Spotlight Speciality: Family Medicine

Dr. Erica Armstrong is a family physician in Grand Rapids, MI. You can find her on Instagram at @healthyfamilyMD

I’ve wanted to be a family doctor since before applying to medical school. My first exposures to family medicine were in visiting a family physician who specialized in sports medicine, through my own running injuries. I was interested in how he was able to help athletes get back to the sport that they loved, and at my stage in life, participating in sports was very important to me. I set up shadowing experiences through his office and other local family physicians offices and the more I saw, the more I knew that family medicine was a good fit for me. The family doctors I worked with saw patients of all ages. We travelled to the hospital to check on newborns, chatted about fishing trips with geriatric patients and helped high school students with acne. 

Family doctors can truly participate in any field of medicine. It seemed like I would never get bored of this profession.

To become a family physician it takes:

  • 4 years of undergraduate education and a bachelors degree, with science course requirements and a good score on the MCAT to apply to medical school.

  • 4 years of medical school and passing 3 medical board exams – each are 8 hour tests that take several weeks of intense studying to pass.

  • 3 years of residency in family medicine. We worked 80 hours a week and rotated through inpatient and outpatient medicine, pediatrics, surgery, surgical subspecialties, medicine subspecialities, OBGYN, ER, and more electives. We took call at the hospital, staying overnight about every 4 days. We have thousands of hours of clinical experience, responsibility with making decisions to care for patients directly, with supervision before we become an Attending.

Family doctors are in demand in any place of the country. Statistics show that for just one additional family doctor for every 10,000 people, the health of an entire community benefits.

Earning potential varies based on area of the country, whether or not the family doctor does OB, and how many procedures are done. In the Midwest, the average salary is 210,000 for a full time family doctor.

The lifestyle of a family doctor can be tailored to the individual. I have worked both full time and part time. I do not do inpatient anymore so when we take call, it is mainly to assure ER follow up and for medication problems that cannot wait until office hours.

A typical work day includes seeing patient in the office of all ages and acuity. We do well child checks, adult physicals, manage chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, as well as any acute condition like sprained ankles, infections, belly pain, and so much more.

The benefit of being a family doctor is that I know my patients well. I can pick up on nuances in changes of a patients condition. I know the family and the dynamic and how that plays a role in wellness. I know what conditions to look out for in siblings, children, or relatives because I know the family.

Everything falls back to the family doctor, even after sending a patient to a specialist. We are the safety net. Patients come back and ask us what we think, because they trust us. It’s a responsibility that I am honoured to have.

A very special thank you to Dr. Erica Armstrong for sharing her insight on the field of family medicine. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours!