How to Differentiate PCPs, Family Doctors and Internists

The intricacies of the medical field might not be accessible to everyone. For instance, few patients understand the differences between primary care practitioners or PCPs, family doctors, and internists. To the layperson, they all work at a hospital or health facility, and are responsible for managing their treatment or recovery plan.

Of course, these professionals do have similar responsibilities. However, if you know the differences in their roles, you would know how to find the medical worker fit for your family’s needs.

1. Primary care practitioner (PCP)

The title ‘PCP’ covers a number of roles in medicine. Family medicine doctors, PCP nurses, physician’s assistants, internists, pediatricians, and geriatricians are all called primary care practitioners.

Primary care doctors handle general infirmities; if something is beyond their scope, they refer the patient to a specialist. A patient who has a fever and chills will be examined by a PCP and tested for various possibilities. If they figure out, for example, that the patient has stomach flu, they will be referred to a gastroenterologist.

A PCP treats patients from all age groups and handles disease prevention, maintenance, and even patient counseling. Since they handle general healthcare, they are the ones you will most frequently encounter and will be monitoring your progress even after the specialist takes over.

2. Family doctor

Also primary care practitioners, family doctors will be able to care for every family member in all life stages. They are trained in preventive medicine and symptom management for everyone, from babies to the elderly, and are the first doctor you see when you consult common illnesses like hypertension and bronchitis.

A family doctor that takes care of your entire household will be at an advantage in terms of planning for your health. Since they are familiar with the medical history of everyone in your family, they can give you advice regarding genetically-influenced conditions such as heart disease. These physicians have residency training in a range of fields, from mental health to pediatrics, and even gynecology.

3. Internist

If a family doctor treats patients of all ages, an internist is someone who treats conditions in adults only. They can manage conditions in older adolescents, but younger teens are treated by pediatricians or PCPs. These kinds of doctors also treat common medical issues like strains, dysmenorrhea, and diabetes. 

These types of doctors would have also completed four years of medical school and three years in residency, where they would have had rotations in adult specialties like cardiology, endocrinology, and palliative care. Like PCPs and family physicians, they are also first-line responders. They take on general issues and leave the more particular cases to the specialists. 

If you are an adult and have a broken wrist, for example, you may be treated by an internist. However, if you have a unique fracture that needs invasive intervention, you might be referred to an orthopedic surgeon.


Doctors are indispensable to the smooth functioning of our societies, and first-line physicians like PCPs, family doctors, and internists bear the impact of responding to our most basic healthcare needs. Choosing the best healthcare professional for your family is necessary, as good rapport with their chosen medical professional is a part of any patient’s recovery.

Looking for primary care in New Jersey? Get in touch with us Garden State Medical Group today. Our professionals aim to provide holistic, individualized care to our patients!

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