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The Three Roads Ahead – Medical Career Paths

Usually medical students are busy deciding what residency or specialty they will end up in after their medical school years, for me I have a different question on my mind. What kind of medical career do I want to have? Medicine is flexible discipline, broad enough to have interests for everyone. For me, I just seem to be interested in too many fields. After much consideration, I’ve come to see three distinct paths ahead that I can see myself doing, each with their pro, cons and other considerations.

1) Academic / Research / Education / Industry


  • Intellectually stimulating / rewarding
  • Opportunity to positively impact large population
  • Able to pursue self academic interests / curiosity
  • Furthering of human scientific knowledge
  • Flexible, Job Security (after tenure)
  • Less on-call frequency
  • Teaching, Giving back
  • Chance for $$$ – large research grants / business opportunities


  • Low patient contact
  • Dealing with administration / bureaucracy / politics
  • Tied down to an academic institution / company
  • $$$  – dependent on finding grants / funding / profits
  • Need patience – years before fruits of labor realized
  • Uncertainty in research / discovery

Other Considerations

  • Several more years of scientific training, most likely needing a PhD
  • Need to find good mentors / research experiences
  • Emphasis on publications / teaching

2) Social Equality / Public Health / Relief Work / Third-world countries


  • Serving people who need it the most – poor, needy, vulnerable, sick
  • High intrinsic satisfaction from helping others
  • Sense of justice and doing the right thing
  • Meaningful patient contact – Saving lives
  • Seeing and knowing that your efforts are making a difference
  • Wider exposure to the world


  • Emotionally draining – facing insurmountable challenges
  • Not as comfortable a lifestyle
  • Possibly live in different country – away from home
  • May strain family life – traveling, may be gone for months, raising kids
  • $$$ – considerably less
  • Fixing the underlying causes / system is hard and lengthy in time

Other Considerations

  • Additional training, MPH (epidemiology, statistics, environmental)
  • May need to pick up additional language(s)
  • Understand health related economics,  policies, government, organizations

3) Private Practice / Clinical Work / Health Care Team


  • Valuable patient contact
  • Training and development of clinical skills
  • Medical practice autonomy – how you run your clinic, manage patients
  • Ability to influence your community positively
  • $$$ – higher, have control over income
  • Family friendly – settled down location, routine in your lifestyle
  • Outside interests – control of time, pursue hobbies (specialty dependant)
  • Comfortable lifestyle – will be able to buy a house / nice car / raise kids
  • Job stability and certainty – high demand for primary care


  • Regular routine – may become boring / tedious
  • On-call frequency higher if in hospital / shared practice setting
  • High volume of patients / long work hours – may be stressful
  • Not as far impacting as breakthrough research
  • Treating patients and disease only – Less likely to change health care system
  • Overhead costs, malpractice fees?
  • Aging population – puts a strain on healthcare workers

Other Considerations

  • Can sub-specialize, focus on specific groups or niche fields
  • Able to work anywhere, anytime (dependent on your preferences)
  • Short training period

These are factors that I have given much thought too. Ideally, I would like to do all three; realistically I would most likely pick just one.  The reason is that it’s very difficult to excel in more than one area. I am a finite person with a finite amount of time, and each of these paths can be a separate career on their own. The large amounts of training and energy needed to get good at any one leaves you with little to contribute to other ones. Obviously, the pros and cons are specific to me. Some might see low patient contact as a pro and other people might hate research.

So this will be the question I will be thinking of for a while. I have at least four years of medical school and 3-5 more years of residency to think this over with. If anyone has faced this question before and has experiences they can share or advice they can give, please leave a comment below. It will be much appreciated.

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  1. Joshua
    Joshua November 18, 2008

    Great post .

    It’s a really tough decision, but I guess you have several years for you to reflect, experience and eventually decide which path you will pick, or with few paths you will sort of focus on.

    Personally, my family would be my highest priority, to the point where I would switch careers if I felt that was hurting my family – so #2 would be least ideal. At this point in time, I like both #1 and #3, and I think aspects of both would be really important to me.

    #1 because I love the idea of both being able to teach, as well as be more hands on in developing treatments and solving some larger problems that have a greater impact. But also #3 because I think I would enjoy some of the high-stress situations in a practice, and the joy from seeing your work actually helping patients.

    I am sure that as you observe and experience more of these paths in the near future, coupled with all your other life/family changes, you will eventually converge on the choice or combination of choices that make you the happiest.

  2. Raymon Killmer
    Raymon Killmer June 24, 2013

    Surgeons are one of the most respected and highest paid medical professionals in the world. Naturally, it takes a lot of focused efforts to become one.*-.,

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