Tough Decision – Career and Family

Becoming a physician is no easy task.  The long journey is difficult.  But when discussing my career choice with those who are not physicians I always get the cliché answer – “It’ll all be worth it in the end.”

How do they know?

People act as though, that while the road to becoming a physician is long and difficult, some nirvana exists as soon as training gets over.  What do they think happens?  That I’ll become a god, who saves lives with my healing touch, and the government will come print me money in my basement.  I feel like some people believe that.

Well truthfully, that won’t happen.  In fact, physicians are leaving the practice of medicine all the time due to burning out, long work hours, no respect, no control, and not enough pay.  Yes physicians make more than the average joe, but they also have years of student loans and compiling interest that need to be paid off – the average joe is blessed not to have that burden.

So why become a physician?

The chance to affect someone’s life, in a way that no other career can.  Help bring a life into existence or pull someone from the brink of death.  That is the kind of thing that I am working towards.  Having a career that is meaningful and worthwhile, not something I do just to make money.  But it is these life and death careers that demand the most from physicians.  OB/GYN, neurosurgery, cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, transplant surgery, trauma and critical care, and others are all intense life and death types of specialties.  Doctors are required to put the patients’ needs ahead of all others.  That means that sometimes even a physicians family or own needs are put aside when taking care of these high acuity patients.  The job is extremely rewarding, but at what costs?  Family and marital problems, or even the physician’s own sanity? I could choose a specialty that affords me much more flexibility for my lifestyle, but then will I be loosing some of the rewarding aspects that go along with the more intense patients?

This is something I’ll be thinking a lot about for the next year, as I attempt to narrow down my specialty choice.  It’s going to be a tough decision.

EDIT:: To see this in action, please watch Hopkins – it’s a great series that touches on this issue an many others.