Doctor Career

The medical profession is comprised of many different areas of practice. Individuals in a doctor career practicing medicine in the United States have graduated from college, medical school, completed a residency program, been licensed, and sometimes certified—all before seeing patients independently.

For someone interested in a doctor career, there are several different areas of practice. Some will choose to enter a private practice, while others will join a hospital-owned practice. Still others will opt for a research-based position. Regardless of the area of practice, there are advantages and disadvantages.

In the pursuit of a doctor career, individuals will have spent years training and thousands of dollars in school. The rewards of a doctor career are many, including the high earning potential, prestige, and flexibility of scheduling. Like any career, disadvantages also exist, including long work hours, stress, and competition among colleagues.

Obtaining a license to practice medicine can be completed in a traditional manner with four years of college culminating in an undergraduate degree, followed by four years of medical school resulting in a medical degree. Alternatively, the path to a doctor career can start out with an associate’s degree or be interrupted by studying at the master’s level before obtaining one’s doctorate.

Choosing a medical school can be a difficult process. Every program will have slightly different teaching methods, they will vary in size, and cost will likely be a large factor. Choosing a medical school should be accomplished similarly to undergraduate selection, with campus visits and referrals from students being helpful in making a final choice.

Following training for a doctor career, one can elect to become certified in a particular specialty. According to the American Board of Medical Specialties, “Medical specialty certification in the United States is a voluntary process. While medical licensure sets the minimum competency requirements to diagnose and treat patients, it is not specialty specific. Board certification demonstrates a physician’s exceptional expertise in a particular specialty and/or subspecialty of medical practice.” Certification demonstrates mastery in a specific specialty to employers, patients, and colleagues. Finding a position may be easier with certification, but will still likely involve submission of resumes, letters of recommendation, and an interview process. The added prestige of being published in a medical journal may help aid in this process.

Once established in a doctor career, continuing education is expected and may even be required, depending on the institution, or for recertification. Continuing education can come in the form of annual conferences, online lectures, or other programs designed to keep physicians up to date on the ever-evolving field of medicine.

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Physicians may also benefit from joining a professional organization. These professional organizations often coordinate continuing education activities and can help with finding employment.

For those in a doctor career, the options for training, practice, and continuing education are many.

Advantages of a Doctor Career

There are many advantages of a doctor career, including high earning potential, job security, variety of areas of practice, fulfillment from helping people, and flexible scheduling. Each of these benefits will be discussed further in the following paragraphs.

One of the major advantages to a career as a medical professional is the high earning potential. The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) released survey results in 2010 regarding physician salaries. The survey report includes information gathered from nearly 60,000 providers in more than 110 specialties. Physicians who specialized and had a private practice reported higher compensation than those in hospital-owned practices. Their compensation was, on average, 25.5% greater than those in a hospital-owned practice. The median annual income of a specialist working in a private practice was approximately $350,000 versus less than $300,000 for a specialist working in a hospital-owned practice. The highest paying specialties included cardiology, radiology, oncology, gastroenterology, cardiac surgery, orthopedic surgery, transplant surgery, and pediatric surgery.

According to the survey, primary care physicians (not specialists) in private practice reported a median annual income of nearly $200,000 per year. Salaries were not markedly different among primary care physicians practicing in hospital-owned practices. This income level is still significantly higher than many other professions.

With many American jobs being outsourced oversees or becoming obsolete due to emerging technologies, it is refreshing to consider the benefit of job security in the practice of medicine. The bottom line is, people need doctors. They may need some types of doctors more than others, but there is always a need for more doctors. Certain specialties seem to be more in demand than others and therefore will have more job opportunities and less turnover, so if one was concerned with job security, trends in today’s medicine would be something to consider. The MGMA survey found that physicians specializing in dermatology and ophthalmology had the highest pay increases of 12.2% and 7.7%, respectively, which may reflect a growing demand in these areas. OB/GYN and invasive cardiology specialists reported a decline in pay of 1.1% and 0.2%, respectively.

Some people go into medicine wanting to help people and a doctor career is an excellent means to find that fulfillment and satisfaction. Even at otherwise routine appointments, physicians have an opportunity to help patients better their health. For some, the simple act of prescribing medication can make an enormous difference in a person’s day-to-day existence. There are some specialties in which the act of helping is more overt, such as the case for an emergency room physician, but all doctors have daily opportunities to feel fulfillment from helping their patients.

Flexibility of scheduling is another advantage of a doctor career. Most doctors can control the number of hours they work. Doctors can choose to work long shifts on just a few days, or choose a more typical schedule. Many institutions will have a need for staff onsite 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, leaving the possibility of night and weekend work open to those who desire that schedule. Physicians working part-time may have even greater flexibility of scheduling or the option to work for two different employers.

In conclusion, there are many benefits to a career in medicine. The time spent accruing student loan debt and years of training are paid off both literally and figuratively with high earning potential, job security, variety, personal fulfillment, and flexible scheduling.

Disadvantages of a Doctor Career

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There are several negative aspects to a career in the medical field, especially among those seeking doctor careers. Disadvantages include long hours, potential difficulty in finding a diagnosis and treatment, competition, stress, and emotional challenges present in making life-and-death decisions.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008, 43% of all physicians worked 50 or more hours a week and roughly 30% worked more than 60 hours per week. Some residency training programs however, demand a grueling schedule of 80+ hours per week. According to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2003, specialties with the greatest time demands include anesthesiology, OB/GYN, general surgery, and urology. Specialties with a more reasonable work schedule include dermatology, pathology, emergency medicine, and ophthalmology.

In certain cases, long work hours can be complicated by difficult cases for which no easy diagnosis or treatment plan can be made. This may be especially true in certain specialties that encounter rare diseases more often than common diseases. For example, rheumatologists trying to diagnose a person with an autoimmune disorder may be plagued with symptoms overlapping dozens of disorders and may be limited by medical tests that are inadequate for diagnosis. This can be frustrating both to the physician and the patient. Also a source of frustration among physicians can be difficulty in designing an effective treatment plan. There are certainly illnesses for which no cure exists, but also many for which no effective treatment exists. While some physicians may look at this as a challenge or research problem, it can be frustrating for others.

It is no secret that the field of medicine is competitive. Becoming a doctor requires at least three years of college, four years of medical school and three to eight years of residency training, depending on the specialty. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, about half of all applicants are accepted to medical schools, but 96% complete their degree. This statistic alone speaks to the dedication and commitment of those entering the medical profession.

All of these factors--the long hours, difficulties in achieving a diagnoses and viable treatment options, and competition--can create a stressful and emotionally challenging atmosphere. With a generally a high patient-to-physician ratio in most practices and near constant patient contact throughout the workday, some physicians may find it difficult to take even a short break. Physician burnout is a real risk and can start early, during residency even. With little free time, physicians may be less likely to seek outlets to relieve these emotional challenges.

The process of becoming a doctor is long and arduous and rewarded with long work hours, competition, stress, and difficulties diagnosing some patients. This is not a career for the faint of heart or mind, but one for an individual with perseverance and emotional strength.

Last Updated: 08/20/2013

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