Is it Worth It? A Response
Panda Bear MD has written a provocative post about the pros and cons of a medical career. After a careful discussion of the economics of medical education (including a terrific didactic discourse on the concept of opportunity cost), the earning potential in the context of the present political climate (including the risks of potential changes in that climate), and an fear-mongering yet anecdotal presentation of the issue of medical malpractice, it would seem very difficult to justify the decision to pursue a career in medicine.
Panda's analysis is flawless. It is also meaningless.
At the risk of being labeled by Panda and others as a creepy fanatic, I assert that it is not about the money. Nor even about the lifestyle, really. At the end of the day, the week, the year, the career, it is about the life lived. Medicine is about a life lived impacting the lives of others. To call it Noble is old-fashioned, out of style and downright hokey. None of that changes the fact that it is true.
In this season of graduations (kvell: younger son garnered FOUR academic awards at the banquet last night) (/kvell) and kids coming home from college wondering what they want to do with their lives (realizing that now is the time to begin making those decisions) this whole process of introspection -- and providing guidance -- is very near to my heart. How does one go about making these kinds of choices?
You can go through (or read) elaborate analyses of the various pros and cons of assorted possible careers, balancing the financial issues with the lifestyle ones. But this approach assumes that the only role of a job in one's life is economic; the option that generates the most possible money in the least unpleasant manner is what will come out on top every time when looked at this way. But what about passion? What about "doing something with one's life"? Life should be about more than just work. Medicine is one among many opportunities to make a difference while making a living.
People wonder why I and my fellow Family Physicians keep on doing what we do. It's because even in the face of all the hassles, bullshit, declining reimbursement and everything else, the deep satisfaction we get from making a difference in the lives of our patients is real, worthwhile and meaningful. We don't talk about it because it's such a part of our soul that among ourselves, it's assumed. Showing a mother something she didn't know about her new baby, even if it's her third; steering an adolescent away from drug or alcohol experimentation; reassuring someone they don't have cancer...and that was just today!
Medicine is more than a job. It is more than a career. It is a calling. (Perhaps that's what Panda means when he says that fanatics "...hear things that normal people do not.")
Is it worth it? I would answer, is it worth what?
Don't pursue a career in medicine because you think it would be a good idea. Don't do it because you want to. Don't do it because you love it. Do it because you cannot possibly imagine being happy doing anything else.