A primary care physician (PCP) is a doctor who helps you manage all aspects of your health. They help you stay healthy and get better when you are sick. PCPs have a wide range of responsibilities, from regular checkups to diagnosing and treating illnesses, injuries and other health conditions.
A primary care physician (PCP) is a healthcare provider who helps you manage your health. They’re the first person you talk to when you have a health issue or medical problem that’s not an emergency. PCPs are usually doctors. But some nurses and physician assistants also provide primary care. If you live outside the U.S., you may refer to a primary care provider as a general practitioner.
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Primary care physicians must go through a great deal of education and training. A four-year undergraduate degree is the first step on their path to becoming a physician. Undergraduate studies include pre-medical courses such as chemistry and biology.
Primary care physicians must next be accepted to a four-year medical school. In medical school, potential physicians take courses including anatomy and physiology. In addition, they must participate in various clinical rotations where they learn about the different areas of medicine.
After medical school, a PCP must complete a residency program in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics or gynecology. These programs take three years or more. After residency, some primary care physicians go into practice. Other physicians choose to enter a fellowship program, which is extended training in a specific aspect of medicine such as obstetrics or preventive medicine.
Primary care physicians must attend at least 11 years of schooling. That includes four years of undergraduate school, four years of medical school and at least three years in a residency program. Some primary care physicians spend another one to three years in a fellowship program.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of a primary care physician was $207,380 in 2020.
You may develop a long-term relationship with your primary care physician. They’ll help you stay healthy or get better when you’re sick. Your PCP will be your partner, sharing the responsibility for your physical and mental health and well-being.
Primary care physicians are also called general practitioners because they cover all types of everyday health concerns. Your PCP can answer questions about infections, chronic conditions or medicines. With regular visits, such as annual health checkups, your PCP will get to know much about you, including:
Everyday aspects of your history and lifestyle contribute to your overall health. A PCP will consider those factors and then:
Primary care physicians can catch potential health problems early before they become severe. People who have a PCP spend less time in the hospital and less money on medical costs in the long run.
A PCP gives you complete care over your lifespan. They'll also know when you need more advanced care, like a hospital procedure or a specialist.
Many types of healthcare providers offer primary care. Different specialists are trained to see certain types of patients:
To be comfortable and develop a long-term relationship, it’s important to find a PCP who is qualified, fits your personality and accepts your insurance plan. Many strategies can help you identify the right provider:
When you’re choosing a PCP, you may be able to schedule an interview to get to know the candidate. Ask questions that can help you decide if the person is a good fit for your personality, lifestyle and needs:
You may also want to consider the PCP’s overall office setting and the staff at their office:
A primary care physician can help you stay healthy and be the first to treat any health problems. Make time to find a PCP who is a partner in your long-term care, and have regular checkups.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A relationship with a primary care physician can help you detect and manage a wide range of health issues. A PCP can teach you how to lead a healthier lifestyle, provide needed medications, screen for disease and recommend specialists when you need them. Look for a primary care physician who fits your personality and needs.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/14/2022.
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