Physicians and Diagnostic Procedures - Your primary care physician

Your primary care physician is your regular doctor, the person you see for checkups, and the first person you call when signs of illness appear. More than likely, he or she will be a general practitioner or a family practitioner , but may also be an internist or other specialist (see below). In selecting a primary care physician you should try to get a few recommendations from other patients, doctors, nurses, or hospital workers. Don't hesitate to make an appointment for an informational interview to meet the doctor in person and ask any questions about his or her methods, background, and philosophy that may be important to you.

Another important thing to check is the doctor's training—how much and from where. Check the American Medical Association's The Directory of Medical Specialists and other such directories in the library to find out whether the doctor has graduated from a fully accredited medical school and where he or she received further training.

In addition, remember that good communication is often the key to good health care. Make sure your doctor understands your questions and concerns and make sure you understand your doctor's answers and instructions. Don't hesitate to ask why you're being given a particular medication, or what the purpose is of any tests that are recommended. There are alternatives to some medications, and many tests are very expensive and not always necessary. If you are ever uncomfortable with what your doctor has ordered, seek a second opinion; your doctor should be happy to recommend someone. If not, find out why.

General Practitioner

All doctors must complete four years of schooling at an approved medical school, receive one year of postgraduate training in a supervised clinical setting, and pass a state board examination to become licensed to practice medicine. At this point in his or her training a doctor qualifies as a general practitioner . Like the stereotypical old-time country doctor, they treat just about everything from warts to measles, set broken bones, deliver babies, and dispense antibiotics and painkillers.

Family Practitioner

The general practitioner has largely been replaced by the family practitioner . Family practitioners must complete a three-year residency that covers certain aspects of internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, and orthopedics, and then pass an exam. They treat the same things that general practitioners treat.


A doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) or osteopath has similar qualifications as a doctor of medicine. Osteopathy was founded by Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917) on the principle that the body possesses a natural ability both to defend itself against disease and to heal itself. Osteopaths place great emphasis on the importance of normal body mechanics and on the use of the hands for detecting and correcting problems.

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