There are many reasons that people decide to become doctors. Sometimes it's a life-long dream that started with a Fischer Price doctors set. Other times, it's the natural progression of study, personality, and career goals. But whether you spent your childhood performing open heart surgery on Barbies or are only now considering a career in medicine, it's important to know why you're planning to go to medical school and to make sure you're doing so for the right reasons. Factors will differ from person to person, but before you pick up your stethoscope, make sure that these four aren't the deciding factors in your plans.
It's a common misconception that doctors make a lot of money, and if the only reason you're planning to study medicine is in the hopes of a hefty paycheck, then you need to take a big step backward in your planning. Yes, some doctors in certain fields can make staggering amounts of money, but they rarely do so straight out of medical school, and the majority of early-career doctors don't earn impressive salaries. Nor do they have time for luxurious vacations, or in most cases, basic social lives. The reality is that practicing medicine can be stressful, laborious, and without reward, and with rising costs of medical school, crippling student debt, increased pressure from insurance companies, and the looming threat of malpractice suits, most doctors don't see impressive financial rewards until much later in their careers, if ever. If you're interested in biological sciences but are more concerned with the numbers in your bank account than those in a patient's charts, consider bio-technology or pharmacy instead. But if you have a passion for clinical medicine, make sure that successful diagnosis and treatment of patients will be enough reward, and if you end up with the big house, fancy cars, and jet-setting lifestyle, consider yourself lucky.
Many students stumble into medicine because they have a knack for biological sciences and the ability to succeed in high-pressure medical studies. But practicing medicine is different than studying medicine, and it doesn't matter if you can rattle off symptoms, cures, and drug-interactions from memory – if you faint at the sight of blood or hate interacting with people, medicine might not be the field for you. The problem is, many talented science students can make it far into medical studies before realizing that medical practice is not the right direction for them. If you're a pre-med student considering medical school because of your grades in biology and chemistry, try to get some experience in real-world medicine. Volunteer at a local clinic or apply to shadow a doctor at a nearby hospital. See how you react when medicine moves beyond theory and into reality.
3. Hero Worship
Some people choose medicine as a career because they were inspired by the work of another physician. Having mentors and following in the footsteps of someone you admire is a great way to find a career. But if your only reason for studying medicine is because you want to be just like your beloved pediatrician or you admire the work of Doctors Without Borders, make sure that you're actually cut out for medicine before you spend the next ten years in school. Medical studies often attract people who want to help others, people who want to make a difference, or people who feel that they need to give back because medical professionals helped them. But unless you also have the motivation and skills to complete the arduous studies, you could find yourself frustrated and disappointed. Doctors do not have a monopoly on compassion and humanitarianism, and if you want a career that will make a difference, medicine is not the only option.
4. Family Pressure
This is a big one. A lot of students who go into medical studies come from families that practice medicine or who hold medical practice in high esteem. Despite the sometimes enormous debt faced by medical students and the often less-than-glamorous working conditions, many parents (and grandparents) still see medical studies as the pinnacle of achievement for a student. But if the only reason you're going into medicine is because your parents have been grooming you for medical school since you were three, you're probably not doing it for the right reasons. It can be hard to go against family pressure, especially if you're receiving financial assistance for your studies. But medical studies are tough, and the medical field has a high rate of burn-out for practicing physicians. Your family may be disappointed when you choose to study literature or computer programming or accounting instead of medicine, but the decision is yours. Besides, they won't be any happier if you spend the next decade in medical school only to burn out after a year of practice.
The long and short of it is, medical studies aren't easy, and you need to weigh up all the reasons you want to become a doctor before entering medical school. Don't do it for the money, or the prestige, or because you think doctors are noble. If you go into medicine for the wrong reasons, you risk hurting yourself and others. Medical studies is about making and keeping people healthy – so start by making