Deciding on a Career in Medicine

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A basic overview of what it takes to become a doctor.

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young woman sits in a lecture hall, looking forward

Should I become a doctor?

Think about what kind of future appeals to you. Do you like challenges? Are you interested in science and how the body works? Do you care deeply about other people, their problems, and their pain? Are you a good listener? Do you enjoy learning? Are you intrigued by the ways medicine can be used to improve life?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, chances are you have the right personality for a career in medicine. But, there’s more to consider. Pursuing a career as a doctor is a long and intense journey. Here are some steps you can take next to further explore whether being a doctor is the right choice for you:

  • Talk to a career counselor or pre-health advisor to learn more about the physician career path.
  • Get medical related experience, which may include shadowing a doctor, volunteering in a medical setting, or working as an EMT or medical scribe. (Hands-on experience is one of the most effective ways to decide if a career in medicine is right for you!)
  • Consider the answers to the questions below.

What is a doctor’s job like?

Physicians support and manage the health care of people of all ages. They take medical histories, perform physical examinations, conduct diagnostic tests, recommend and provide treatment, conduct research, and advise patients on their overall health and well-being. While there are many different types of physicians, they can usually be divided into three broad categories:

  • Primary care physicians are the doctors patients usually visit most frequently. They treat a wide range of illnesses and regularly provide preventive care, and they also enjoy long-term relationships with their patients. Pediatricians, family practitioners and general internists are primary care physicians.
  • Surgeons perform operations to treat diseases and repair injuries.
  • Specialists have expertise related to specific diseases as well as body parts, organs, and systems. Cardiologists, oncologists, neurologists, and ophthalmologists are examples of specialists. The AAMC’s Careers in Medicine website contains information about various specialties in medicine

How much education does it take to become a doctor?

Becoming a doctor requires a serious educational and financial commitment. It typically takes  11 to 16 years to complete your education, including four years of college (undergraduate school), four years of medical school, and anywhere from three to eight years of training in a specific specialty area (i.e., residency training), depending on which specialty you choose to pursue. In order to maintain a medical license, doctors are also required to continue taking courses and learning about advancements in their field throughout their career.

What is the lifestyle and salary like?

While salaries for physicians are among the highest of all occupations, the work hours can be long and unpredictable. Many doctors work more than 60 hours a week. They may also have to respond to emergencies and be on call for their patients. Work hours vary depending on the type, size and location of practice.

Salaries vary depending on where physicians live and the type of medical specialty they practice.

Check out these resources to find out more about how to prepare for a career in medicine.

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