If you had to do it over again, would you choose medicine again?

March 24, 2015

This will be part of a work/career/medicine series — I’ve gotten several questions related to work, but often feel overwhelmed about writing such a ‘serious’ post.  Instead of writing one monstrous (and potentially boring) post, I am going to address a work-related question/topic in brief every week or so for this series.


Okay, back to the question above, which is such a difficult question on so many levels.

The fast and easy answer is yes.  This may be in part because the harsh memories of med school/harder residency rotations are getting fuzzier, and in retrospect it doesn’t seem like it was that bad (except really, sometimes it was).  And the ‘prize’ is pretty nice — I now have a job that has lots of autonomy, uses complex (and therefore interesting) decision making, and always provides opportunities for learning and personal growth.   It is also a job that feels meaningful a lot of the time, which is really rewarding.
I generally enjoy my days at work, and they go by quickly.  I am not one of those people who feel like the EMR killed medicine, and in fact I credit EPIC (our electronic system, and a common one in many hospitals) for making my work easier and more pleasant, because with paper charts records were often unwieldy and unreliable.
This is a sticky thing to post about, but I do feel like I am decently compensated for what I do, so that helps me feel more confident about my decision to work outside the home full time (i.e., paying for childcare does not eat up all of my salary).  
Finally, I feel like there is a decent amount of flexibility/opportunity for growth.  For example, our hospital system is adding a pediatric residency program, and I’m interested in being involved in that on some level.   I could see myself in a position with some leadership responsibilities someday, too.  There are always research opportunities — and while I will never go back to bench science, there are clinical trials that would be exciting to be a part of.  
All of that sounds nice, huh?  But there are some significant downsides.  First of all, medicine is stressful.  Honestly, whether you are a radiologist or an ED doctor heading up a level 1 trauma center (. . . or a pediatric endocrinologist or a vascular surgeon . . .) — this job is high pressure.  The health (and potentially lives) of our patients are at stake, and therefore all of the decisions a doctor makes matter.  With every short stature patient I see, I’m trying not to miss the one that with a brain tumor.  And yet I don’t want to put every child through 93423 unnecessary tests, putting them at risk and wasting everyone’s time and money.  Decision fatigue is real, and I feel it at the end of every day, even my easier ones.  
Perhaps the above will get easier with time, once I’ve had 10 (or 20) years of experience under my belt. However, I don’t think it will ever be truly simple or stress-free.
The second major downside is CALL.  Ugh, call!  It comes in many forms, but it’s a universal part of almost any physician’s job responsibilities.  As I’ve written about before, in our practice we take call one week at a time — that’s 168 hours of “any time my phone rings, I have to deal with whatever is on the other end of the line.”  At 10 am.  At 6:20 pm, to put in diabetes orders, while alone in the house with A&C (that happened yesterday).  At 1 am.  Luckily, it’s only 20% of the time (I’m in a group of 5) and in general, as call goes, peds endo call is sometimes very benign.  This past weekend was so quiet that I nearly forgot that I was in the hot seat.  But you never do get to fully forget/relax when on call, or at least I don’t.  
SO.  I suppose I need to provide a real/more complex answer the question I asked above, but honestly?  I don’t really know the answer!  I’m happy with how things are now, and I am not planning on a career change.  But I also think I could have been a very happy:
– pharmacist
– writer
– nurse practitioner/PA (many don’t have call)
– corporate pawn — kidding, but in all seriousness I could see myself enjoying a position in something like marketing or project management 
I do have a promise to myself that if I do ever become miserable in my career, I will make a change.  
If you are in medicine, would you do it over again?  

15 Comments

  • Reply andrea March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    I am a surgery resident. I love my job. I would do it all over again, although when asked I have to think about is. I work in a country where doctors are soooo underpaid. They lost their respect, there are a lot of lawsuits against them, they take envelops€. But it is still better than in my home country, where you can pay the rent with your salary,but you only get to buy something to eat if your parents help you out. We have a lot of calls, overnight shifts, this makes salary a little more acceptable. I know medicine should not be only about money, and trust me it is not, but when you have children,also,life gets a little more complicated. But yes, I would still choose medicine.

  • Reply SusannahEarlyBd March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    Enjoyed reading this despite not being at all associated with medicine! =p

  • Reply Tar March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    Thank you for this post! I’m about to start intensive Step 1 studying, and it really helps to hear that my 10-12 hour days will be worth it, and that I am doing this to help people. I’m glad to hear you find it rewarding, even after med school, residency, fellowship, ect! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply Lee Becknell March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    This is so interesting to me as I am that marketing/project management corporate pawn and your job is so drastically different than mine.

    Umm, also, should my short statured child be evaluated for a brain tumor? I’m sort of being serious. Is that really a symptom?

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

      Also — your little one was SGA (small for gestational age) and a lot of those kids have trouble catching up — not uncommon! If he’s really far below the curve and not catching up, then it is definitely reasonable to see an endo just to get their take on things. But he’s still so young that I’d probably give it a little more time unless he’s really falling off. Definitely talk to your pediatrician about it!!

