Today, I discuss the 3 reasons why I’m grateful to be a physician: the ability to help people, the ability to earn a good income, and respect.
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One of the most common questions I encounter on social media is this: if I could do it all over again, would I still go into medicine?
I understand where this question is coming from, because most people understand that it’s a long and difficult road to become a physician. After a lot of introspection, I can definitely say that yes, I’d do it again.
Why? Because despite all the troubling trends in medicine today, being a physician is still one of the most rewarding jobs out there. To explain this further, here are the 3 reasons why I’m grateful to be a physician:
- I’m able to help people
- I’m able to earn a good income
- I’m able to have a respected occupation
Medicine allows you to help people
It’s incredibly rewarding to help others. Humans are social creatures and we’ve evolved with internal reward systems that kick in when we help each other. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the satisfaction we get from helping others is deeper and longer lasting than just helping ourselves.
Jenny Santi nicely summarized the concept in this article in the Times magazine: “The Secret to Happiness is Helping Others.”
Medicine is a profession where you can directly help people. The manner in which you help them depends on your specialty, but you can have a profound impact. For example, primary care physicians can save lives by preventing, diagnosing, and treating illnesses. Surgeons can physically cut out disease and cancer to save lives and improve quality of life.
As a urologic surgeon, I have the privilege of helping patients with everything from kidney stones to prostate cancer. Kidney stones in particular are really painful, so patients are really grateful when I can help them with this problem. You’d also be surprised how grateful men are when I can treat their benign prostate blockage and help them urinate better.
The gratitude from my patients is incredibly satisfying, which makes me want to help them all the more!
Medicine allows you to earn a good income
I’ve written before how my family experienced real financial hardship when I was young. At the time, I didn’t understand fully what was going on, but I do distinctly remember the stress of those years.
The financial scars from those years motivated me to excel in school, since I knew that getting into a good college was a ticket to a good job later on.
Later on when I was thinking about careers, one of the things that attracted me to medicine was job security and the income. I wanted a job that would pay me enough where I wouldn’t have to worry about having enough money to feed my family. Though I didn’t know exactly what physicians got paid back then, I knew that all of the doctor families I knew were much better off than my family.
Check out the Top 10 Highest Paid Medical Specialties
I’m grateful for my income as a urologic surgeon
My first job out of residency was an employed position in southern California. Although I’m getting increasingly suspicious of employed positions and their connection to burnout, I was so grateful to have an income that allowed me to cover all of our living costs. For better or for worse, our living costs were very high in California.
Despite our high costs, combined with my wife’s income, we had enough disposable income to pay all our bills and also invest in our financial future. After studying our finances, I mapped out a plan for financial freedom to ensure a future of financial stability for our family.
A few years later, it was our investment portfolio and savings that gave us the freedom for us to take a chance on my wife’s career and move across the country. Now as I pursue private practice in Tennessee, I’m intrigued at the challenge of building a successful medical practice in Memphis.
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Of course, you and I know that a good income doesn’t necessarily guarantee financial stability (or wealth). You need to also have control over your spending to make sure you’re not spending more than you make. And you have to take advantage of investment to really build wealth.
In summary, though I think some specialties need to be paid more, medicine overall offers some of the best and most reliable incomes available today.
Medicine is a respected profession
I joke with people that when I was growing up, I had only three options for my future profession. My Korean parents said I could become either a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. At the time I was annoyed by this restriction, but looking back, I understand their reasoning. They wanted me to make a good living as an adult. I also know that part of this was about prestige.
In church on Sunday mornings, I’d hear my mother whisper with other parents about how so-and-so’s son just got into medical school. They’d all purse their lips and nod their heads in collective acknowledgement of that family’s success.
In our society today, I often hear complaints that doctors aren’t respected like they used to be. I think this varies a lot based on the city and perhaps the company you keep. But overall, being a doctor still ranks as one of the most trusted professions today (just behind nurses).
I’m introspective enough to understand that I crave significance, so the respect that I get for being a physician is something for which I’m always grateful. I think that it’s a real respect that is hard won from the sacrifice it takes to become a physician.
It’s not easy to become a physician
I didn’t list it above, but I’m also grateful that I was able to get through medical training. It’s true: the road to becoming a physician is long and difficult. After college, you’re looking at least 7 years between medical school and residency to become a primary care physician. For surgeons or medical subspecialists, it’s closer to 10 years (or more with fellowship training).
And even getting into a training program is really tough. There are multiple filters in place that narrows down the field of potential doctors: the MCATs, the board examinations, inservice exams, and finally licensing exams.
Each test involves tremendous preparation and there’s always some people that can never pass each level. But if you can make it through the schooling, the tests, and all the training, you’re left with the privilege of having one of the best professions out there today.
So yes — I’d still go into medicine if I could do it all over again and I’m grateful to be a physician. Now just six years after becoming an attending, I’ve got enough financial resources to ensure a privileged upbringing for my family. I also have the ability to continue to help people and gain meaning from my day to day work.
I do think that even happy, satisfied physicians would be better off if they were financially free.
Despite the long road to becoming a physician, I think it’s still a great option.
Are you grateful for your profession? Let me know in the comments below, and check out how I answered this question in video form!
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