How to Become a Primary Care Physician
Primary Care Physician Careers & Degrees

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Primary Care Physicians are medical doctors who provide generalized and comprehensive health care services to patients.

Primary Care Physicians may see patients in differing states of health and may provide preventative and injury or illness related health care to individuals.

Primary Care Physicians perform observations, diagnose and treat patients from a variety of health care settings.

For example, Physicians may work from clinics, private practices, inpatient, offices, critical care, long term care or home care.

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Education Requirements to Become a Primary Care Physician

Individuals who want to become a Primary Care Physician will need several years of education, complete a residency and gain clinical experience in order to pursue a career in this field.

In addition, individuals must pass a rigorous licensing exam in order to practice medicine.

Students transitioning from high school to a bachelor’s program to become a Primary Care Physician will need to focus their 4 year college career in a science related field.

Although not a requirement to apply for medical school, some common majors may include Biology, pre-med or Chemistry.

After graduating from a 4 year college in Biology, pre-med or a science related curriculum, individuals who want to become a Primary Care Physician must take and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) to apply for and enter a medical school program.

During medical school, individuals will complete their curriculum in a classroom setting or working hands on in a laboratory setting.

Individuals will take classes in Biology, Psychology, Pharmacology, Biochemistry and medical ethics.

Medical school will also provide individuals with clinical experience in either a hospital or clinical setting.

Through rotations, individuals will learn how to diagnose and treat a variety of disorders or illnesses in pediatrics, gynecology, internal medicine, family practice or obstetrics.

Individuals who want to become a Primary Care Physician will then need to complete a residency lasting 3 to 8 years.

After completing a Bachelor’s, at least 4 years of medical school and a residency, individuals may then seek a medical license by taking the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) to practice medicine.

Please visit USMLE for more information regarding the licensing exam, practice tests and frequently asked questions about the exam.

Primary Care Physician Job Description

Primary Care Physicians may be the first point of contact for many patients.

These professionals may see patients in several different stages of health including seeing them for the following purposes:

  • Counseling patients in regards to treatment
  • Preventative measures
  • Educating patients
  • Health promotion
  • Disease prevention
  • Maintaining health
  • Preventing injuries
  • Diagnosing and treating acute illnesses
  • Diagnosing and treating chronic illnesses

As the list of common tasks shows, Primary Care Physicians have an extensive background in determining the right type of health care an individual needs.

With the help of clinical or hospital staff, a Primary Care Physician will make rounds to see clients, interview them in regards to symptoms, take basic tests such as blood pressure and pulse, observe injuries or any visual concerns the patient has, diagnose and provide treatment to a client.

Primary Care Physicians will also order further testing and refer to specialized professionals or doctors to perform further tests or exams.

For example, a Primary Care Physician would order x-rays or blood tests to help them provide more extensive health care.

Primary Care Physician Salary and Career Path

Primary Care Physicians are some of the highest paid professionals amongst all occupations.

The median annual income for these professionals was approximately $207,117 in 2012.

Exact wages will depend on level of experience, whether a Primary Care Physician owns their own practice, number of clients and reputation.

The job outlook for Primary Care Physicians and other professionals in the health care field looks promising.

Job opportunities for Physicians and Surgeons as a whole are expected to grow by 18 percent through the year 2022.

This growth is related to health care expansion and the growing aging baby boomer population.

Primary Care Physicians are licensed professionals that provide generalized health care services to patients.

They treat patients in a comprehensive manner assuring their overall wellbeing is doing well.

This profession, as well as other health care fields are expected to grow fast through 2022 creating plenty of opportunities for individuals interested in this career path.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$165,080
New Hampshire$241,240
New Jersey$220,790
New Mexico$280,620
New York$188,370
North Carolina$256,000
North Dakota$266,540
Rhode Island$171,280
South Carolina$248,760
South Dakota$281,590
West Virginia$146,840
Puerto Rico$73,990

The top earning state in the field is South Dakota, where the average salary is $281,590.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

South Dakota - $281,590
New Mexico - $280,620
Wyoming - $273,570
North Dakota - $266,540
Indiana - $257,270
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for General Internal Medicine Physicians, OCC Code 29-1216, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat does a primary care physician do?

Primary care physicians provide general medical services and usually are the first to be contacted by patients with undiagnosed illnesses.

Usually, primary care physicians collect information about the patient’s medical history and the present symptoms and perform a physical exam in order to provide a diagnostic.

Many are also trained in interpreting basic medical tests such as electrocardiograms, blood tests or x-rays.

Primary care physicians may refer patients to specialists if needed.

They can also provide continuous care for patients with diseases such as diabetes or hypertension.

Primary care physicians can specialize in a variety of fields; some are family medicine doctors, others are pediatricians, OBGYNs or internal medicine doctors.

QuestionHow much does a primary care physician make?

Salaries in this field vary widely, depending on the physician’s expertise, level of education, the employer and the region.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for family and general practitioners was $211,780 as of May 2018.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become a primary care physician?

All primary care physicians must first complete medical school.

Medical school can cost you anywhere between $30,000-$60,000 a year at a public college or university and even more at a private school.

Before enrolling at a medical school you will first have to finish an undergraduate program with pre-med classes, such as biology, chemistry, physics, maths, and English.

Four-year pre-medicine programs cost, on average, around $120,000 in total at a public college but can be more expensive at a private school.

QuestionWhat is the demand for primary care physicians?

The demand for primary care physicians varies depending on the region and the doctor’s specialty.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment for family and general practitioners is projected to grow 4 percent from 2018 to 2028 while employment for internists is projected to grow 10 percent.

Primary care physicians who are willing to practice in rural and underserved areas should have better job prospects.

QuestionHow long does it take to become a primary care physician?

Primary care physicians must first earn a degree as a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathy.

High school graduates who want to become primary care physicians should start by completing four years of undergraduate training followed by four years of training at a medical school or at a school of osteopathy.

The next step is to complete post-graduate training in family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine or another primary care field.

This residency period usually can be completed in three years.

In order to be able to practice as a primary care physician, you will also need a state license; doctors of medicine must take and pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination while doctors of osteopathy must pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination.

In conclusion, you will need at least 11 years of training beyond high school if you want to become a primary care physician.

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