Is Being a Doctor Worth It? Pros and Cons of Becoming a Physician

Dayton Uttinger  | 

Being a doctor is usually a lifelong dream. You get to save lives and earn good money, all while knowing that you’re making the world a better place. However, like most dreams, there is catch. Becoming a doctor requires a lot of sacrifices, both financial and personal. Some people think they’re worth it, but ultimately you’ll have to decide for yourself. Whichever route you decide, you should at least know the stakes.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Doctor?

Becoming a doctor means you’ll spend much of your life studying. If you enjoy school and learning, this might be more of a positive for you, but consider that at minimum it’ll take you seven years of schooling. It’s not uncommon for specialists to spend over fifteen years before they really start practicing.

You’ll have four years of med school, three years of residency, and possibly fellowships afterwards. Fellowships can be striking on your resume, so they are very competitive, but they do take a large chunk of time too. The more specialized your field, the longer the training will take.

Many doctors eventually take a nontraditional route. Some move into hospital administration, which can benefit from their front line experience. It takes several years to move yourself up the ranks, but it can be done, especially with experience caring for patients. Others move into research positions for pharmaceutical companies or governmental organizations; moving up here can also take you a few years. However, becoming a doctor beforehand gives you a huge advantage.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Doctor?

No matter your specialty, anticipate that becoming a doctor will cost more than a pretty penny. If you aren’t deliberate with your funds, your debt and financial obligations might bury you, despite the high salary potential.

Medical School and Student Debt

The sticker price for many medical schools is higher than you may be ready for. Tuition alone is likely around $50,000 per year. However, there are a variety of other factors to consider. You’ll also have to budget for test fees, application fees, living costs, books, supplies, lab fees, etc.

This can run up your student loans and debt very quickly. It can take decades to pay off your student loans if you’re not careful. While you will likely have a higher salary than most people, you also will likely have a lot more loans. Additionally, you may have less time to pay them off. Medical school is very expensive investment.

Maintenance of Certification (MOC) and Continuing Medical Education (CME)

Once you’ve finished with all that training, your costs aren’t over. Many physicians choose to acquire a Maintenance of Certification (MOC), a certification obtained through the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association. Although you are not required to get one, many employers prefer doctors with MOCs. While you do not have to take the test frequently (once every ten years), it’s still a couple hundred dollars you’ll be expected to pay.

In the interim, you’ll be expected to earn continuing medical education (CME) credits. This includes watching informative DVDs, attending medical presentations, or other activities that keep you up to date with medical thought and technology. Participating in CME is a requirement in many US states to keep your medical license.

Medical Malpractice and Liability Insurance

Medical malpractice can be painful for the plaintiff, but it’s a constant migraine for doctors. Not only do they have to worry about it when there is a claim against them, but it’s a constant financial burden even if they never do anything wrong. You’ll have to purchase medical malpractice and liability insurance in case you are ever sued.

Depending on your speciality, performance record, and location, the dollar amount of your insurance will vary. You can expect to pay at least several thousand dollars a year on it.

How Much Do Doctors Get Paid?

Alright, so doctors have to pay a lot of money to get where they are. But that makes sense, right, given their enormous paychecks? Compared to the Average Joe, they are definitely making good money.

  • Primary Care- $209,000
  • OB/GYN- $286,000
  • Gastroenterology- $391,000
  • Orthopedics- $489,000

As you can see, your potential salary can vary a lot. The more specialized and unique you go, the higher your salary will go as well. However, considering the extensive costs that go into becoming a physician, these numbers might not be as rosy as they seem. You’ll have close to $200,000 in student loans when you start your career.

Pros of Becoming a Doctor:

Besides the money, there are other things you should consider before choosing to become a doctor. Some of the biggest benefits are definitely alluring, so give them proper thought.

Prestige

Doctors enjoy a certain level of prestige amongst their family and friends. Everyone sees becoming a physician as a great accomplishment, and everyone respects the work that you do. If you want to gain the respect of your community, becoming a doctor is one way to do it.

Influence

Likewise, people see you as a source of guidance. Patients come to you with some of their deepest problems, and the issues are not always physical. You can guide your patients towards making better choices.

Your word is also respected in various fields, from politics to science. People regard you as a knowledgeable individual with insights worth listening to. You have a real chance to create lasting change.

Saving and Improving Lives

This is the most obvious pro to becoming a doctor. You’re doing tangible good in the world. You don’t have to wonder whether you “wasted” your life doing something ultimately meaningless. You know that you left a mark on the world, and it’s better off because you were here.

Flexibility

The need for doctors is nearly constant, and that will be true no matter where you travel. You could move across the globe and likely still find work. You won’t ever have to worry about being out of a job for very long.

Furthermore, as noted above, if you ever tire of patient care, you can move to administrative or research work. Or you could change your specialty, with a bit of time and effort. This career doesn’t have to lock you in one spot forever.

Cons of Becoming a Doctor:

However, there is another side to the coin. Besides the enormous cost, consider the following:

Stress

Being a doctor requires long shifts, multitasking, and dealing with the weight of your patient’s lives on your shoulders. While you do get to save lives, this is a much higher level of responsibility than most other jobs. It can weigh heavy, and it’s difficult to leave this type of work at the office.

Limited Social Life

Especially as a resident, you’ll work odd hours. Some specialties, like emergency medicine, need people all around the clock. Not only will you work hard, you’ll work long. Doctors can expect to work anywhere from 50-80 hours a week. Some work more, few work less, but expect to be committed to the job for most of your life. This leaves little room for time for friends, family, or personal pursuits.

Dealing with Bureaucracy and Government Regulation

The healthcare system in the US is constantly under scrutiny. You’ll be required to document everything, deal with insurance companies, and constantly changing government requirements. While you struggle to see all your patients in a day, you’ll be spending two-thirds of your time on paperwork. Not exactly the vision most med school student have.

Risk of Burnout and Suicide

One of the biggest risks of becoming a physician is burnout— it’s 10 percent higher than any other profession. Furthermore, 400 physicians die at their own hand every year; doctors are twice as likely to commit suicide as anyone else. All the pressures of being a doctor catch up to far too many.

Some, though, are convinced that becoming a doctor is not only the best career for them, but it’s their calling.They are willing to take the risks in order to achieve their dream. If this describes you, you should still move forward carefully. Consider the pros and the cons, and decide which one weighs more for you personally. There is no right or wrong answer for everyone, but there is a one that will better suit you.


Image Source: https://depositphotos.com/

Dayton is a chronic Wikipedia addict, which is detrimental to her social life but stellar for her writing. She resides in Boise, ID, surrounded by her own frantic outlines, highlighted encyclopedias, and potatoes. The latter was not by choice.

This post was updated March 9, 2018. It was originally published February 15, 2018.