one year as a pre-registration house officer (PRHO) (formerly called a house officer), in which the trainee would usually spend 6 months on a general surgical ward and 6 months on a general medical ward in a hospital;
- two years as a senior house officer (SHO) - often on a General Practice Vocational Training Scheme (GP-VTS) in which the trainee would normally complete four 6-month jobs in hospital specialties such as obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, geriatric medicine, accident and emergency or psychiatry;
- one year as a general practice registrar on a GP-VTS.
- two years of Foundation Training, in which the trainee will do a rotation around either six 4-month jobs or eight 3-month jobs - these include at least 3-months in general medicine and 3-months in general surgery, but will also include jobs in other areas;
- A three-year "run-through" GP Specialty Training Program containing (GPSTP): 18 months as a Specialty Registrar in which time the trainee completes a mixture of jobs in hospital specialties such as obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, geriatric medicine, accident and emergency or psychiatry; 18 months as a GP Specialty Registrar in General Practice.
During the GP specialty training program, the medical practitioner must complete a variety of assessments in order to be allowed to practice independently as a GP. There is a knowledge-based exam with multiple choice questions called the Applied Knowledge Test (AKT). The practical examination takes the form of a "simulated surgery" in which the doctor is presented with 13 clinical cases and assessment is made of data gathering, interpersonal skills and clinical management. This Clinical Skills Assessment (CSA) is held on three or four occasions throughout the year and takes place at the renovated headquarters of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), at 30 Euston Square, London. Finally throughout the year the doctor must complete an electronic portfolio which is made up of case-based discussions, critique of videoed consultations and reflective entries into a "learning log".
Membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners was previously optional. However, new trainee GP's from 2008 are now compulsorily required to complete the nMRCGP. They will not be allowed to practice without this postgraduate qualification. After passing the exam or assessment, they are awarded the specialist qualification of MRCGP – Member of the Royal College of General Practitioners. Previously qualified general practitioners (prior to 2008) are not required to hold the MRCGP, but it is considered desirable. In addition, many hold qualifications such as the DCH (Diploma in Child Health of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health) and/or the DRCOG (Diploma of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) and/or the DGH (Diploma in Geriatric Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians). Some General Practitioners also hold the MRCP (Member of the Royal College of Physicians) or other specialist qualifications, but generally only if they had a hospital career, or a career in another speciality, before training in General Practice.
There are many arrangements under which general practitioners can work in the UK. While the main career aim is becoming a principal or partner in a GP surgery, many become salaried or non-principal GPs, work in hospitals in GP-led acute care units, or perform locum work. Whichever of these roles they fill, the vast majority of GPs receive most of their income from the National Health Service (NHS). Principals and partners in GP surgeries are self-employed, but they have contractual arrangements with the NHS which give them considerable predictability of income.
Visits to GP surgeries are free in all countries of the United Kingdom, but charges for prescription only medicine vary. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have abolished all charges. In England, however, most adults of working age who are not on benefits have to pay a standard charge for prescription only medicine of £7.60 per item from April 2012.
Recent reforms to the NHS have included changing the GP contract. General practitioners are now not required to work unsociable hours, and get paid to some extent according to their performance, e.g. numbers of patients treated, what treatments were administered, and the health of their catchment area, through the Quality and Outcomes Framework. They are encouraged to prescribe medicines by their generic names. The IT system used for assessing their income based on these criteria is called QMAS. A GP can expect to earn about £70,000 a year without doing any overtime, although this figure is extremely variable. A 2006 report noted that some GPs were earning £250k per year, with the highest-paid on £300k for working alone across five islands in the Outer Hebrides. However, a full-time GMS or PMS practice partner can now expect to earn around £95,900 before tax, while a salaried GP earns on average £66,500. This equates to an hourly rate of around £40 an hour for a GP partner.
