Choosing whether or not to pursue medicine as a career is a life changing decision. We aim to give you a unique insight drawing on personal experiences, to illustrate the pros and cons of both studying and practising medicine.
Application of knowledge
Studying medicine is an attractive prospect for anyone interested in biological sciences. The physiology of the body and intricacies of anatomy provide much satisfaction – particularly for those that enjoy fine details of the biology. Medicine however, is a clinical subject – therefore those who enjoy problem solving and applying scientific information in complex scenarios will find this subject most rewarding. Keeping up to date with the most recent developments is also an important part of being a medic; this will definitely satisfy the science enthusiasts.
Making a difference
A crucial aspect of practising medicine is the fact that one deals with real human beings. Directly improving the lives of patients can be very rewarding. General practitioners are fortunate enough to watch patients grow throughout their lives and having such a relationship with patients is very gratifying. Doctors who work in hospitals can witness critically ill patients making full recoveries – knowing you’ve contributed to save a human’s life is a feeling very few professions offer. Being able to form a doctor-patient relationship is a truly remarkable experience, and doing this on a day-to-day basis is what keeps most doctors interested. Each patient is different and provides fresh problems along with individual concerns to consider. With medicine, one deals with people at their most vulnerable; it’s a unique job that really helps to ground an individual’s personality traits.
Diverse Job Opportunities
The diverse nature of medicine is a monumental advantage of both studying and practising medicine. Each system of the body is scientifically different and this ensures that studying them never gets boring. Subjects that one can specialise in as a doctor can range from cardiology to gastroenterology – each speciality has distinct clinical manifestations. Having such a wide plethora of subjects to specialise in allows medics to have a choice of what they would like to specialise in, taking their personal interest and lifestyle into account. Diversity within the medical field also includes the increasingly popular routes of public health, medical education and academia. Very few professions offer such diversity, however with each speciality ultimately having a unified cause: to help improve people’s lives.
Evaluating job prospects is a pragmatic approach to figuring out which subject to read at university. Choosing a subject you find interesting is important, but it’s also essential to ensure this subject has doors to viable career paths. From this perspective, medicine is an incredible degree. Vocational by nature, one learns the necessary skills to become a doctor at medical school. After graduation, medicine and dentistry combined boast a rate of 99.4% employment or further study within six months – with 92% working straightaway again in the UK 1. Medicine offers job progression to consultancy level and the opportunity to go private too. From a monetary perspective, medicine commands a very respectable salary. In 2015, FY1 doctors earn a basic starting salary of £22,636 with this increasing to £28,076 by FY2. Consultants can earn potentially £101,451 while on the NHS and private practitioners can earn considerably more 2.
Access to medical care is considered a necessity by the virtually every country, so employment opportunities may appear endless – both in the UK and abroad. Recently there has been a trend to work abroad, with both Australia and New Zealand cropping up as popular destinations 3. The chance to experience new cultures is desired by many and there is a perception that medicine closes this opportunity up. Some GPs work on a locum basis abroad and travel all across the world, ensuring they fulfil both their passion for being a doctor and their passion for travel. Even if one chooses not to travel, merely having the option to practise abroad is an appealing prospect. Medical problems vary among different environments, therefore providing health care in a new country is an exciting challenge to embark upon. There are many areas of the world deprived of high quality healthcare. Working abroad as a doctor allows one to contribute directly to efforts to vastly improve the lives of those less privileged.
Historically, doctors have always been respected members of society. Doctors hold themselves to high standards and carry themselves as professionals, be it within or outside the workplace. The challenging nature of doctors’ jobs accompanied by their empathetic approach result in the public’s appreciation of the hard work doctors do. In the light of Jeremy Hunt’s recent comments about consultants 4, it was refreshing to see so many members of the public defend doctors and the work that they do. This clearly demonstrates how medicine still garners respect within society – even when they’re scrutinised.
Time and Money
Among the disadvantages of studying medicine is the time it takes to complete the degree. An MBBS course typically takes 5 years, possibly 6 if one intercalates. Therefore, the absolute earliest one is able to become a working professional will be 23 years old. Watching school friends of mine graduate at the age of 21 and start to earn a living while one is still at medical school is challenging. Living in student conditions for a further two years can also be tricky, particularly as friends may start thinking about living completely independently and possibly buying houses. This will all need to be incorporated into one’s “life plan”. The expense of studying an extra 2-3 years is another drawback. This will cause more debt to accumulate, making such a career path can seem less desirable. It is worth mentioning that that the current repayment plan for student loans is structured to help relieve the burden on students – consequently finance becomes less of a concern when considering medicine as a career.
While having the opportunity to interact with patients on a daily basis is a positive aspect of medicine, it also has a drawback. An immense emotional burden can be thrust upon doctors when they see innocent people suffering from debilitating diseases and unfortunately, these patients may continue to suffer even if a doctor is trying their absolute best. Patients with whom doctors have forged close relationships with may pass away – and any prospective doctor needs to understand how challenging this side of the job is. Responsibility is an intrinsic requirement of becoming a doctor, and the reality that people’s lives are in your hands can be daunting. A prospective doctor should hope to acquire an appreciation of this and be willing to shoulder this responsibility. To help cope with the emotionally taxing nature of medicine, it’s important to have a support system in place. This could be either being able to talk to your friends and family about anything that’s on your mind or even taking a step further by speaking to a professional such as a counsellor. It’s crucial to understand the importance of social support and several studies underline its role in preventing the deterioration of physical health and reducing the occurrence of psychological stress 5 6.
If there is one word to describe being a medic it could be described as stressful. The truth is both studying and practising medicine is a very taxing path to go down. The hours are long, and all medical students spend many hours in the library. The sheer breadth and depth of the subject makes it a difficult task to manage. When practising medicine, the stress of having people’s lives in your hands, coupled with the draining shifts can really tire doctors out. This stress can have long lasting effects too – it is becoming more common for doctors to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety 7. An article in the BMJ claimed that one in every three doctors suffers from a mental disorder, and this should not be taken lightly. Doctors are more likely than any other profession to suffer from mental disorders and a probable cause is the long and stressful working hours 8 9. Again, there are many coping mechanisms to deal with stress. A popular method is to improve one’s social life and every medical student would do well to throw themselves into as many social clubs as possible. Aspiring doctors are all in the same boat, so it’s not hard to form quality friendships.
Medicine is time consuming to say the least. In the US, training doctors can work up to 80 hours in one week 10! (It should be noted that FY1 doctors in the UK are limited to 48 hours per week 11). These working hours come at unsocial times too, with numerous night and weekend shifts. One’s life is generally centred around medicine, and a future doctor should be aware of this. Working such long hours may strain existing relationships or deter one from enjoying hobbies they would usually find time for. Medicine is a life long commitment and when you’re a student or a doctor, no doubt many friends will come to you for medical advice. This is a reality which should be accepted – that one is a doctor outside of the work place too. The General Medical Council (GMC) requires medical students and doctors to uphold a professional standard of conduct, both within and outside the workplace. 12 This means some students can feel slightly handcuffed or at least they aren’t allowed to have as much fun as they would like to. Therefore, it is important that to have a life outside of medicine. You should make the most out of the free time you have. Picking up random hobbies ranging from playing a sport to dancing is a great way to explore other interests and meet new people. These escapes serve the purpose of giving yourself a breather from the stressful world that is medicine.
In summary, there are many points to consider before embarking on this journey of becoming a doctor – each will resonate differently depending on one’s individual circumstances. To further broaden your perspective, we urge you to contact any doctors or medical students that you know and ask their opinion on the ups and downs of medicine to obtain a more realistic view of this field.
- Telegraph T. Graduate jobs: top 12 degree subjects for getting a job [Internet]. Telegraph.co.uk. 2013 [cited 2 September 2015]. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/10146038/Graduate-jobs-top-12-degree-subjects-for-getting-a-job.html?frame=2282873
- Nhscareers.nhs.uk. Pay for doctors – NHS Careers [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2 September 2015]. Available from: http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/explore-by-career/doctors/pay-for-doctors/
- Mason R, Wintour P. Jeremy Hunt gives NHS consultants ultimatum on weekend working [Internet]. the Guardian. 2015 [cited 2 September 2015]. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jul/16/nhs-consultants-given-ultimatum-on-weekend-working
- Pulsetoday.co.uk. Loading… [Internet]. 2015 [cited 11 September 2015]. Available from: http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/home/finance-and-practice-life-news/5000-doctors-a-year-considering-leaving-the-uk-to-emigrate-abroad/20007366.article#.VfLRhp1Viko
- Uchino B. Understanding the Links Between Social Support and Physical Health: A Life-Span Perspective With Emphasis on the Separability of Perceived and Received Support. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 2009;4(3):236-255.
- Canadian Institute for Health Information. The Role of Social Support in Reducing Psychological Distress [Internet]. 2012. Available from: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/AiB_ReducingPsychological%20DistressEN-web.pdf
- Srivastava R. Doctors are more likely to be depressed? I’m not surprised | Ranjana Srivastava [Internet]. the Guardian. 2013 [cited 2 September 2015]. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/09/doctors-depressed
- Learner S. BMJ Careers – Doctors and mental health [Internet]. Careers.bmj.com. 2011 [cited 2 September 2015]. Available from: http://careers.bmj.com/careers/advice/view-article.html?id=20002383
- Godlee F. Doctors’ health matters. BMJ. 2008;337(nov13 1):a2527-a2527.
- Philibert I. New Requirements for Resident Duty Hours. JAMA. 2002;288(9):1112.
- Smith R. Patients at risk from junior doctors working 100 hour weeks: GMC [Internet]. Telegraph.co.uk. 2013 [cited 2 September 2015]. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/9869932/Patients-at-risk-from-junior-doctors-working-100-hour-weeks-GMC.html
- Gmc-uk.org. GMC | The tipping point: a question of conduct [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2 September 2015]. Available from: http://www.gmc-uk.org/guidance/10779.asp