Regarding all of the sacrifices you've made, all of the school and training you've gone through, etc., would you say that it was all worth it?
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Working on a doctorate also made it possible to meet very dedicated and interesting people. I met my husband during that time. The training gave me insight and the ability to ask questions. If I had not done it, I might have gotten work years sooner that would have allowed me to purchase furniture and a car...but material goods do not last forever while an education can never be taken away from you. You will never go wrong getting as much education as you can, though you cannot always expect to recuperate the material sacrifices made while getting it.
I’ll share my perspective as a physician assistant with 2 physician parents. These are *my* observations and opinions. Others may feel differently.
While choosing this career has come with its fair share of suffering and sacrifice, I would definitely go through it all again to have the capacity to do what I enjoy doing–using my personal aptitudes and hard work to provide medical care to improve the lives of others in my community.
I’m going to give you my perspective and go a bit beyond your question, technically, to best address the spirit of what I hear you asking. I hope you find it helpful and that it leaves you hopeful and empowered. I don’t mean *any* of this to dissuade you from a career you feel passionate about. It didn’t dissuade me. If you’re meant to work in medicine, you will come to a sense of peace about that decision, whether now or as time goes on.
In my experience, and those of the medical professionals I’ve know, you have to make a lot of sacrifices for a career in medicine:
Time – going through medical training can feel like you’re set back several years behind your peers. 90+ hour weeks can make it hard to maintain old friendships. You may have to put the brakes on dating seriously, getting married, or having kids for a bit. You’ll delay starting your career and may have to watch as friends getting their businesses rolling around you. And on and on. Time stops for no one – and definitely not while you’re in training for *years*. (Did you realize it takes a cardiothoracic surgeon 12+ years *after* college to train?!)
Blood, sweat, tears – medicine isn’t for the faint-hearted! Very opportunity for rest or relaxation. Being so busy you’re near-oblivious while the rest of the world spins around you. The pressure not to take necessary time off for illness/grief/maternity, etc. Eat/sleep/breathe medicine. It’s a true test of your health – physical, mental, spiritual, etc. You need a Ph.D. in self-care and setting boundaries to make it through the process sane and intact.
Money! – training for a career as a healthcare practitioner is never cheap. For PAs, the average grad has $120k in student loans. For MDs, $250k. That’s akin to a mortgage, my friend! (This also doesn’t take into account business loans for stuff like office space and medical equipment you might need to run your own practice.) Looking at those numbers now may seem like an academic exercise, but when you start owing $ back, that’s serious business. Just like being in an intensive training program can sideline you in comparison to your peers, so can student debt. A monthly minimum payment of >$1000-3000 (depending on your total debt) can really cramp your style. Think about what you, your friends, or your family could do with an extra $3000 more every month! Having to repay loans on top of your other “adult” expenses, even as a relatively high-paid physician, can really limit your ability to pursue your OTHER hopes and dreams. Knowing how to manage your money going INTO the process is an *invaluable* skill.
Other “myeh” parts of medical practice to consider:
Medicine as a business – those of us inclined towards a medical career are typically sold on the idea of some level of personal sacrifice to be able to help people. We dream our decisions will always be driven by what’s best for the patient. But, sadly, it is rarely that simple in practice. Money is a huge factor in your decisions as a provider, like it or not – health insurance coverage, pharmaceutical and medical equipment industry influence, the practicalities of administering a practice, etc. These can be OVERWHELMING factors you can’t ignore. Being forced to operate within that system can be maddening, most especially if you have a financial stake in a medical practice.
Owning your own practice vs. buying into a practice vs. being an employee – each has its pros and cons. It’s a matter of knowing your choices and doing what’s best for you. I watched my 2 physician parents struggle with the financial and administrative aspects of owning their own practice. I personally want no part of owning my own business. I’m happy working somewhere I’m valued by those that run the organization, as a dedicated and similar-minded employee. You might not be satisfied with that, which is completely cool! We’re all have different gifts and dreams.
Long work hours – REALLY LONG ones, depending on what specifically you do. It can be exhausting, limit your time with your family and friends, limit your opportunities to have fun and get stuff done at home, etc. This can really affect your happiness and wellbeing, especially if you’re not prepared to manage the workload!
Again, for me, these sacrifices have been worth being able to alleviate the suffering of my patients. Honestly, I *do* feel the rare heartbreak over some of the things I gave up to become a PA (see above!). I think it’s healthy to acknowledge and mourn those losses. And it’s healthy for you to acknowledge and prepare for them if you choose to pursue a medical career.
BUT I do find it exhilarating to use the skills and expertise I’ve worked hard to gain to do the work I do. There’s nothing I’d rather spend my professional life doing.
I’ve worked to set boundaries so I can guard my mental, physical, and spiritual health and pursue my other dreams. I’m happily married to a wonderful spouse, have a huge and challenging vegetable garden, cook gourmet meals several times a week, and find time to hit the gym and love on my dogs. The balance wasn’t easy to find, but having found it, I find I enjoy my career even more. Point being, know what you’re facing and prioritize balance!
Continue talking to medical professionals at various points of their careers about the sacrifices they’ve made and their answers to your question. You need to be able to make an informed decision about if this is the life you want for yourself!
Sarah recommends the following next steps: