Questions to Ask Yourself as You Consider a Career in Medicine

Should I Choose a Career in Medicine?

One of the most important decisions that you will ever make is your career choice. Although many students enter college wanting to become physicians, most students have little or no knowledge of what is involved in the practice of medicine.

When asked why they want to pursue medicine, most student answer that “they want to make a difference, impact lives, and help people.”  While these are important motivations for pursuing a medical career, there are other factors to be aware of when analyzing your career choices.

 Consider the characteristics of a rewarding career:

  • Service: allows you to help people
  • Knowledge: the ever-expanding need for learning new skills and information
  • Action: allows you to be around others, make decisions, and make things happen
  • Respect: your work and contributions are important to individuals and the community
  • Security: enables you to earn a good living and provides for a consistent and secure future
  • Mobility: your skills and knowledge are in demand
  • Flexibility: offers you lots of career options

Also take into account your personality type, value system, and interests as you begin to plan your future. Here are some career inventories that will help you in your career choice:(

There are many careers that afford you the opportunity to help people and make a difference. Your challenge will be finding the career that is right for you.

Be realistic about the challenges and rewards of a career in medicine. Competition for admission to medical school is very intense and the coursework that follows requires an individual to think critically as well as employ discipline as a value. The profession of medicine also requires a unique commitment to put service to others first, effectively communicate and listen to patients, develop relationships, and engage in complex problem solving and life-long learning. Though the career path to a career in medicine is a long one, it is a profession that that is intellectually challenging, financially secure, and personally rewarding.

What Types of Physicians are Needed?

While all types of physicians are needed to care for the health of the public, primary care physicians are crucial, especially in underserved areas. A health care system built on an adequate supply of primary care physicians is shown to improve health outcomes and reduce costs. Primary care specialties include: family medicine, general internal medicine, and pediatrics. Family physicians provide more primary care than any other discipline in the U.S. and the need for family physicians continues to grow.

The Affordable Care Act reinforces the need for primary care physicians through the implementation of measures that:

  • Increase patient access to health care insurance coverage,
  • Incentivize preventive health care and align health care provider payments with patient health outcomes, and
  • Increase the primary care physician workforce.

When the Health Insurance Marketplace opens in October 2013, millions of newly insured Americans will seek access to primary care services, cementing the immediate and long-term need for primary care physicians.

To learn more about the specialty of family medicine, see Value and Scope, the Explore Family Medicine(4 page PDF) guide, and read about the shortage of primary care physicians.

Is Medical School Difficult?

Medical school admissions committees are looking for students who will be able to keep up with the coursework. Most medical students agree that the amount of material required during the first two years of pre-clinical study is exponentially higher than the workload during undergraduate school. During the third and fourth (clinical) years, there are also physical and psychological demands made by very long hours, hard work, and interaction with patients. Bottom line: It takes a highly motivated individual to pursue a career in medicine.

How Expensive is Medical School?

The national average debt for medical students is more than $100,000, and the cost of tuition continues to rise. While medical education is expensive, it is an investment with a rewarding career and an above average income. If you choose a career in primary care, there are many loan forgiveness and loan repayment program options available. Ninety percent of medical school students incur some type of student loans to finance their education.

To learn more about paying off debt from student loans, visit the Debt Management section, where you can download and print a guide to use as reference throughout medical school.

What if I Am Not Sure About a Career in Medicine?

If you have doubts, you should always keep your options open. Medicine is not for everyone. Choosing to pursue a career in medicine for prestige or financial rewards will likely be disappointing, as most physicians find that medicine is a vocation that requires a commitment to service, lifelong learning and the dedication to practice competently and compassionately.

The decision whether or not to stay on a pre-medical track can usually be deferred through the first two years of college without loss of credit when changing majors. This will give you time to gather as much information as possible about what medicine has to offer.