Is a medical career worth it? What are the benfits of a career in health care?
With all of the hype about the difficulties of a medical career typified in this article, it is reasonable to wonder whether it is worth it. Most health care professionals know at least a few young people who are ardently trying to gain acceptance to medical school, dental school, pharmacy school, and physician assistant school or physical therapy school. Should these aspiring young people run for cover or continue to pursue medicine — an academically challenging pursuit that requires dedication to achieve acceptance, tireless work completing the requirements and high educational costs?
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It all depends on the priorities. Certainly many physicians and health care professionals will hear others say, 'wow, that is a lot of work,' or 'I can't imagine that much studying,' or 'that is a long time to be in school.' While these statements are often not meant to be discouraging, they may have that unintended consequence. They may make some physicians feel that people in the 'real world' do not work as hard as doctors do.
Additionally, aspiring doctors may have some qualms about the cost of a medical education when compared to most other options. Realistically, the financial outcome is solid, but there are many other professionals who seem to work less and make more money, most with comparatively lower educational investment.
So is a health care career worth it? When it comes to looking at it objectively, certainly there are other lucrative professional options, such as working in investment, finance, technology, law or a job as an executive. But the decision to work in the medical field as a physician, a pharmacist, a nurse or a physical therapist, among other options, is not purely a financial decision. Health care is a field for those who are not intimidated by academic pressures. All of the positions listed above require a balance of sympathy and levelheadedness at times of patient stress and uncertainty. Unpredictability is a hallmark of the workday for a health care professional. No one plans to become sick and no one is ever enthusiastic to hear a bad diagnosis or a less than perfect prognosis.
The satisfaction of being able to improve outcome of health or of being able to help with planning and implementing the most suitable treatment even in less than optimal situations is what being a health care professional is really about. So is it worth it? Objectively, if you do the math, probably not. It is less competitive, less emotionally grueling, less uncertain and less academically challenging to choose a different profession. But the immeasurable benefits are what the health care professions are really about.
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The enrichment of life is the real reason for a medical career. Certainly other lucrative professions can offer a great deal of personal satisfaction as well and in different ways. A lawyer fighting for fairness and justice, an executive providing jobs, a financial guru helping people retire, a technology expert creating ways to help people streamline their lives. The key to whether a medical career is worth it is not the numbers, but in the unmeasured personal enrichment that comes from how you want to leave a mark on the world and how you want the world to leave a mark on you.
Heidi Moawad, MD is author of Careers Beyond Clinical Medicine, an instructional book for health care professionals who are looking for career alternatives.