There are different reasons why people choose to pursue a career in medicine.
Some have an interest in biology and how the human body functions. Others may have had an experience that piqued their interest in caring for patients. There are also some that are enticed into the medical profession by the high salaries that physicians tend to enjoy.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to become a doctor are, you’ve probably asked this one question that plagues many aspiring doctors – is the cost of medical school actually worth it? Well, you can only know whether it’s a smart move to choose this career path after evaluating both the pros and cons of becoming a doctor.
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From financial incentives to personal fulfillment, here's why medical school is worth your time and money.
Physicians enjoy a very high salary compared to the Average Joe. Medscape's 2019 Physician Compensation Report revealed that the average physician takes home approximately $313,000 annually. The potential income varies by specialty, with more specialized physicians taking home a higher salary.
According to the Medscape report, Orthopedists are the highest-paid ($482,000), followed by plastic surgeons ($471,000) and otolaryngologists (461,000). Family medicine physicians and pediatricians earn $231,000 and $225,000, respectively. While physicians in preventative medicine and public health are the least paid ($209,000), a majority of them (73 percent) said that they were reasonably compensated.
As more advanced systems like artificial intelligence (AI) and other software/program methods become more prevalent, many jobs are increasingly being phased out. Unlike other professionals, the need for physicians remains constant. Even though the healthcare industry is experiencing some changes, patients will always need to be cared for on a human level.
There are several other reasons why physicians will always be in high demand. Within the next decade, the baby boomer generation will be retiring, which means that there will be many job opportunities for younger physicians. Another reason is that the general population continues to grow, which means that the demand for healthcare services will remain constant, if not high.
What does this mean to physicians? It means that they will never have to worry about being out of a job. No matter where you decide to practice, you’re likely to find work. All of these reasons make the healthcare industry one of the sectors with the best job security.
There are plenty of work options within the healthcare industry that allow physicians, nurses, technicians, and other healthcare professionals to have a rewarding career and still have the workplace flexibility they want. Workplace flexibility is simply the ability to have some control over how, when, and where work is accomplished.
As a physician, you will have flexibility in terms of the number of working hours you’ll have to work per day or week. Locum tenens work, contract work, temporary work, and per diem work are all healthcare jobs that give medical professionals increased job flexibility.
With advancements in technology, you also have the flexibility to work remotely. Telehealth and telemedicine allow doctors to deliver healthcare services remotely, which means that you can work from your office, home, or any other location. What’s more is that if you ever tire of patient care, you can switch to another specialty or opt to move to research or administrative work. In other words, you won’t have to be locked in one spot forever.
Saving and improving lives
Doctors are dedicated to offering a meaningful service for others and doing tangible good for the world. While doctors are dedicated to saving lives, their importance goes far beyond that. They also help to improve their patients’ lives by assisting them to recover from ailments faster. As for those with disabling injuries, doctors teach them how to live and enjoy life, even if they cannot be cured. This makes a huge difference not just to the patients but also to their families.
The society at large sees doctors as a great source of guidance. Besides addressing their patients’ physical needs, physicians also help people in an intellectually stimulating way and guide them towards making better choices. Physicians’ words tend to be respected in various fields, from science to politics. Once you become a physician, people will regard you as a knowledgeable professional with insights worth listening to.
On the other hand, a life is medicine isn't always what it's chalked up to be. Here's why medical school may not be worth it after all.
Long training process
Becoming a practicing physician means you will spend much of your life studying. If you do not enjoy school and learning, this might be more of a negative for you. At minimum, it will take you four years of medical school and three years of residency training. It is also common for specialists to spend more than 15 years before they begin practicing.
Medical school debt
Regardless of your specialty, anticipate that becoming a doctor will cost you a pretty penny. The sticker price for many med schools is higher than most med students are ready for. Tuition alone is approximately $50,000 per year. You will also have to budget for books, supplies, test fees, lab fees, and living costs, etc. Unless you have a considerable amount saved up to meet these costs, you will likely turn to student loans.
While physicians enjoy a higher salary than most professionals, they are also likely to have a lot more debt. When it comes to training-related medical school loans, doctors and lawyers rank among the highest professions. Reports indicate that 1 in 2 medical residents have at least $200,000 in student loan debt, and 4 out of 5 medical residents are carrying over $100,000 in student loan debt.
On the bright side, refinancing medical school loans can significantly ease the burden.
A doctor’s job is physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. As you strive to save more lives, you will be forced to multitask, endure long shifts, and carry the weight of your patients’ lives on your shoulders. Since you will be dealing with quite a bit of stress almost daily, you will be at an increased of physician burnout.
Reports indicate that 50 percent of physicians report troubling symptoms of physician burnout, which include exhaustion, depression, frustration, and a sense of failure. So, you should not only prepare to work long, but also hard.
Stringent government regulations
The healthcare industry is one of the industries that are constantly under scrutiny. Once you become a medical practice owner, you may have to spend most of your time on paperwork, as you will be required to document everything. You will also have to deal with insurance companies, as well as cope with the constantly changing government requirements.
Medical malpractice lawsuits
According to the Medical Malpractice Center, there are at least 15,000 medical malpractice lawsuits filed annually in the United States. The threat of having a lawsuit filed against them is a major source of stress for many doctors. Physicians are also forced to bear the financial burden of paying medical malpractice insurance even if you never do anything wrong.
Back to our important question – is medical school worth it? Well, after weighing the pros of becoming a doctor against the cons, most aspiring physicians think that it’s worth it. Ultimately, you will have to decide for yourself.
Jack is a Creighton University graduate and former advertising creative who has written extensively about topics in personal finance, employee benefits, and technology. You can find Jack's writing on Calendar.com, StartupNation, and Muck Rack.