Typically, by the time students enter the medical school application process, they have already spent their high school and undergraduate years hyper-focused on excellence in academics and extracurricular activities. They’ve demonstrated not only an aptitude for health and sciences, but also (and perhaps more importantly) an enduring passion for the profession itself.
Few career paths require such relentless tests of resolve and commitment as the path to becoming a doctor. Still, it is a challenge for even a highly qualified applicant to stand out during the admissions process. The field is uniquely competitive, particularly in the United States and Canada where physician shortages loom on the horizon.
Studies clearly show health care resources will be pushed to their limits in the next few decades, and more physicians will be desperately needed. However, capable and qualified medical students still experience barriers to medical school. Some even begin exploring alternative professions out of fear they will have to abandon their medical school dreams.
If you are one of these passionate medical school prospects, you don’t necessarily need to change direction. According to practicing MDs, these struggles are not unusual. Doctors are known for working long hours on nights and weekends through stressful situations. Many take pride not only in what that perseverance says about their own character, but also in how those struggles elevate their talents as a medical doctor. Experienced MDs have seen how challenging situations can bring out the best of their abilities and know that such situations are what keeps the job so interesting.
After hearing about these struggles, you may be thinking to yourself, “Why become a doctor, anyway?” We asked that very question to a group of seasoned doctors whose insights may help reignite the spark that inspired you to start on your own path to medical school.
MDs share why they became doctors
We gathered stories from doctors across the United States about what drove them to pursue their calling in medicine. Their responses revealed what makes their daily work worth the effort. According to these MDs, there are actually many reasons to be a doctor.
To save lives in unexpected emergencies
Those words feel incommensurate to the passion and drive that most doctors and physicians have for their work. But, for St. George’s University (SGU) third-year medical student Moshe Karp, that is the simple truth behind his decision to pursue a career in emergency medicine.
On June 22, 2017, Karp was on a flight to New York City, ready to begin clinical rotations after completing basic science studies at SGU in Grenada. Approximately an hour into his flight, another passenger went into cardiac arrest.
Karp, with 11 years of experience as an NYC paramedic, recognized the signs: The passenger was cool, pale, sweating heavily, experiencing agonal respirations and had no pulse. Karp quickly began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and assisted ventilation. He continued this for approximately eight minutes and ultimately brought the passenger back to an alert state with a strong pulse.
"To be able to help is very rewarding."
“To be able to help is very rewarding,” Karp says. Before this experience, he was strongly considering entering family medicine, leaving his days of emergency care behind him.
“I had thought about going into family medicine because you develop closer relationships with patients, but I think I thrive in emergency medicine,” Karp says. “I do love that type of environment, and this taught me this is maybe where I’m needed most.”
To empower patients to take control of their health
With medical information ubiquitous on the internet, it is easy for people to do a symptom check online and attempt to self-diagnose, bypassing professional medical consultations altogether. Medical care professionals will warn patients of the dangers of online self-diagnosis. But some also see it as proof that people are eager to be educated and empowered to take responsibility for their own health.
“There’s so much opportunity now to help patients help themselves,” says Dr. Barbara Bergin, a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon based in Austin, Texas.
She believes the vast amount of information available to her and her patients simply represents opportunity.
“I use handouts, draw pictures, and use my blog to teach patients about their conditions so that they better understand and can help themselves throughout the long haul of life,” Dr. Bergin explains.
Ultimately, her job is not just to diagnose. It is to position people to think about their health in a proactive manner and take control of their decisions so they can live life to the fullest. She knows that it isn’t always easy, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Every day presents a new set of challenges, with each patient like a surprise behind the door to the exam room,” Dr. Bergin says. “Try to think of another career like that.”
To play a critical role in a growing field
When discussing the appeal of becoming a doctor, it is easy to focus solely on the passion that drives them. But, the decade-long investment in education, the long hours working nights and weekends and the stress of handling patients during times of duress can leave even passionate doctors wondering if the job itself is worth the investment.
As an attending anesthesiologist in private practice in Los Angeles, Calif., Dr. Edna Ma spends her career helping patients have safe and successful surgeries in the operating room. While she, too, can cite passion as a driving force in her practice, she also has a sense of pride in her specialized role.
“At the end of the day, I feel I have been a critical member of the health care delivery team in a measurable way,” Dr. Ma says. She goes on to explain that anesthesiology is a very technical specialty. She takes part in procedures such as epidurals and spinals, and places invasive monitors, including central lines, pulmonary artery catheters, and arterial lines.
“At the end of the day, I feel I have been a critical member of the health care delivery team in a measurable way.”
Job security may not rank among many physicians' primary reasons to be a doctor, but it does factor into the decision for some. “While there are other ways to earn a living, I feel medicine is a secure career path that can't easily be automated or outsourced,” Dr. Ma says. Being focused in a niche area has also given her confidence she’ll enjoy long-term engagement in her field.
The opportunities to innovate keep her learning and advancing every day. “I have used my understanding of anesthesia and topical anesthetics to create a beauty product to numb the skin before painful beauty procedures,” she shares. She’s enjoyed the opportunity to leverage her medical expertise to be creative and entrepreneurial as well.
Reflect on your reason
Despite the undeniable challenges, there are distinct rewards to pursuing a career in the field of medicine. Becoming an MD means surrounding yourself with passionate, talented people who have committed their lives to a greater purpose.
So why do you want to become a doctor? As you’ve seen above, everyone has a different motivation. But as long as you remain persistent and passionate about your goal, you can overcome the obstacles and fulfill your purpose in life.
For more stories about doctors living out their dreams and making a difference, check out our article "9 SGU Medical School Grads Who Are Improving Patients' Lives Around the World."
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