TV shows about physicians often depict an exciting, glamorous lifestyle. It’s vastly different from what most doctors actually experience, though. Many of them will tell you that unpredictable days and piles of paperwork are realities that can be difficult to handle.
Hearing about such challenges makes you question if you should really commit to becoming a doctor. In the scheme of things, is being a doctor worth it?
Determining your future occupation is a big decision. You’ll have to do plenty of research before you make your final decision. We made that part a little easier by asking some physicians to share how they feel about their careers – both the positives and negatives. Take a look at what they have to say.
The benefits of being a doctor
There are many advantages to working in medicine. Hear about the perks of the profession straight from the MDs who know firsthand.
1. Working in medicine can be immensely satisfying
If you love to learn, medicine is one of the best fields you can pursue. Medical school is just the beginning of your education. Physicians who’ve been practicing for decades regularly encounter unique situations, new treatments, and evolving technologies .
"You get to work in one of the most challenging and intellectually satisfying fields."
“You get to work in one of the most challenging and intellectually satisfying fields,” says Dr. Kate Tulenko, CEO of Corvus Health.
She’s not alone in feeling this way. “It’s truly hard to put into words everything that I love about my job,” says Dr. Julieanne Watters, Area Medical Director at MedExpress. “And that’s why I think job satisfaction is one of the most notable benefits of being a doctor.”
For some, the sheer capabilities of the human body make being a physician remarkable. This is certainly true for Dr. Oluyemisi Odugbesan, Cardiac Anesthesiologist at Physician Anesthesia Services, PC. During a recent conversation at an airport, a pilot told her that he gets to work with the greatest machine that exists on a daily basis.
"It is actually I who gets to work with the greatest machine on earth: the human body.”
“I said I absolutely disagreed with him,” Dr. Odugbesan recalls, “because it is actually I who gets to work with the greatest machine on earth: the human body.”
2. You’ll have immense job security
We’ve seen certain jobs become obsolete as technology has advanced. Doctors are rarely among those worried about staying relevant.
“There’s such a shortage of physicians that, as long as you’re credentialed and haven’t lost your license, you will always have a job,” Dr. Tulenko notes. Her opinion aligns with shortage projections from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
"We still have to bring in about 25 percent of our doctors from overseas."
Need further proof? Dr. Tulenko points out an important fact: “We still have to bring in about 25 percent of our doctors from overseas because we're not training enough in the US.” International medical graduates who attended a quality program should feel relatively confident about their ability to join the US physician workforce.
3. You’ll enjoy a good salary
Doctors go through an extensive amount of training before they’re able to practice. All that experience means physicians are among the most generously compensated members of the workforce. In fact, you’ll see quite a few physician roles among the top 20 highest-paying occupations identified by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
4. You positively affect patients every day
For many physicians, the ability to positively impact patients’ lives each day is easily the biggest benefit. “This may be just one reason, but it is the most important reason and could be listed 10 times over – you wake up every day knowing you make a difference,” Dr. Tulenko enthuses.
"You wake up every day knowing you make a difference."
Dr. Watters similarly thinks improving patients’ lives is incredibly rewarding. Doctors often see individuals who are going through something incredibly difficult.
“It’s so humbling to care for sick and injured people on some of their hardest days,” she says. “When I get the chance to put a smile on their face, it’s even better.”
The exact impact physicians have depends on their area of expertise. Dr. Odugbesan singles out working the obstetrical floor and being involved in transplant procedures as some particularly notable examples.
"To see a heart begin to beat in a donor’s recipient for the first time is miraculous."
“There is nothing more precious than the gift of life, and to see a heart begin to beat in a donor’s recipient for the first time is miraculous,” Dr. Odugbesan says.
Some drawbacks of being a doctor
As is true in any career, there are some negative aspects of being a doctor. And we wouldn’t be painting an accurate portrayal of the profession without including some of the downsides. Hear what our sources have to say about the more challenging parts of working in medicine.
1. Medical school debt can be substantial
There’s no denying the substantial financial investment it takes to attend medical school. That doesn’t mean it has to be a barrier, but you should certainly understand what you’re getting yourself into.
“Look very realistically at the debt issue,” Dr. Tulenko advises. “How are you going to pay that?” She recommends medical students consider government programs and other reimbursement options. There are even some scholarship opportunities to help ease the burden.
2. You have to make sacrifices
Long hours come with the territory. Physicians may have to work nights, weekends, and holidays. You might miss a few weddings and other social events. You also need to make yourself available at a moment’s notice if you happen to be on call. Even regular workdays can be unpredictable.
"I never really know when I'm going to be finished working for the day."
“As an anesthesiologist, I never really know when I'm going to be finished working for the day,” Dr. Odugbesan says. It can be hard for her children to understand. They sometimes ask when they can expect her to come home. “After 10 years, the answer is still the same: ‘I don't know.’”
3. Rules and regulations can be frustrating
The stakes are high in health care and mistakes can be grave, so there are many rules and formalities physicians must follow. These range from maintaining medical records to complying with patient confidentiality laws.
“Physicians are in one of the most highly regulated professions there is,” Dr. Tulenko says. She points to electronic medical records as being particularly burdensome for physicians who need to use them, because so there’s simply so much data entry required. That said, Dr. Tulenko mentions that hiring a medical scribe to assist with taking care of the charts can be a huge help.
"The scribe will pay for themselves."
“If the scribe can enable the physician to see one additional patient a day, the scribe will pay for themselves,” Dr. Tulenko explains.
So, is being a doctor worth it?
Whether physicians feel the pros outweigh the cons is really dependent on the individual. While some may think they would have been better off pursuing another profession, scores of doctors are incredibly happy they chose a career in medicine.
“Taking into account all the pros and cons, becoming a doctor was ultimately worth it to me,” Dr. Odugbesan reflects. “I would go to medical school all over again.”
Dr. Watters is equally happy with her choice. “Becoming a doctor was worth every challenge, roadblock, late night, and early morning,” she insists. “I truly can’t imagine doing anything else.”
"Becoming a doctor was worth every challenge, roadblock, late night, and early morning."
When deciding if medicine is the right fit for you, Dr. Odugbesan says you should ask yourself whether you would be happy in another career. If so, explore those options first. It’s also a good idea to hear perspective from practicing doctors.
“Talk to as many different physicians as possible,” Dr. Tulenko suggests. “How do they like their work? What do they see as the future of medical care?” These types of conversations can really help you figure out how to proceed.
Choose a meaningful career
Is being a doctor worth it? You ultimately have to decide if for yourself. Take some time to fully reflect on both the perks and drawbacks of practicing medicine. You’ll likely be able to determine if becoming a doctor is the right choice for you.
Perhaps you’re even more convinced that you’re meant to be a doctor. If so, you might want to start thinking about next steps. Applying to medical school is obviously an important part of the journey. Learn more about the admissions requirements and timeline by checking out, “A Sneak Peek at the Medical School Application Process.”