I feel privileged to be practicing medicine. Many people consider doctor careers and imagine how great it may be. Is it the right thing for you? Yes there are days of frustration, exhaustion, and utter defeat, but at the end of the day I home and know that I helped at least one person if not two from the 16 I meet.
The fact that I alleviated one individual’s anxiety or provided reassurance that they will be okay is a good feeling and one that I must remind myself of. That I am able to work with a team of individuals from medical assistants to nurses and techs to provide care and the fact that I am not stuck behind a desk all day despite computers and electronic medical records encroaching more and more into our lives (one recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine described two hours of computer time for every one hour of physician interaction time. And despite more focus on parameters such as that may or may not have anything to do with actual health outcomes.
It is easy to forget the effort it takes to become a physician. Once in practice, it is easy to get burned out. If I applied today for medical school I may not be successful with current acceptance rates per US News are 6.9 percent nationally in 2015. This is despite a expected shortage of between 46,000 to 90,000 physicians in 2025 which blows my mind because there is already a lot of discussion regarding physician burnout — a topic I will not be covering that here today — but will likely be made worse by a physician shortage. OK, so before I digress more, I mean to discuss why I am privileged to be a physician and why we as a profession can never forget these things despite all the BS that has entered our field.
1. I make a difference. Day in and day out, someone somewhere is benefiting from your knowledge and expertise. I am able to ease someone’s mind or mend a broken heart. I can truly go home and know I made a difference that day.
2. People/teamwork. There are lots of jobs that require team cooperation to get through the day. If you like that sort of thing, then being a doctor is a good gig. I am an extrovert and love people. Throughout my day I coordinate with nurses, MAs, care coordinators, social workers, etc. to improve the care of our patients. Additionally, the patient is part of the team, and I get to meet interesting people from all walks of life and see how differently people live and experience this world from my own perspective.
3. My intent is always for good. In some professions, there are winners and losers. For instance, in the court of law, one lawyer wins, and the other loses. Or in business, one party may try to negotiate more and thereby taking money or services from the other person at a discount. In my world, there is no conflict of interest — unless drug companies, etc. get in the way. My intent for the patient/person is always the same as it would be for my family. While the fee for service may confuse this a little for some practices, my current practice model completely gets rid of this.
4. I can live anywhere. There are not many professions that have this, particularly high paying ones. As a doctor, you can move to anywhere in the country if you can find a job. Plus if you live in the country you may actually earn more. This is similar to other trades like plumbers, electricians, etc. but is rare for professionals such as business executives, bankers, etc. For those jobs, you have to move to the centers of power and movement.
Now granted, there are some exceptions to this rule if you are a physician too. If you are a pediatric cardiologist or otherwise super sub-specialized, then you need a bigger city and have fewer job options (try getting a job as an electrophysiologist right now). Also if you are set on doing academics options will be limited. If, however, you want to be a generalist of sorts (i.e. general cardiology) then you have way more options. This is the best part of our job.
5. Job security. There are not many more secure jobs that you can do well into your 70s (and even 80s to some capacity) if you want.
6. Pay. Being a physician does bring in a nice take home salary. Now granted most of us have between 100K to 400K in debt (I am hovering at 177K), when you get out you can expect to make a salary of $150 to $500 K annually. There are not many tech jobs that will pay you over a $100K.
7. No physical labor. This is specialty dependent. For instance, interventional radiologist, cardiologist and orthopedist all wear lead that can lead to back problems later in life. For most of us, however, our jobs are not physically difficult. Now you may argue that sitting in front of a computer 8 hours a day is tough, and I won’t disagree. You, however, are not working construction or playing football. There is a reason a football player retires in their 30s just as our careers are beginning.
8. Professional/community esteem. This is not one of my top reasons to be a doctor but for others it is important. The community still holds being a doctor as a noble professional, and most people respect the position. There are few negative preconceived notions about doctors (except for being rich).
9. Continued growth. As a doctor, there is always room for growth. You can take up more CME, continue reading journals, even go back and do another fellowship in your field if you want. If there is a will, there is a way.
10. Other opportunities. This is not one I have embarked on yet, but there are opportunities outside of seeing patients to make a living. There are plenty of jobs MDs can do from research to consulting for companies to pharmaceutical jobs, etc. Whatever you can think of, there is likely a way to use your medical degree to achieve it. If you really don’t like medicine, then you can leverage the high income to earn and save like crazy and retire within 10 years.
So what do you think? Was medicine the right profession for you? What other benefits are there from our profession?
“Dads Dollars Debts” is a cardiologist who blogs at his self-titled site, Dads Dollars Debts.
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