In the UK, full-time self-employed GPs can currently expect to earn a profit share of around £100,000 per annum while PCT employed GPs can currently expect to earn a salary of £53,781 to £81,158.
General Practice was established as a medical specialty in Greece in 1986. To qualify as a General Practitioner (γενικός ιατρός, genikos iatros) doctors in Greece are required to complete four years of vocational training after medical school, including three years and two months in a hospital setting. General Practitioners in Greece may either work as private specialists or for the National Healthcare Service, ESY (Εθνικό Σύστημα Υγείας, ΕΣΥ).
Medical practitioners must hold an unrestricted license to practice medicine independently in the United States. The requirement is to be enrolled in or have completed a year of residency, traditionally called a rotating internship, and possibly additional postgraduate training depending on the state. There are generally four years of undergraduate college and four years of medical school prior to the internship. Prospective licentiates (denoted as physicians and surgeons in most states) who pass step three of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or level three of the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) and successfully complete the designated amount of postgraduate training for their state may practice the full range of medicine.
The population of this type of medical practitioner is declining, however. Currently the United States Navy has many of these general practitioners, known as General Medical Officers or GMOs, in active practice. The GMO is an inherent concept to all military medical branches. GMOs are the gatekeepers of medicine in that they hold the purse strings and decide upon the merit of specialist consultation. The US now holds a different definition for the term "general practitioner". The two terms "general practitioner" and "family practice" were synonymous prior to 1970. At that time both terms (if used within the US) referred to someone who completed medical school and the one-year required internship, and then worked as a general family doctor. Completion of a post-graduate specialty training program or residency in family medicine was, at that time, not a requirement. A physician who specializes in "family medicine" must now complete a residency in family medicine, and must be eligible for board certification, which is required by many hospitals and health plans for hospital privileges and remuneration, respectively. It was not until the 1970s that family medicine was recognized as a specialty in the US.
Many licensed family medical practitioners in the United States after this change began to use the term "general practitioner" to refer to those practitioners who previously did not complete a family medicine residency. Family physicians (after completing medical school) must then complete three to four years of additional residency in family medicine. Three hundred hours of medical education within the prior six years is also required to be eligible to sit for the board certification exam; these hours are largely acquired during residency training.
The existing general practitioners in the 1970s were given the choice to be grandfathered into the newly created specialty of Family Practice. As well, the American Academy of General Practice changed its name to the American Academy of Family Physicians. The prior system of graduating from medical school and completing one year of post-graduate training (rotating internship) was abolished. If one wanted to become a "house-call-making" type of physician, one needed to stay in the academic setting two or three more years.
When the American Academy of Family Practice was created, the American Academy of General Practice was abolished. Several members of the AMA were in opposition to this and predicted that another General Practice organization would inevitably result, including Susan Black, MD. She predicted a "second coming" of a "General Practice Movement". Several physicians nationwide created the American Academy of General Physicians. They prescribed a body of knowledge that defined a "General Practitioner".
General practitioners have in the past, and currently are being created by the present system of producing doctors.
Prior to recent history most postgraduate education in the United States was accomplished using the mentor system. A physician would finish a rotating internship and move to some town and be taught by the local physicians the skills needed for that particular town. This allowed each community's needs to be met by the teaching of the new general practitioner the skills needed in that community. This also allowed the new physician to start making a living and raising a family, etc. General practitioners would be the surgeons, the obstetricians, and the internists for their given communities. Changes in demographics and the growing complexities of the developing bodies of knowledge made it necessary to produce more highly trained surgeons and other specialists. For many physicians it was a natural desire to want to be considered "specialists". What was not anticipated by many physicians is that an option to be a generalist would be abolished.
Certificates of Added Qualifications (CAQs) in adolescent medicine, geriatric medicine, sports medicine, sleep medicine, and hospice and palliative medicine are available for those board-certified family physicians with additional residency training requirements. Recently,[when?] new fellowships in International Family Medicine have emerged. These fellowships are designed to train family physicians working in resource poor environments.
