Hi! I know you! You and I are more alike than you know, and I am happy that you’ve found this blog post to help you in your quest to answer a burning question that you’ve been asking yourself more often than not, as of late. Throughout your life, you’ve been living behind the shadows of the old pretense of, “when I grow up, I want to be a…” but unbeknownst to you, that time has quickly come knocking on your front door, and it’s time to start making some adult decisions! Let me start off by commending you for taking the first step in the right direction, by being self-aware, and internally reflecting on where to go from here! Like most of us like-minded beings in the world, past, present, and future, those of us who walk into a cloud of fairy dust, and begin nurturing the dream of becoming a physician, have undeniably held onto this aspiration and vision for as long as we could remember. We’ve tailored everything in our lives to satisfy the path of this dream, from our birthday presents of a plastic stethoscope to our Halloween costumes, our high school and university courses, our extra-curricular and volunteer activities. Whether you’ve been inspired by a family member who is a physician, a physician that showed you infinite compassion, care, and kindness at some point in your life, whether you’re bewildered by the ever-evolving world of medicine itself, or you’re from the camp of souls that have fantasized about being your favorite physician character in a prominent medical-related TV Drama, you are undoubtedly very much aware of the pros that pursuing both a career and life in medicine entails. Again, I know why you are here! That slightly uncomfortable question keeps lingering in the foreshadows as you consistently give your all to climb the steep and long road ahead—is pursuing medicine REALLY worth it?
Pros of pursuing a career in medicine
Let us start off by listing some of the overarching pros to pursuing a career in medicine; first and foremost, from a societal standpoint, physicians are very highly regarded and respected. Secondly, the medical profession provides a great deal of financial stability, and Physicians are humbly aware that they can start and end their days knowing that they are continuously and positively contributing to the overall health, wellness, growth and betterment of their communities. There is definitely an infinite number of additional pros associated to pursuing a career in medicine, but there is a reason this question has been gnawing at your thoughts for a while now, and I assure you, I was right where you were before I chose to pursue the path to becoming a physician. I implore you to join me as we reflect on what many may view as the cons of pursuing a life and career in medicine, as the overarching downsides may be too difficult to neglect.
Being a doctor is not all rainbows and butterflies
I can certainly confirm from my personal point of view, that although the pros and benefits of pursuing a life in medicine far outweigh the negatives and cons, it is naïve to think that the life of a physician is all rainbows and unicorns. Do I believe the value of a medical school degree and a life of medicine is invaluable and undeniably worth it? YES, I do, because it allows me to live my most authentic and satisfied life, but everyone’s journey, aspirations, goals, and pursuits of happiness are different, so let us explore some of these cons together, so that YOU can feel like you are one step closer to finding what truly makes YOU happy, and makes you most excited for the next chapter of your life.
So, what are some of the cons that are associated with pursuing a career in medicine? Arguably the most “devastating” con to pursuing the profession is the overarching financial stress and associated debt at the very beginning of your journey. From painstakingly high tuition fees per year, in addition to books, bank fees, living expenses, application related expenses in your final year of medical school, and travel related expenses throughout your degree, most medical students find themselves burdened with a hefty amount of debt upon graduation, and will be heading into their residencies with the fear of accruing interest on their loans, (pre-med and med). The reality of needing to “penny-pinch” and strategically budget for their first few years of residency, amidst the stress of residency itself, may have several MD hopefuls second-guessing the financial value and gain of pursuing their dream. If the financial stress of pursuing a medical degree wasn’t enough, the stress of successfully matching and attaining one’s desired residency (in their desired specialty, and even in their desired/close to desired institution/location) and the life of a medical resident itself is grounds for some physician hopefuls to turn away from the profession completely.
