The two biggest disadvantages of studying medicine are the expense and the time required to complete a degree. In some cases, students can finish with up to $300K of loan debt. With the average degree (not including pre-med) taking up to five years to complete.
But there are also several other things to consider when weighing up if a career as a doctor is for you. And, given the lack of transparency I see on other articles discussing the topic, I feel some honesty is needed when it comes to the drawbacks.
Readers of this blog? Will be familiar with my story, and the challenges of going into med at an older age. Other reasons for not becoming a doctor, however, might not be so apparent.
So this article takes a look at some of them. Maybe even helping you decide if this journey is really for you.
Getting into medicine, unless going down the less competitive routes, is tough. First you have to score high enough in exams. Then you have to contend with putting together an attractive application.
Then pray the med school admissions team takes a liking to you.
But that’s not the end of the competition. Because med school itself is rife with gunners (those going for the top grades) and the intellectually gifted. All coming together to make the environment all the more challenging.
And you, as a result, seeming less intelligent.
So this isn’t a degree where students are liable to coast. The risk of failure, if you don’t pull your weight, is real. Meaning people around you are committed to succeed.
This is just the beginning too.
US-based students, for example, have to out-compete each other as early as their third year of study. This is when they take their first board exam; USMLE Step 1.
Scores here? Strongly determine future residency picks. Playing a big hand in fate.
For international students like myself the pressure isn’t any easier. When I emerge from med school I too will be plunged into a pool of hungry graduates all vying for medical jobs. So there’s no respite there either.
Conclusion number one; be aware of the competitive nature of this career. And understand, to make things easy, you need some willingness to fight.
Otherwise the opportunities will pass you by.
Medicine, although not technically challenging, is absolutely huge in terms of volume. Don’t believe me? Look at the most popular medical memes. I wish they were exaggerations.
Handling all this information then, and not getting overwhelmed, is one of the biggest struggles med students face. Without putting in the hours? You’ll struggle to make progress. Piling more stress on yourself in the process.
The work load only increases as you move along too. Making first year anatomy classes (and trying to make sense of the thousands of structures that make up the body), look easy by comparison.
Throw in the added weight of exams and everything that goes into pleasing your professors, and you’ve got one of the most work-intensive degrees that exists.
So if you can’t get disciplined or learn to cultivate good habits, it’s probably better to opt for something else if you’re on the fence about medicine.
And the learning doesn’t end when med school finishes either.
Not counting high school exams, pre-med or anything else, a medical degree is still longer than your average course. Most courses? Usually around five years. With some exceptions either side.
And if time spent getting your degree appears obvious, then perhaps it’s time to talk about the time expense involved in the day to day.
Do medical students get free time? Yes, but not compared to other students. Instead you’ll have to pencil in plenty of hours around and in-between class in order to stay on top of things. And usually a day at the weekend.
Of course the amount of time each medical student puts in varies. Those who study effectively might get away with less. Those who don’t, maybe more. Either way you’re going to have dedicate plenty of hours to pass your exams.
A sacrifice that can be made all the more difficult when you see friends in other walks of life (jobs, study programs etc) spending their time on cool hobbies you simply don’t have time for.
Being a med student brings a certain level of responsibility. Desperate people look to you in times of crisis. And you’ll see people at their most vulnerable.
It’s tough seeing patients one week only to learn they’ve died the next.
But it’s also hard knowing that one day other lives will be in your hands. That you’ll be tasked with calling the shots.
You’ll find this out as soon as you start rotations. When your studies move from the comfort of the pre-clinical to the cold, sterile atmosphere of the hospital.
It takes a certain breed of human to keep heading into that environment day after day without losing their head.
I’ve written about one of the main reasons for not studying medicine being it’s problems trading time for money. But the amount of years you spend studying, and not earning, can be a kicker too.
According to credible.com, the average US medical student graduates with $200K worth of debt. While in other developed countries the cost of a private education is also high. Meaning you’re often behind in the earning stakes before you’ve even started a career as a doctor.
The earning trajectory can be slow too. Given the structure of medicine, where you start off as a junior out of med school and take years to climb the ladder, the high end of the salary is often decades away.
Don’t be fooled by the myth that medicine is where the money is. Your earning capacity is often much better in other industries; namely finance, marketing or management.
Of course I don’t want to be down on medicine as a career – its disadvantages are overshadowed by its advantages far more often that not!
But it is important to be real about the lives of medical students now and again. And give those people thinking about it all the facts.
So pay heed to this list if these things are important to you. And maybe think more carefully if becoming a doctor is the right choice.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.