Scope of general practice

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Scope of general practice 2017-05-30T11:30:50+00:00
General practice is often the first line of defence for patients with early-stage illnesses. GPs are responsible for recognising, diagnosing and, where appropriate, providing health care education, treatment or referrals to specialists. GPs provide healthcare support for patients of any age, gender and ethnicity. A GP is often seen as a family doctor, providing stability and continuity of care for individuals and families throughout the lifetime.

Doctors who specialise in general practice have:

  • A strong understanding of physical, psychological and cultural health problems
  • A wide knowledge of local networks and specialist services
  • A well-rounded knowledge of symptoms and problems, whether they indicate long-standing illnesses, new developments or issues in urgent need of attention

Rural general practice is located in remote or rural areas of Australia. Patients living in these areas often have limited or no access to specialists or medical services; as a result, a GP may find that their responsibilities extend beyond what they might be in a more metropolitan area. This can extend to private hospital care, after-hours services, birth assistance and other clinical procedures. A rural GP may also encounter more diversity in their patient population, including more Indigenous people.

General Practitioners operate in a specialty known as General Medicine/General Surgery or ‘family’ medicine. The scope of this is at once wide and narrow, with a plethora of health symptoms being presented by patients, but a certain subset of them being treatable from a GP point of view. It requires a level of understanding of all specialties in order to appropriately refer patients to the correct person when a symptom or ailment is beyond the GP scope of practice.

Broadly speaking, a GP will need to be aware of and support a number of factors in order to be successful in the field.


The community in which you are a part, and more specifically, the patient will have personal needs that must be addressed. The most important aspect to your role is the administering of a patient’s desired or required health outcome. This involves building long-term and lasting relationships with your patients as you act in turn as a doctor, counselor and health promoter and educator on an individual and group basis.


Your patients will present any number and combination of symptoms that you must then diagnose or refer on to a specialist for further review. This means your scope spans anything from basic medicine to heath promotion and education to counseling on mental wellbeing and chronic conditions to early intervention for patients at risk, community outreach and more. To say that your role will be varied is an understatement. In addition to this, you will work in an administrative capacity with other members of a private practice, hospital or other health provider. Being able to navigate an office-based environment and the tasks that go along with it will form part of your role as well.


As a GP, there are quality standards you need to uphold as well as those a practice and hospital need to adhere to. A big part of this is your own continuous professional development, which you are required to complete to maintain your license. This is necessary in general practice particularly because it is an ever-changing specialty. Every day, new medications, treatments and even illnesses are being discovered, which means you need to be proactive about staying on top of your game to provide the best support you can for your patients and community at large.

Being a General Practitioner doesn’t mean the same patients, day in and day out, with the same chronic problems. It means becoming part of their lives as they grow, mature and occasionally start families of their own that also come to you for medical support. Your role will be fluid for your patients, but you will remain a figure of respect and knowledge in the community.​

Once you pass the AGPT and are made a fellow of one of the two GP colleges, you’ll be a fully fledged GP. But the work doesn’t stop there. Continual professional development will be a paramount part of your role to ensure that you are providing the best care, support and advice to each and every one of your patients.

Ensuring you get a wide mix of training will keep your mind sharp and on top of current developments in the ever-changing field of general practice. By maintaining contact with your college (either RACGP or ACRRM) and with your network of colleagues and mentors, you will have access to any education that is provided for GPs. Similarly, allow some time for self-directed learning; read journals, subscribe to reputable websites and keep abreast of the changes in general practice and medicine overall.

Read up on different options for work, living and professional development in our FAQs.