If money wasn’t an issue, would you still be doing what you are doing today? This is a question I came across today and had me thinking. Right now as a medical student, I “work” anywhere from 40-60 hours a week plus studying and I don’t receive any pay at all. In fact, I pay tuition and it’s in the tens of thousands of dollars every year. If being a doctor paid wasn’t such a well paid job, would I still be doing medical school?
I think, for myself, idealistically I would like to say YES, but realistically I would say NO. Here’s why.
Although I really enjoy what I am doing now and foreseeable into residency, the financial and personal stresses of a medical education make working less difficult. To start off, the costs of education alone can reach over a hundred thousand dollars easily. If you have to borrow money (and most do) to finance your education, paying back that debt with an “average” salary makes medical school an unfavorable choice. A $200,000 debt would make most people reconsider their jobs.
Furthermore, it’s not just the financial cost of education that makes taking a big paycut unrealistic, there’s also the cost of time. Training to be a doctor takes at least 10 years of post-secondary education. These are often the “best” years of your life, when you’re in your prime of your youth, full of energy and opportunity. While others are starting their careers, networking, and starting their family, you’ll most likely be studying or on call. That’s a big sacrifice to take.
To all the pre-meds out there who say they would do it even if they were paid nothing, you don’t have a clue! You might say that now, but how much do you really know about being a doctor?
What if education costs were much lower? Would You still be a Doctor if you were paid an average salary?
If the financial barriers were much lower or non-existent, I think I would be a maybe. Hypothetically, let’s say doctors would be paid the same as teachers. Would I still be a doctor if I was paid a salary of $50,000 a year? Interesting Note: Residents are roughly paid this much.
I think the answer would depend on many factors. Would I still be working the same hours as a regular doctor or would I be working teacher hours? Would I have summer vacations off or would I have to do overnight call? Will I be working in an office/classroom setting or will I be working with really sick patients?
If you had to compare a teacher’s salary to that of a doctors, by their late-twenties and early thirties, a teacher would have made a higher net amount of money because they would have started earning money earlier. Teachers would also have the added benefits pensions and summer vacations.
Doctors work far more hours, with higher levels of responsibilities and stresses compared to a job that would earn an average income. The difficult situations you may be put in and the level of knowledge and skill required certainly should warrant a higher pay in my opinion.
Money isn’t everything
Please don’t misunderstand my position. Money isn’t everything. I wouldn’t be pursuing my dream of being a doctor if it was all about the money. There are plenty of professions that make much more than medical doctors. Investment bankers, business owners, entrepreneurs, etc.
Compared to my peers, I would say money has less influence on my career choices. I live on reasonable means. I grew up in a lower middle-class neighbourhood and know that everyone works hard for a living. I don’t want flashy cars or private vacation homes in the future. I hope I don’t give off the impression of feeling entitled.
I truly believe that money plays into your happiness and wellbeing only up to a threshold amount. Anything above that baseline is a bonus. I’m not sure where my personal financial line is right now. But I eventually want a job that provides me with financial security and means to live comfortably.
Money is a Reflection of Market Demand
A large part why doctors are paid six-figure salaries is because of economic forces. Doctors are in high demand, always have been and will continue to be in demand. Birth, Sickness, Death and Taxes. Things you can’t avoid in life, and a doctor is usually present at the ones that count.
In one way, having high salaries for doctors helps continually attract the best and brightest. In doing so, the profession continue to thrive and medical breakthroughs and high quality patient care continue.
On a similar note, graduate students argueably work as hard as medical students, go through 4-6 years of grueling education and often are left with poor job prospects. The majority of PhD students probably have the same level of intelligence as medicall students. Competition for graduate school is nowhere near that of medical school and I think is due to market forces.
Where is the altruism?
I think it’s quite rare to find a person who will do the work of a doctor for no pay at all. Even people with the biggest kindest hearts have stomaches to feed too.
The question is how much is enough pay for what you do?
God bless the souls of Cuban doctors and MSF doc’s. Cuban doctors make on average $25 U.S. Dollars a month, and most MSF doctors just get by on daily necessities. Although I aspire to be like them, due to my current life plans I don’t think I can right now.
I don’t think it’s wrong to do a job you love and be paid well for it.
For some people, being a doctor/surgeon is the only thing they can think of doing. For myself, if I wasn’t doing medicine, I think I could be happy working in a different profession and earning a respectable income.
For myself, medicine provides a good mix of intellectual curiosity, intrinsic reward, ability to make a difference, financial security and means to live a comfortable life. I’ve immensely enjoyed my time in medical school and feel quite lucky I get to do what I have always wanted to do.
In the future, I would be very happy about making over $100,000 a year. It would be more than enough for me to live comfortably. I don’t think I should feel guilty about it either, especially if I work hard for it and deserve it.
In conclusion, I think I would still pursue being a doctor if it didn’t pay as much, as long as it was enough to live comfortably. One day I do want to start a family, and I would want a job that could provide for them.