There is currently[when?] a shortage of primary care physicians (and also other primary care providers) due to several factors, notably the lesser prestige associated with the young specialty, the lower pay, and the increasingly frustrating practice environment. In the US physicians are increasingly forced to do more administrative work, and shoulder higher malpractice premiums.
Australia and New Zealand
General Practice in Australia and New Zealand has undergone many changes in training requirements over the past decade. The basic medical degree in Australia is the MBBS, and New Zealand the MBChB degree (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery), which has traditionally been attained after completion of an undergraduate five or six-year course. Over the last few years, an ever increasing number of post-graduate four-year medical programs (previous bachelors degree required) have become more common and now account more than half of all Australian medical graduates. After graduating, a one year internship is completed in a public and private hospitals prior to obtaining full registration. Many newly registered medical practitioners undergo one year or more of pre-vocational position as Resident Medical Officers (different titles depending on jurisdictions) before specialist training begins. For general practice training, the medical practitioner then applies to enter a three- or four-year program either through the "Australasian General Practice Training Program", "Remote Vocational Training Scheme" or "Independent Pathway".
A combination of coursework and apprenticeship type training leading to the awarding of the FRACGP (Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners), FACRRM (Fellowship of Australian College of Remote and Rural Medicine) or FRNZCGP (Fellowship of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners), if successful. Since 1996 this qualification or its equivalent has been required in order for the GP to access Medicare rebates as a general practitioner. Medicare is Australia's universal health insurance system, and without access to it, a practitioner cannot effectively work in private practice in Australia.
Procedural General Practice training in combination with General Practice Fellowship was first established by the "Australian College of Remote and Rural Medicine" in 2004. This new fellowship was developed in aid to recognise the specialised skills required to work within a rural and remote context. In addition it was hoped to recognise the impending urgency of training Rural Procedural Practitioners to sustain Obstetric and Surgical services within rural Australia. Each training registrar select a speciality that can be utilised in a rural area from the Advanced Skills Training list and spends a minimum of 12 months completing this specialty, the most common of which are Surgery, Obstetrics/Gynaecology and Anaesthetics. Further choices of specialty include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, Adult Internal Medicine, Emergency Medicine, Mental Health, Paediatrics, Population health and Remote Medicine. Shortly after the establishment of the FACRRM, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners introduced an additional training year (from the basic 3 years) to offer the "Fellowship in Advanced Rural General Practice". The additional year, or Advanced Rural Skills Training (ARST) can be conducted in various locations from Tertiary Hospitals to Small General Practice.
In New Zealand, most GPs work within a practice that is part of a Primary Health Organisation (PHO). These are funded at a population level, based on the characteristics of a practice's enrolled population (referred to as capitation-based funding). Fee-for-service arrangements still exist with other funders such as Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) and Ministry of Social Development (MSD), as well as receiving co-payments from patients to top-up the capitation-based funding. In NZ new graduates must complete the RNZCGP GPEP (General Practice Education Program) Stages I and II in order to be granted the title FRNZCGP, which includes the PRIMEX assessment and further CME and Peer group learning sessions as directed by the RNZCGP. Holders of the award of FRNZCGP may apply for specialist recognition with the New Zealand Medical Council (MCNZ), after which they are considered specialists in General Practice by the council and the community.
There is a shortage of GPs in rural areas and increasingly outer metropolitan areas of large cities, which has led to the utilisation of overseas trained doctors (international medical graduates (IMGs)).
- American Board of Family Medicine
- ATC codes Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical Classification System
- Classification of Pharmaco-Therapeutic Referrals CPR
- Dental General Practitioner (GDP)
- Family medicine
- Family practice
- ICD-10 International Classification of Diseases
- ICPC-2 PLUS
- International Classification of Primary Care ICPC-2
- National Integrated Medical Association
- Primary care
- Quaternary prevention
- Referral (medicine)
- Sessional GP
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