Ahhh, stress. What a weighted term. In addition to the aforementioned uncertainties and stress-related cons of pursuing a medical degree, the ominous and looming existence of stress, and its ability to snowball without a seconds notice at any time throughout the life of a medical student, resident, and practicing physician, is reason enough for many MD hopefuls to turn away, choose another path, and never look back at the life that could have been. From an academic point of view, the speed at which medical material is introduced, taught, and tested has been compared to attempting to “drink out of a fire hydrant”. Although medical students come into medical school as having been the top of their respective classes, the fear of not academically keeping up, or the potential of not passing an exam or course is an unfathomable thought in and of itself. The life of a medical student, a medical resident, and a practicing physician takes different tolls on one's life in each phase, from an emotional, mental, physical and wellness capacity, to sacrifices of relationships, family and home life as well. In medical school, depression rates of medical students far exceed that of the general public. In residency, relationships and bonds may be questioned due to a resident’s delegation of time and shift in priorities. As a practicing physician, higher salaries are but mere illusions that mask a higher than average accumulation of debt, and long working hours (some of which go uncompensated) patient-related stresses and worry, all take an undesirable toll on family life, health and wellness in a whole new way, as even more responsibility is taken on.
But it's all worth it at the end...
With all the aforementioned “downfalls” of pursuing a medical degree, I can see and sense that you are undeniably disheartened and that at this very moment, more than ever, you’re thinking that pursuing your lifelong dream of attaining a medical degree proves to be of no value. DON’T TURN AWAY!! Ask any medical student, resident or physician, and they will most likely exclaim, with all the ingenuity they can muster up, that the benefits and perks of pursuing a career in medicine far outweigh and overshadow the cons. Some of the greatest privileges my colleagues and myself will collectively agree the medical profession has bestowed upon us? Allowing us to be amongst the fortunate few who are not still in search of finding a career that continuously brings purpose to our lives, and indescribable fulfillment, gratification, and gratefulness in the small things we have been able to put out into our communities, in caring for our fellow brethren and neighbors. For every day that passes where we feel our compassion for one another and our patients cannot possibly grow beyond what we may presently be feeling, regardless of how fatigued, tired, or frustrated we may feel, new experiences constantly prove us wrong.
Get up and stand in front of the mirror; if you can look at your reflection with great affirmation and state that your life-long dream and aspiration is to serve your fellow neighbors, community, and society as a physician, then I am here to tell you that the fearful costs of pursuing this dream, whether financial, mental, or emotional, should not deter you from accomplishing your dream, or be taken into account when determining your decision as you take this next challenging step forward. Although these uncertainties and stresses are not to be discounted, one must look at the glass as half-full and recognize that there are many ways to mitigate these fears and make the road ahead far less bumpy and tumultuous. If the financial aspect of pursuing a medical degree has you feeling stressed, seek solace in the fact that there are many loan options, and associated loan repayment options available that you can explore and pursue. If the uncertainty of securing a residency position is reason enough for you to turn away from your dream, rest assured that taking the year between graduating medical school, and putting your name back into the match-pool the following year off, presents as a great opportunity to further strengthen your application, where pursuing research positions, and growing as an individual are all commendable paths to take in reaching your final destination. If you are struggling with the fear of experiencing crippling mental stress during medical school, residency, or even as a physician has you wanting to turn away, find peace in knowing that many medical schools, residency programs, and hospital programs are set up to provide free, accessible, and confidential counseling services to help you get from point A to point B, one step at a time. Always staying ten steps ahead, and planning fail-safes for any crossroads that you feel may present as barriers or stresses in your own personal journey will make your experience moving forward that much LESS stressful!
From a personal standpoint, pursuing a life of medicine allows you to be in constant awe of the complexity of the human body, to be constantly humbled by its intricacies, and to be challenged with the mystery of a set of symptoms, and the journey one must take to arrive at a diagnosis and treatment plan. It allows you to never remain stagnant in your learning, and to keep up with the ever-evolving medical world, and feeding your internal drive and commitment to embracing the never-ending vast body of knowledge and discoveries, all for the betterment of your patients’ lives. It allows your sense of morals and ethics to consistently grow with each life you encounter, allows you to dig deep and allow yourself to understand and relate to those who have fallen ill, and have compromised health woes, and to recognize that a smile or silent gesture can be just as powerful to a patient, as pharmacological or medical interventions. Ultimately, being able to look into a patient’s eyes, and letting them know that you will go to all ends of the earth to ensure that all steps will be taken to help the patient heal, and get to a point where everything will be alright, and having that look of bewilderment, gratefulness, and relief stare back at you—that makes this life-long journey beyond worth it, wouldn’t you agree?
About the author:
Dr Karim Wafa is a resident in anesthesiology and an admissions expert at BeMo.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo