Is a Career in Medicine Right for You?

Student preparing to start medical school

Choosing your career is one of the most important decisions that you will ever make. When asked why they chose to pursue medicine, most physicians respond that they wanted to make a difference by helping people and positively impacting their lives through health care.

Serving others as a physician is a noble and challenging way to invest your intellect, skills, and passion in a demanding and rewarding profession.

Questions to Ask When Considering a Career in Medicine

"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 upon an adequate supply of primary care physicians is shown to improve health outcomes and reduce costs.

The Affordable Care Act, now health care law in the United States, 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
  • Increase the primary care physician workforce

Family physicians provide more primary care than any other medical specialty in the United States, and the need for family physicians continues to grow.

"Is a career in medicine right for me?"

A career in medicine is a career of:

  • Service -- The profession of medicine requires a unique commitment to put the service of others first.
  • Knowledge -- Physicians are lifelong learners, always acquiring new skills and learning new information.
  • Teamwork -- Physicians must be effective communicators and collaborative problem solvers.
  • Contribution -- A physician impacts the lives of individuals, families, and communities.
  • Flexibility -- There are many career options for physicians, ranging from primary care to research.
  • Security -- Physicians are in high demand, as health care needs continue to rise and evolve.

As you weigh your career options, take time to reflect upon how the opportunities, preferences, and talents you possess compare with the demands and benefits of a medical career. Here are some suggestions to help you get started.

Get to Know Yourself

Getting to know yourself -- your goals, aptitudes, personality, interests, and values -- is the best place to begin to answer this important question. Consider using personal insight tools such as these to gain clarity and persepective on yourself as a person, as well as potential careers.

Be Realistic about the Challenges and Rewards

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.

Do Your Homework

Take the time to explore what life as a physician might be like for you.

  • Ask to meet with physicians informally, and interview them about their careers.
  • Review statistics on today's physician workforce.
  • Understand the education and training requirements involved in becoming a doctor.
  • Learn the basics about medical school, including typical application requirements and types of medical education programs.

Consider Educational Expenses

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.

Expect to Be Challenged

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.

"What if I'm 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 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.

physician treats patient

Specialize in the Human Family

Family physicians focus on the whole person. By building relationships with their patients over time, family physicians are able to develop a comprehensive understanding of their patients’ health, and offer insightful, personal guidance and treatment for every stage of life.