A physician (medical doctor) is a health professional who practises medicine based on evidence from scientific research. This kind of practice is sometimes called traditional or allopathicmedicine. Physicians can practise family medicine, or they can obtain a specialty in a particular discipline of medical, surgical or diagnostic medicine.

Before becoming registered with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC and being able to practise medicine within their scope in B.C., physicians must meet a number of requirements. These include having a medical degree from an accredited medical school and passing a series of qualifying exams. They must have completed an accredited postgraduate training program in either family medicine or a specialty discipline (two to five years of training). And, they must have obtained certification with the College of Family Physicians of Canada (family physicians) or, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (specialists).

All physicians who practise medicine in Canada must be a Canadian citizen or have permanent resident status.

What does a family physician do?

Family physicians are often called family doctors or general practitioners (GPs). Family physicians are medical professionals who provide comprehensive and continuing primary care to patients in the community, and sometimes in a hospital or care facility. They treat patients of any age or sex, and are knowledgeable about many diseases, organs, and body systems. In addition to diagnosing and treating patients, family physicians deliver babies, and provide preventive care, including routine check-ups, health assessments, immunization, and screening tests. They also counsel patients on concerns related to lifestyle choice or mental health. Family physicians sometimes manage a patient’s illness by referring a patient to, and collaborating with, other physicians who specialize in a particular discipline of medicine.

What does a specialist do?

Specialists are medical professionals who have an expertise in a focused discipline of medicine. The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons currently recognizes 70 disciplines of medical, surgical, and diagnostic medicine.

Some medical specialists such as cardiologists (heart disease), nephrologists (kidney disease), respirologists (lung disease) and dermatologists (skin disease) focus on organ-specific diseases. Surgical specialists such as orthopedic and vascular surgeons perform surgical procedures to treat medical conditions. Diagnostic specialists such as radiologists and pathologists use equipment and laboratories to perform tests such as X-rays and biopsies. Psychiatrists treat mental illness, and pediatric specialists deal with the medical care of infants and children.

All specialists who practise in Canada are certified by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Surgical specialists use the acronym FRCSC (Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada) after their name. Non-surgical specialists use the acronym FRCPC (Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Canada) after their name.

How do physicians keep their skills up to date?

Physicians must renew their license every year with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC. When they renew their license they must attest that they are compliant with the continuing medical education requirements of either the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (specialists) or the College of Family Physicians of Canada (family physicians).

Each year hundreds of physicians participate in the Physician Practice Enhancement Program, which is a collegial peer review program that assesses physicians in community-based clinical practice to ensure they are meeting high standards. The program includes an office inspection, which focuses on areas such as emergency preparedness, hand hygiene, reprocessing of instruments, infection prevention and control, and office policies and procedures.

What happens when I first visit a physician?

You can expect to see qualified, competent, ethical and professional physicians who meet high standards of practice and who adhere to the principles contained in their professional code of ethics. Physicians are expected to follow the laws that govern medical practice, and the professional standards and guidelines developed by the College. Professional standards and guidelines serve as a benchmark to measure physician conduct.

How can I find a physician?

You can visit the College website www.cpsbc.ca and view the register to make sure your physician is registered. The register contains information about physicians’ education and credentials, and whether they are a family physician or a specialist. It also contains contact information, such as address and phone number.

How do I pay for a physician?

If you are a resident of British Columbia, you and your dependents are required to enroll with the Medical Services Plan of BC (MSP). MSP pays for medically necessary services of all family physicians and specialists. MSP does not pay for cosmetic or non-medically necessary surgery.

Patients can choose a family physician without needing a referral. A referral is required to see a specialist or to receive a diagnostic X-ray or laboratory test.

What if I have concerns about the care I received from a physician?

As a patient you have the right to expect a professional standard of care from your physician. Most physicians are willing to talk about your concerns directly. If this is unsuccessful, you may choose to file a complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC.

Please contact:
Complaints and Practice Investigations
College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC
300-669 Howe Street
Vancouver, BC V6C 0B4

Where can I find more information about physicians?

Visit www.cpsbc.ca



Doctor checking woman's blood pressure in exam room smiling

Group of doctors talking about a patient's care. Patient is in the foreground.

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