We were surprised by the “So you want to be a doctor? Here are 10 myths debunked.”. It did not represent our collective experiences as family physicians. We offer an alternative perspective:
1. You’ll be rich. An average family physician, at a salary of about $230K, makes more than 93 percent of other households. The average medical student debt from 2019 was just over $201,000 (AAMC). A 10-year loan repayment at 6.25 percent interest is $2,300 monthly, out of a monthly gross income of about $19,200. There are also loan forgiveness programs. We make a great living.
2. You’ll save lives. Once in a while, saving a life is dramatic, like resuscitating a hypoxic COVID-19 patient, or delivering a baby who got stuck with a shoulder dystocia. Most of the time, it’s not made-for-television-drama material. It’s helping patients make thoughtful choices around diet, drinking, guns, and smoking. It’s diagnosing and treating depression when patients themselves fail to recognize it. It’s providing the most current evidence-based treatments for acute and chronic diseases. It’s the long game of life-saving, punctuated by quick reflexes in a crisis.
3. All your patients will be grateful. The previous piece stated, “Some will. For the most part, they’ll be angry that they had to wait for hours to see you, and then you only had 15 minutes to spend with their many issues.” Family doctors may only see patients for 15 minutes, and sometimes after a wait. However, we get to know patients and their children, parents, brothers, and grandmas, for many 15-minute visits over years. We listen intently, we tend to their needs, and the patients are almost always grateful.
4. Everybody will love you. First, of course, not everybody will love you. However, family physicians focus on consensus building, communication, and teamwork. This earns the love of many patients. Without dedicated primary care physicians, no health care system can succeed – as a result, we have some influence with administration (“love” is probably an overstatement). In this era of telehealth, our patients use patient portals to ask questions, and then beseech us to stay safe, sending offers of prayers for our safekeeping. Our patients are grateful for outreach and stability from a known ally. Our patients reflect back the love that we send their way.
5. You’ll make the world a better place. When we listen deeply to a young struggling mother, then offer compassion and sage advice, advocating for a person of limited literacy with a complicated diagnosis, or celebrating a year of sobriety with someone struggling with addition, their worlds – THE world – improves. Our single-minded presence and caring makes this world better, and many family physicians who work in advocacy, education, government, and public health can improve the health of populations.
6. You’ll inspire others. When we share the story of an extended family in our practice, where the grandparents were born; which uncle is gay and how he is accepted (or not); who wants to grow up and be a doctor, we inspire colleagues and learners by our deep connection to our patients. Family doctors have been on the front lines of COVID-19 because we care for adults, children, elders, and pregnant people, in both inpatient and outpatient settings. We ensure that our patients’ medications get refilled, their paperwork signed, and that they have transportation to their appointments. We are empathetic and also relentless advocates for our patients and our communities. Yes, we inspire.
7. You’ll be respected and trusted. Trust is the most precious privilege that comes with being a physician. We open the doors to deep conversation, creating judgment-free spaces of emotional safety. We ask the most daunting of questions with tranquility and compassion. Patients want us at their bedside at the height of suffering, and at the pinnacle of joy. We are invited to weddings, funerals, and christenings. Our patients respect our depth of knowledge and trust our dedication to their wellbeing.
8. You’ll always be proud of the work you’ve done. We do our best for our patients: keeping up on evidence-based therapeutic innovations. Being fully present. Arranging timely specialty care for a patient with a new cancer diagnosis, while also being available to the patient and their family. Of course, sometimes we will second guess ourselves. We will make mistakes, as do all humans. That does not erase the pride in our profession.
9. Everybody will want to date you. Being a doctor who is passionate about their work can be intimidating. However, family doctors are good listeners, we generally like kids and fundamentally are interested in the stories and lives of others. Most of us have predictable schedules, and we are making a good living. Does everyone want to date us? Perhaps not – but we don’t need to date “everybody.”
10. As a doctor, you’ll have a healthy lifestyle and set an example for others. Most family physicians we know walk the talk of a healthy lifestyle. We have work-life balance, families, and hobbies. One young patient said, “Dr. Kathe, I saw you riding your bike with your pink flower helmet! I wouldn’t want a doctor who didn’t wear a helmet.” We advocate for local, fresh, healthy foods, a smaller carbon footprint, and better environmental policy.
So, why else should a person become a doctor?
Because there is always something to learn. Because holding someone’s hand when they’re scared is a profound gift that feels as good to give as it does to receive. Because your job will call on you to be brave, honest, and the best human you can be. Because you can work with people who are as devoted to and optimistic about our fellow humans as you are. Because you can choose your patient populations, your clinical settings, the procedures that you do, and the way that you practice.
So, yes, good luck, young friend. Keep your focus on what brings you joy, and pursue that. You’ll be great at it.
Aaron Hoffman, Kathe Miller, Deyang Nyandak, and Rebekah Rollston are family physicians.
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