What is General Practice?

General practice as a career

A career in general practice offers enrichment, reward, financial security, the opportunity for personal and professional development, the opportunity for a diverse experience in practising medicine, and collegiality.

As a relationship based specialist medical discipline, general practice clinicians are defined by the characteristics of their discipline.

Person centredness

General practitioners understand that health, illness and disease are ultimately personal experiences, and that their principal role is to relieve personal disease in all its forms, in the manner best suited to each individual. The patient's needs, values and desired health outcomes always remain central to the general practitioner's evaluation and management processes.

Continuity of care

Long term relationships build mutual knowledge, understanding, and trust: all essential elements in a therapeutic relationship which generates the potential for healing, empowerment and beneficial change. General practitioners seek to build health, wellbeing and resilience through the continuing patient-doctor relationship, application of best available evidence in the unique context of each consultation, and planned coordination of clinical teamwork, resources and services.


General practitioners are not limited by age, gender, body system, disease process or service site. The scope of clinical practice is challenging, spanning prevention, health promotion, early intervention for those at risk, and the management of acute, chronic and complex conditions within the practice population whether in the home, practice, health service, outreach clinic, hospital or community.

Whole person care

Appreciation of the interplay between bio-psycho-social contributors to health leads to a deep understanding of the whole person, and the ability to manage complex conditions and circumstances. The general practitioner functions as a physician, counsellor, advocate and agent of change for individuals, families and their communities.

Diagnostic and therapeutic skill

General practitioners' high level diagnostic and therapeutic skills applied within continuing relationships deliver cost effective care that is highly valued by patients. General practitioners are skilled in managing uncertainty, undifferentiated illness and complexity, able to utilise best practice evidence in the light of individual circumstances, and engage patients and families in understanding, planning and managing their health according to individual capacities.

Coordination and clinical teamwork

General practitioners work in close and respectful relationships to deliver accessible, integrated patient care: leading, supporting and coordinating their flexibly configured clinical teams; contributing appropriately to external clinical teams, and engaging with diverse specialists and other sector services according to individual patient or family needs. The general practitioner is increasingly the custodian of, and conduit for, key patient clinical information.

Continuing quality improvement

General practitioners are able to assess their professional capabilities, expand existing skills and acquire new skills over a professional lifetime in response to changing clinical and community contexts. At the practice/service level, quality care requires leadership, teamwork, planning, systematic information management and continuing quality improvement processes to underpin delivery of care at every level.

Professional, clinical and ethical standards

Professional standards provide general practitioners with the essential framework for decision making in a complex environment where the ethical tensions between providing best possible care for individual patients, the cost effective utilisation of limited public resources and achieving equity for those most disadvantaged, must constantly be considered and resolved.

Leadership, advocacy and equity

General practitioners understand the socio-economic and environmental determinants of health and the contribution made by other health professionals, sectors and community groups, resulting in collaboration, advocacy and leadership, influencing local environments to the benefit of individuals, families and communities, especially those most marginalised and at risk.

Continuing evolution of the discipline

General practitioners contribute to the evolution of their discipline according to individual interests, skills and circumstances through diverse involvements in teaching, mentorship, research and local health service planning and service development, with all elements understood as being integral to clinical practice, quality care and continuation of a high quality workforce.

General practice is a unique discipline. Rigorous scientific medical training and the ability to apply the evidence appropriately in community settings, places general practice at the centre of an effective primary health care system. These same qualities – when combined with the discipline's holistic, relationship based philosophy and broad generalist practice, distinguish the discipline in large measure from other medical disciplines.

Every person needs a medical home in general practice where the provision of person centred, continuing care is based on the foundations of a relationship of trust between patients and their chosen general practitioner, while its consistent delivery rests with the practice or primary health care service as a whole.

Dr Penny Need, RACGP member since 2007

Dr Penny Need
'I wanted to show my commitment to the general practice and also wanted to access educational opportunities that were relevant to me.

I remember also being drawn in by the copies of John Murtagh’s general practice and the Australian medicine handbook (very helpful for a GP trainee).

I have stayed with the RACGP as I appreciate being involved with people who are passionate about general practice.

I also enjoy examining and helping to maintain what I feel should be strong standards in general practice'.

The role of a GP

The GP plays a central role in the delivery of health care to the Australian community.

In Australia, the GP:

  • is most likely the first point of contact in matters of personal health
  • coordinates the care of patients and refers patients to other specialists
  • cares for patients in a whole of person approach and in the context of their work, family and community
  • cares for patients of all ages, sexuality, and disease categories
  • cares for patients over a period of their lifetime
  • provides advice and education on health care
  • performs legal processes such as certification of documents or provision of reports in relation to motor transport or work accidents.

General practice is a medical speciality (in some countries called family medicine). Entry to the speciality may be achieved by the admission to Fellowship of the RACGP.

Fellowship entitles a GP to practice unsupervised anywhere in Australia, and to access a specialist rate of remuneration under Medicare, the Australian health insurance scheme. Most doctors will need to undertake the College assessments to achieve Fellowship.

The RACGP encourages medical graduates from a wide range of backgrounds, whether in Australia or located outside Australia, to consider a career in general practice in Australia.  The College recognises the diversity among doctors who may wish to become GPs and offers a number of training opportunities and pathways to Fellowship.

Related documents

RACGP General practice career guide (PDF 2 MB)