  • Reply innershakti March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    I ask my husband this all the time. He’s currently a 4th year med student who’s about to start residency this summer. His answer honestly depends on the day. Overall, I think he’s truly happy with his decision because he can use his skills and knowledge to make a difference. But there are days where the system frustrates him and he wishes he had done something else. I feel that way too, and I’m a corporate pawn!

  • Reply Elaine March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    I’m only second year out, and in the Australian system where entry into training programs occurs later on (they want you to be at least PGY3 before you can work in paediatrics at my tertiary children’s hospital) and while I enjoy my work most of the time, a large source of my frustration is all the extra work I have to do outside hours just to get a foot in the door. (My days off are full of courses, audits, research and masters coursework, which I really do enjoy but it gets tiring.) It’s really nice to hear you feel it was worth it on reflection. I feel like once I am in the program I’ll be a lot happier about things, though no doubt it will come with it’s own issues.

  • Reply PAC March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    I’m an ortho PA and just started taking call. I hate the fact that I feel "glued" to my phone all the time! Which got me thinking – what did doctors (and others) do before cell phones? Could they not leave the house if they were on call?!
    I enjoy your blog! Thanks for writing!

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

      I feel ancient just answering this question! We had pagers (in fact, many big hospitals still use pagers). The thing beeps, it has a number, and you can call it back from a landline. That’s what I had all through residency & fellowship (I always had a cell, but it was not used for paging).

  • Reply Laura Vanderkam March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    I love this question for any career. I’ve been finding from interviewing physicians that it can be a surprisingly family-friendly career, given the reputation. The training is grueling, of course. The specialty matters too. But it’s interesting, meaningful work, and you earn enough to pay for good childcare. In some specialties you can go part-time and still earn quite a bit, and not see your career wrecked — something that is not always the case in the corporate world.

  • Reply Miranda March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    This is so interesting to me! I started as a career fighter fighter / EMT outside of Philadelphia. Took a detour from that, hated what I was doing, and became a veterinary nurse. I worked for private practice for a year and now work for in a huge academic setting. Do you think you would have enjoyed academia? Or are you happy in private practice?

  • Reply Liz March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    I love this posting! I’ve considered med school since I was in probably junior high and went to college with plans for that, but stumbled upon clinical lab science. I’ve been a laboratory scientist in hospital labs for the last 10 years since college. I still think about going back for med school and mentally plan it out, but wonder if it would all be worth it to me to take that on at nearly 33 years old. I know that healthcare is definitely where I belong (can’t imagine being in another career area), but I am definitely bored with where I’m at and am tired of almost nobody really knowing how important lab science is to the medical field/being severely underappreciated. I have considered doing PA (would need to accumulate a bunch of direct patient contact hours since unfortunately lab science doesn’t count for most programs), NP (several programs exist now for holders of a BA/BS in another field to enter nursing more quickly) and Pharm (I do worry about the glut of pharmacy programs), however what I always wanted to do is forensic pathology and that clearly doesn’t exist in those fields. Ha.

  • Reply zenmoo March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    I met my husband 15 years ago in the summer before he started med school when he was choosing between med school and a PhD. He went with med school & 14 years later, here we are. At the time I tried to convince him to do a PhD… It’s hard to say, he seems happy with his job and I guess I’m happy with his income – but I do feel like it been at the cost of a more equal relationship, timing / # of children and my career aspirations. Those are some big things to work through.

  • Reply Jessica March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    Yes, I would do it again but as a psychiatric resident I can’t complain too much, I love my job, it involves a lot of interesting decision making and consideration, also a lot of listening and talking, speaking to patients, to relatives, to social workers and working closely together with the nurses. And in psychiatry the hours are pretty reasonable, you only work 50hrs/week if you’re working full time. And since I don’t live in the US I don’t make tons of money, but I do only have very minimal loans to pay back. And childcare and education is comparatively cheap so I can’t complain.

  • Reply Val March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    Thank you for this post! As a veterinarian, I have some similar feelings — often rewarding, very mentally (and physically!) stimulating, appreciative of how tough the schooling was now that I’m on the other side. I also feel the decision and compassion fatigue, along with the mental toll that performing euthanasia eventually takes. I love being a veterinarian and can’t see myself doing anything else.

    That being said, if I could go back 10 years and have a second shot, knowing what I know now I think I may reconsider my career path. My education debt load is soul-crushingly insurmountable, and it’s a huge problem within the veterinary medical industry. At least half of new grads will owe far more than we can ever hope to pay off, and I wish someone had more clearly (and loudly) advised me of this before I started out.

    I am fortunate to spend a few days a week with my toddler, and no emergency work– I am so impressed by you guys being on call with little kids! I also adore wearing scrubs and sneakers to work– comfort contributes to my happiness. And last but not least — I get to snuggle a few healthy puppies and kitties every day — win!

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