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Although there has been growing recognition of the important role of generalist physicians in the United States, there has been insufficient discusion of who the generalists are and how their role is defined. Traditionally, generalists have been defined by their specialty, with physicians in family medicine, general internal medicine, and general pediatrics considered generalists. But this approach may not sufficiently recognize the specific competencies and therefore the specific training required of generalists.A new definition is based on the functional requirements of generalist practice and the central role that generalist physicians will play in comprehensive care. This definition can be used, first, to assure that medical education, both fundamental and continuing, provides generalists with these needed competencies and, second, to judge claims among different categories of physicians that they should be considered generalists.