Medical Careers: Family Physician Salaries

Name: Margie C. Sweeney, M.D.
Job Title: Family Physician
Where: Louisville, KY
Employer: Central State Hospital
Years of Experience: 24
Education: M.D. degree from Indiana University School of Medicine
Salary: See the PayScale Research Center for medical career salaries, including average physician salaries.

Medical Careers: Family Physician Salaries

What career involves helping people of all different ages and backgrounds while earning a six digit salary? If you guessed family physician, you're right. We interviewed Dr. Margie C. Sweeney to find out what it takes to make it through med school and begin a successful career as a family doctor. If you've ever wanted to know how to become a physician, then this Salary Story is just what the doctor ordered.

Dr. Sweeney describes the outlook for family physician jobs, factors that can affect physician salaries after residency, as well as the many career options available to family physicians. She also explains why her family physician career is so rewarding. For those interested in average physician salaries and careers in the medical field, this interview is the right medicine!

Family Physician Job Description:

Family physicians specialize in YOU! Family practice is a specialty in the field of medicine that treats all your medical needs across your lifespan from birth to death. A family physician's job is to help you stay healthy with regular basic checkups and screening tests for various medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and cancer. A family physician also helps diagnose and treat any medical conditions that you may have.

A family physician is privileged because he or she gets a chance to know you on a more intimate level than doctors in other specialties. Your family physician gets to treat your emotional as well as physical needs. A family physician will usually know other members in your family, so he or she can do a better assessment of your health risks because they have a better idea of your family history for certain diseases.

Your family physician is your advocate with other doctors and health care facilities (such as specialists and emergency rooms), informing them of your medical history, medicines that you take, allergies, surgeries, etc. Your family physician is a one-stop-shop for all your medical needs and can refer you to doctors with more specialized expertise as needed.

What were your steps toward becoming a family physician?

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Ever since I was a child I wanted to become a doctor, especially after my father's diagnosis of macular degeneration, a condition of the retina that leads to blindness. Back in those days (1960's) women doctors were rare and whenever I would tell anyone that I wanted to be a doctor, they would try to discourage my choice, but I was pretty sure of my decision.

As I progressed in school, I realized that I was good at science and math; this strengthened my determination. I loved biology and helping people was important to me. My training to become a family physician began with a four-year college degree. My major in college was biology and I received a Bachelor of Arts from Indiana University.

I then went to medical school for five years at Indiana University School of Medicine for an M.D. (doctor of medicine) degree. While in medical school, the first two years were mostly book work. During the rest of my medical school education, we began to see patients in a variety of hospital settings and I got to experience different medical specialties.

I soon realized that I liked almost all areas of medicine, so it only made sense to specialize in family practice, which is a field of medicine that encompasses all the specialties. A family doctor is a generalist (what used to be called a general practitioner or GP). After graduating from medical school, I did residency training in family practice at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, IN.

This was a three-year program. At this stage of training, I was a licensed physician and could prescribe medicines and perform medical procedures. The reason for residency training is to practice medicine in a supervised environment to gain proficiency in diagnosing and treating medical conditions. Upon completion of this training, I took a lengthy exam to become board certified in family practice.

Once my training was completed, I needed continuing medical education. Besides a college degree, medical school education, residency training and board certification, a family physician must take 50 hours of continuing medical education yearly and board recertification every six or seven years to maintain qualifications to practice medicine. The board recertification and continuing medical education help to insure that a doctor is keeping up with the medical advances in their field of practice.

Do you recall any memorable moments from your family physician career?

I have many fond memories of the many babies that I have delivered. It brings such joy to my heart to hand a mother her healthy newborn. When families move away because of employment or other reasons, it is so touching to get a card from them years later, especially when they include pictures of the children that I delivered!

Their sharing of their lives with me is precious. I am blessed to have made these connections and to know that I have made a difference in the lives of others because of my career as a family physician. Another very gratifying area is in the poor that I have served in developing countries. The places that I have visited have not had much in the way of medical equipment or medicines to allow me to practice as I am accustomed to in the U.S.

It is a completely different situation in these poverty stricken areas. Yet the people have been so grateful just to be able to speak to me and to be examined. The love and respect that I have received in these encounters is worth so much more than any financial gain that I receive in traditional medicine in the U.S.

What advice would you give to those seeking family physician jobs?

Spending time volunteering in a hospital or clinic or even a nursing home is an invaluable experience. You get to see how care is given and how patients respond, and you get a flavor for the demands and rewards of this type of work. The more settings you can see, the better informed you will be in terms of what a career in the medical field entails.

Once you have decided that you want to be a doctor, I would recommend having a mentor, someone who has already completed training and has been practicing medicine in the field for a few years. Their experience can be invaluable in helping to pave your way. Ask questions, do research on the Internet, and make sure that your decisions line up with your life and career goals.

Don't pick a school or training program as a last resort. Don't make a choice that you can't live with. There is enough stress in the education process without having the additional burden of unhappiness with your choice. When choosing a field of medicine to study, take into consideration your strengths, weaknesses, desires, and what you wish to contribute to the field of medicine and to humanity as a whole.

What is the outlook for family physician jobs?

Family physicians will always be needed. We are the backbone of medicine. A family physician has a broad knowledge of medicine and can coordinate the care of their patients to optimize the medicine regimens and the care that they may need to receive from specialists.

A family physician focuses on "the forest and the trees," the big picture and the details. In short, the family doctor is the necessary element for wholeness and unity in medical care. Without the family physician, medical care becomes fragmented, leading to greater chances for medication errors and the potential for unnecessary medical care and expenses.

Because of this, family physicians will always be needed. In this country there is currently a shortage of family physicians, which means that there are plenty of jobs available for anyone seeking a career in family practice.

What factors can affect family physician salaries after residency?

There are many factors that enter into the salary of a doctor: the specialty practiced (generalist vs. specialist), the location of the practice, type of practice (office, clinic, hospital), additional areas of interest (primary care, preventive medicine, sports medicine, etc.), consulting services offered, training other doctors, research, volunteer work (local or abroad), etc.

As a family physician you have much flexibility and versatility in your choice of career path. In my career, I have worked in group practice, solo practice and clinics. I have served on the admissions committee of the medical school that I attended. I have trained medical students and family practice residents. I have served on the credentialing committee of a health insurance plan.

Most recently, I have traveled abroad to provide free medical services to the poorest of the poor in developing countries in Africa and have even started a nonprofit charity, Helping Hands Healing Ministries, Inc. to provide some financial assistance to those I have served in these countries. The sky is the limit on what you can do as a family physician and it is a most rewarding field of medicine!

How does your salary compare to average physician salaries? The PayScale Salary Calculator is a quick and easy way to compare positions. But when you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position, be sure to build a complete profile by taking PayScale's full salary survey.

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