Skip to main content
Is a Career in Family Medicine Right for You?

You are listening to Health Library:

Is a Career in Family Medicine Right for You?

Dec 13, 2017

When pursuing a career in medicine, there’s a lot of options to consider when deciding your specialty. Could family medicine be for you? Family practitioner, Dr. Kirsten Stoesser discusses her experience. Find out why she chose to pursue family medicine, the pros and cons of the field, and whether or not family medicine might be right for you.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: So you're interested in a career in medicine but you don't know what's your area yet. We'll talk about if family medicine might be right for you next on The Scope.

Announcer: focus on Careers in Health Care.

Interviewer: With so many different fields in medicine, it can be a challenge to decide which one will be right for you. We have Dr. Kirsten Stoesser, a family physician at University of Utah Health Care to explain what it's like to work in family medicine. First of all, Dr. Stoesser, what is family medicine?

Dr. Stoesser: So family medicine is one of the primary care fields, and we take care of patients from babies to seniors.

Interviewer: So you're really seeing everyone and everything?

Dr. Stoesser: We see everyone and everything, that's exactly right.

Interviewer: So why did family medicine appeal to you?

Dr. Stoesser: I realized when I went through my rotations that I liked everything. I loved pediatrics, I loved psychiatry. For a while, I thought I would be an ENT surgeon. I wanted to go into OB-GYN. And every time I did a new rotation, I thought, "Here's my new career." I couldn't just pick one thing. I was fascinated by everything.

Interviewer: So ultimately, what made you choose family medicine? What was the final criteria?

Dr. Stoesser: You might laugh at this, but, for myself, I realized I was not passionate about getting up at 3:00 a.m. to take out a gall bladder, but I had learned that the family physicians, a fair number, deliver babies and I could be passionate about getting up at 3:00 a.m. to deliver a baby.

Interviewer: So what are some of the other advantages of family medicine?

Dr. Stoesser: Well, not things that I had thought about at the onset, but what I've seen now having been in this career for 15 years or more and with my own career as well, observing colleagues and prior residents that I've had, there is just enormous potential to do so many interesting things within the field of family medicine and to reinvent yourself and to change your career as your interests change.

I actually did a fellowship in obstetrics after residency so that I could do operative obstetrics. And I did that for a number of years, and then I decided it was time for the . . . I did not want to do that anymore. And now, my practice has turned in a way that I could have never envisioned. I'm actually doing hepatitis C care in the clinics, and I have an LGBTQ practice and I'm helping patients transition with transgender care issues. So those are things that I had no idea I would be interested in 20 years ago but are a really big interest for me now.

I know of other family physicians who've gone on to do some amazing things, who've been the medical care providers on wilderness expeditions. We had prior residents who've been working in Alaska and others who have been in Antarctica working as the medical care providers. People have just done all sorts of things with this career.

Interviewer: And what about disadvantages?

Dr. Stoesser: So it is true what they say, you know kind of a little bit about everything but almost a lot about nothing unless you choose to sub-specialize. And you have to learn to become comfortable with that feeling of discomfort. And you have to know what your limits are.

Interviewer: So what type of person do you think should go into family medicine?

Dr. Stoesser: I'm sure there are a lot of different people who go into family medicine, but again, somebody who always wants to be learning their entire lives, who wants to be challenged, who doesn't want to be bored, and who likes a variety of things.

Interviewer: And what does your typical week look like?

Dr. Stoesser: So my typical week, I truly do see a lot of variety in that. I see adult men and women patients. I see seniors. I see a fair number of geriatrics. I see a lot of psychiatric patients. I see a fair number of pediatric patients and still delivering babies that brings in more pediatric patients.

Interviewer: So how does this particular field of medicine impact your personal life?

Dr. Stoesser: You know, all medicine impacts your personal life. And if you're going to go into medicine, you have to be committed to the "Patient comes first." It really depends. You can be in family medicine and you can be in a potentially 9:00 to 5:00 job, although those are getting harder to come by. And you might have somebody who's covering for you on nights and weekends, but still patients have issues. And even if you have a "day job," there's still somebody who needs to answer those phone calls. So you'll still probably be at least doing part of that.

Then there's the other extreme where you have somebody who's doing a lot of calls with, they might be doing in-patient hospital medicine as a family physician. They might be delivering babies, and they might be on every three to four nights. Or especially if you're rural, you might be on call all the time because you're the one doc in the town. So there can be a huge variety.

Interviewer: All right. So I'm still not sure if family medicine is right for me. How would you make a case for why family medicine is a good practice to go into?

Dr. Stoesser: Well, I'd never want to tell somebody that they should go into family medicine. I mean, one disadvantage of it is that you certainly don't make as much money as you do in the specialty fields. And for some people, that is important. But you still do make a fair amount of money. And one of my preceptors had said, "You know, even though you may be one of the lower paid physicians, you're still making more money than the majority of people in the United States and certainly in the world." And I think that's a good thing to keep in perspective.

And you really want to do what you love because I know somebody who's a cardiothoracic surgeon who's making a lot. But they're on call every second to third night for their entire life, meaning that they have to be working in the hospital, up at night every two to three nights. The most money in the world is not going to be enough to make you happy if your work hours make you miserable. And maybe that person loves being on call every second to third night, but I can tell you that would not be for me.

But really, if somebody's thinking that they're interested in family medicine, the best way is to do just do rotations in family medicine more so than just the required medical student longitudinal ones come in and do an extra month or two with a preceptor you enjoy who sees patients that you're interested in.

Announcer: Want The Scope delivered straight to your inbox? Enter your email address at and click "Sign Me Up" for updates of our latest episodes. The Scope Radio is a production of University of Utah Health Sciences.