Your family doctor is your care specialist
Scope of practice
Family doctors make up the majority of Canada’s medical workforce, providing health services to diverse communities and patients. They account for 52 per cent of all physicians in Canada.
Family medicine is a specialty focusing on the patient to provide life-long care throughout every stage in their life. Family doctors are unique because they build long-term patient relationships that foster an understanding of their patients’ health history, feelings, and expectations.
Family doctors play a crucial role in diagnosing and treating illness and disease, as well as encouraging good health and preventive measures, and facilitating referrals, when required. Their medical expertise and training allow them to work across a wide variety of care settings and environments:
- 63% provide on-call services
- 58% work in an independent family practice
- 8% work in a hospital
- 7% work in emergency departments
- 2% provide long-term care
1 Canadian Medical Association. Number of Physicians by Province/Territory and Specialty, Canada, 2019. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Medical Association; 2019. Accessed July 15, 2022. Download PDF at: https://www.cma.ca/sites/default/files/2019-11/2019-01-spec-prov_1.pdf.
2 Canadian Medical Association. CMA physician workforce survey . Accessed July 21, 2022. https://surveys.cma.ca/
Range of expertise
Family doctors provide most of the medical care that patients receive. From 2019 to 2020, they provided 54 per cent of the 282 million medical services received by Canadians.
Family doctors have expert knowledge of the wide range of common problems experienced by patients and are skilled at dealing with uncertainty. They diagnose and treat everyday illnesses, acute conditions like pneumonia, life-threatening emergencies, urgent issues, and chronic illnesses such as diabetes, in all patients in every age group. Family doctors are also prepared to lead or coordinate care with other specialists and health care providers.
Family doctors provide preventive care, including routine checkups, health-risk assessments, immunizations and screening tests, mental health support, as well as prescribing medications and offering personalized counselling on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Many family doctors can also:
- Provide care for addiction and substance-use disorders
- Deliver babies, including performing Cesarean sections
- Provide end-of-life care
- Provide anesthesia
- Work in emergency rooms
- Care for the seriously ill in hospital critical care units
- Handle major trauma cases
- Perform surgery
- Stabilize patients for transport
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National Physician Database metadata; 2019–2020. Accessed July 15, 2022. https://www.cihi.ca/en/national-physician-database-metadata
Family doctors mean better outcomes for patients
The unique relationship between patients and family physicians means your family doctor knows not only your health history, but they also understand who you are and how your health impacts your life.
Family physicians approach care as a partnership, working with patients to understand their health concerns, identify treatment and health goals, make shared decisions about planning care or treatment, and guide patients to manage their own health throughout their lives.
Research shows that having a family doctor improves health care outcomes:
- Patients with a regular family doctor are more likely to avoid hospital visits and admissions
- Individuals with chronic conditions who are cared for by family physicians tend to have better health outcomes overall
- Those who have a family doctor report feeling better supported in navigating the health care system
Learn more about why family doctors are the foundation of Canada’s health care system.
Family doctors keep training for the future
When family doctors begin practising independently, they have completed years of medical training, graduated from a residency program, and successfully completed the Certification Examination in Family Medicine (CCFP). This designation means that your family physician has met and continues to meet the College of Family Physicians of Canada’s high standards for training and continuing medical education.
Since health care is always changing and evolving, family doctors make a lifelong commitment to continuous learning and education. Throughout their career, family doctors maintain their CCFP designation demonstrating that they continue to stay up to date on changes and developments in health care, as well as new guidelines and tools. Family physicians also expand their skills and training to provide care that responds to the needs of the communities and patients they serve.
Find a family doctor
Family doctors build lifelong relationships with patients and provide complete, patient-centred care, improving the health of all Canadians. They play a crucial role in maintaining your health and preventing illness, and they are your care specialist for managing your health at every stage in your life.
Resources to help you find a family doctor in your province or territory:
Alberta – acfp.ca/find-a-family-physician
British Columbia – bccfp.bc.ca/for-the-public/find-a-family-doctor
New Brunswick – nbms.nb.ca/finding-a-family-physician
Newfoundland and Labrador – findadoctornl.ca
Northwest Territories – hss.gov.nt.ca/en/services/nwt-health-care-plan/physician-services
Nova Scotia – novascotia.ca/dhw/physicians
Nunavut – gov.nu.ca/health
Prince Edward Island – princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/health-pei/patient-registry-program