While I was chatting with a premed recently about his candidacy, I tried to bring up a discussion about the med schools he should apply to. Seeming distracted, he brought up something else: “How much is medical school going to cost me, and how much will I get paid after I become a doctor? What about debt?”
He wasn’t very interested in what I wanted to talk about – the next step he needed to take to get into medical school – because he was preoccupied with the money he would have to spend just to get through the process.
I spoke with him about the costs and benefits of medical school, and we talked about how the benefits and drawbacks made him feel about the whole process. Below is a recap of the things we discussed.
Becoming a doctor: A cost/benefit analysis
Most premeds focus on the monetary costs and benefits of medical school: medical school tuition, debt from loans, and the salary that you are likely to receive as a doctor.
This makes plenty of sense, because if the costs of the goal far exceed the benefits, why even take the time to go through with it? That may be a logical conclusion, but only if ALL of the costs and benefits are weighed fairly. Monetary costs and benefits are only part of all of the costs and benefits of going to medical school.
One cost that premeds don’t always weigh: Time! Don’t forget to consider all the time it will take to become a doctor. Is becoming a doctor worth all those years of your life?
How about the benefits? Other than your future salary, there are benefits to becoming a doctor that will tip the cost/benefit scale towards the benefit side. Below is a more complete list of costs and benefits to consider.
The benefits of becoming a doctor
- Helping others heal. This is the ultimate source of personal satisfaction. Using your talents to help another person feel physically whole again is an immeasurable reward.
- Pay: Primary care physicians earn approximately $150,000 per year and specialists earn approximately $250,000 per year. At that income level you can comfortably afford to support a family in a nice community, if you are financially responsible. (Source: “Medscape Physician Compensation 2011″)
- Prestige: As a doctor, you’re going to leave a lasting impression on your family, friends, and the community. You will be known as an intelligent and benevolent person who sacrificed for the good of others.
- Security: Your skills will always be in demand and you will always be able to find a job.
The costs of becoming a doctor
- The time it takes to become a doctor: It takes the average student 8 years to earn an M.D. and complete their residency. In those 8 years, you could be learning another skill or discipline. (Source: AAMC)
- Tuition and living expenses for medical school: Medical school costs approximately $150,000 to $250,000. (Source: AAMC)
- Debt: The average debt load for a medical school student after earning an M.D. is $160,000, and takes about 10 years to pay off.
- It’s a demanding career: Long hours (for some doctors) and stressful work. Doctors who work more than 50 hours/week have much lower job satisfaction than doctors who work fewer hours.
Do the costs outweigh the benefits?
Is becoming a doctor worth it? Many doctors say yes, some say no, and ultimately it is up to you to decide. Does the pay, job security, and the satisfaction of helping others outweigh debt and a stressful job?
It takes 8 years to become a doctor, and 10 to pay off all of the debt. 86% of doctors graduate from medical school with debt. Although a doctor’s salary allows you to steadily pay back the debt, the debt is something that you’ll have to deal with for many years as a practicing doctor.
Eliminate the biggest stressor by going to medical school for free
If debt is the biggest drawback for you, why not take debt out of the equation? You can go to medical school for free by earning any of 6 special scholarships that cover the costs of your entire medical education.
Is there a catch? You’ll have to commit to serve a public organization (the military, the Peace Corps, a State government) for a period of time, but after that you’re free to practice as a doctor debt-free.
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