How to Become a Board Certified Family Practice Doctor

Find out how to become a board certified family practice doctor. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in family medicine.

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Do I Want to Be a Board Certified Family Practice Doctor?

Family practice doctors are physicians who provide general primary care to individuals, families, and communities. The scope of their practice involves performing check-ups and treating a wide range of everyday conditions, like illnesses and injuries. Duties can involve collecting patient information, analyzing patient history, prescribing treatments, providing medical advice, and overseeing operations among healthcare professionals. Family practice doctors typically build up a regular clientele. They refer patients to specialists when necessary.

Although all types of doctors have to work some evening, weekend, and on-call hours, family practice doctors are able to work primarily during regular business hours. Family doctors will spend most of their time with patients, resulting in hours on their feet. They may be exposed to illnesses during appointments. Income varies by location and clientele, but the potential to make good money is very present.

Job Requirements

Becoming board certified requires graduating from medical school, completing family practice residency training, earning a license to practice medicine, and passing a certification exam. The following table contains essential requirements for board certified family practice doctors:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Doctoral*
Degree Field Medicine*
Licensure/Certification Must pass the USMLE or COMLEX to obtain licensure;* must pass the MC-FP exam to obtain optional board certification**
Experience At least three years of family medicine residency training**
Key Skills Attention to detail, empathy, critical thinking, physical stamina, leadership, communication*
Computer Skills Medical software (like eClinicalWorks software and Acrendo Medical Software Family Practice EMR), Microsoft Office programs, accounting software***
Technical Skills Variety of medical and diagnostic equipment, such as oxygen masks and otoscopes***
Additional Requirements Continuing education requirements vary by state*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Board of Family Medicine, ***O*Net Online.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most medical school applicants complete bachelor's degree programs. Though a specific major is not required, students are expected to have a solid foundation in the natural sciences. Students interested in medical school must take courses in chemistry, biology, and physics. They are also expected to complete undergraduate work in the humanities and social sciences, English, and mathematics.

Success Tip:

  • Get experience working in healthcare. Students may seek part-time jobs in hospitals or other healthcare settings. Volunteering is another way to gain experience, and some pre-med students may even secure internships. Medical schools often consider applicants' extracurricular activities, so previous work in a clinic or hospital could be advantageous.

Step 2: Take the MCAT exam

Almost all U.S. medical schools require Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) performance scores. Content areas are biological sciences, physical sciences, verbal reasoning, and writing. In 2013, the writing section will be discontinued.

Success Tips:

  • Use practice materials to prepare for the MCAT. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) provides content area guidelines, self-assessments, and practice exams. Aspiring medical school students should give themselves proper time for self-evaluation and studying.
  • Sit for the MCAT while you're still an undergraduate. Applications to medical school are typically due one year prior to program start date. Those who take the MCAT in their junior year or by the beginning of their senior year can apply to medical school in time to start right after completing undergraduate education.

Step 3: Complete Medical School

Once accepted into medical school, students undergo four years of intensive study. The first two years involve pre-clinical courses that cover anatomy, disease, diagnostics, and patient care. During the last two years, students engage in supervised clinical experiences with patients. Clinical training introduces students to the many specialties of medicine, including pediatrics, surgery, and family practice medicine. In the last year of medical school, students can select family medicine electives, like rural community health, integrative health, sports medicine, and addiction treatment. Medical schools may award Medical Doctor (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degrees.

Success Tips:

  • Choose a medical school with focus on family practice. Medical schools with family medicine departments provide extra opportunities, including family practice electives, research projects, volunteer opportunities, assistantships, and externships. The additional experience and training in family medicine can better prepare students to apply for family practice residencies.
  • Join a family medicine student group. Medical schools, especially those with family practice departments, may have student organizations that facilitate networking and professional development. Students may further their education with workshops and locate beneficial opportunities through the resources provided.

Step 4: Complete a Residency Program in Family Practice

Residency programs provide hands-on training in wide-ranging areas to prepare aspiring family medicine doctors for their general practice duties. A family practice medical residency takes approximately three years to complete and includes seminars in family medicine, clinical rotations through various departments in hospitals and clinics, teaching duties, and professional conferences. Residents further their studies in areas like community medicine, emergency medicine, palliative care, obstetrics, pediatrics, geriatrics, dermatology, clinical nutrition, cardiology, and orthopedics. Independent learning projects may be implemented in the curriculum.

Step 5: Obtain a License

Licensing is a multi-step process that takes place during medical school and residency. MDs must pass all three parts of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Most students complete the first and second parts while in medical school. The third section of the USMLE is often taken during residency training. DOs must pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX). States may have additional licensing stipulations.

Step 6: Become Board-Certified

The American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) administers a family medicine certification exam, the Maintenance of Certification (MC-FP) Exam. In order to qualify for certification, candidates must complete three years of training in a family medicine residency program, hold a license to practice medicine, and pass the MC-FP. An additional 150 credits of continuing education are required for those who decide to become board certified more than three years after completing their residencies.

Step 7: Maintain Credentials

The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) determined that doctors in all disciplines must complete continuing education to meet the highest standards of accountability. Continuing education counts toward keeping a license valid, though states may have other special requirements.

To keep certification valid, family practice doctors must maintain four components: professionalism (license must be kept current), self-assessment and lifelong learning (must complete online knowledge assessment modules plus continuing education), cognitive expertise (recertification MC-FP exam must be passed), and performance in practice (must complete online patient assessment modules). The license must be valid at all times and other components must be completed every three years.

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