Background: Since 2005, Kenyan medical universities have been training general practitioners, providing them with clinical, management, teaching and research skills, in order to enhance access to and quality of health care services for the Kenyan population. This study assesses what expectations family physicians, colleagues of family physicians and policy makers have of family medicine, what expectations family physicians live up to and which challenges they face. Methods: Family physicians were observed and interviewed about their expectations and challenges concerning family medicine. Expectations among their colleagues were assessed through focus group discussions. Policy makers' expectations were assessed by analysing the governmental policy on family medicine and a university's curriculum. Results: Roles perceived for and performed by family physicians included providing comprehensive care, health care management, teaching, and to a lesser extent community outreach and performing research. Challenges faced by family physicians were being posted in situations where they are regarded as just another type of specialist, lack of awareness of the roles of family physicians among colleagues, lack of time, lack of funds and inadequate training. Conclusions: The ministry's posting policy has to be improved to ensure that family physicians have a chance to perform their intended roles. Creating an environment in which family physicians can function best requires more effort to enlighten other players in the health care system, like colleagues and policy makers, about the roles of family physicians.