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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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April’s Answer

Every sacrifice has been worth it, but the job is hard. I would do it all again to be able to care for patients.

Thank you so much! I know working with children can be extremely rewarding. Marlene U.

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Janet’s Answer

I have a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and further coursework to obtain the credentials of a school psychologist. I also studied part-time over ten years to learn Spanish to become a bilingual school psychologist. Although a doctorate is not necessary to practice as a school psychologist, it gave me great flexibility as I moved with my husband to different states. I never had difficulty finding a job. It also provided me with a great education. I was able to have a long and satisfying career and eventually, with the bilingual certificate, a very good salary as I could negotiate a higher compensation due to the great need for bilingual educators.

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 totally agree! Nobody can take away your education and knowledge, and nothing can replace it either. I'm definitely thinking of taking on some foreign language classes; diversity is very important. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! Marlene U.

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Susan Delphine’s Answer

Hi, I'm Sarah's mom and a Psychiatrist. I agree with everything she said. Please reread her answer. Carefully. I've always been about balance, even in med school. I come from a family of scientist-artists and I have to make art along with my practice. I have an Etsy shop SusanDolphinDelaney with jewelry for busy women, like you. My current practice is cash only and part time. I give my patients a receipt that they can use to file for reimbursement with their insurance companies. This lets me accept only patients that seem to be a good fit, and to have a low overhead, one person (that's me) office.

Thank you so much! I find it super interesting how you and your daughter took different pathways. Do you happen to have anything else to add to your daughter's comment? Marlene U.

I remember her saying to me, "I don't want your life" (or dad's). She certainly had more than it takes to go to med school, but she didn't like seeing us bogged down with the economics of running a business. Every one else gets paid first! Her choice was to be a midlevel. And let someone else run the business. I support her totally in that. Her answer is super complete. Read it three or four times. There will be new paragraphs in it every time you read it. Susan Delphine Delaney

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Sarah’s Answer

This is such a wonderful question! I salute you for asking it so young. It’s a *very* personal call to make. Even if you were to have the same experiences I have, you might not feel the same I do. It really depends on *your* personal priorities.

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:

Start thinking about your priorities and the dreams you have for your life – family, career, your other passions, the quality of life you want for yourself, etc. Your thoughts on these things may change a fair bit between now and when you might enter med school – just keep it all in mind while you decide what career is right for you.
Start learning now how to prioritize your health and engage in self-care in the face of life’s challenges. Figure out what makes you feel happy and nourishes your mind, body, and spirit. This includes learning to set boundaries with other people to safeguard your own time, energy, and sanity. No one else can do these things for you.
Determine your constitution – Do you thrive in demanding situations? Do you have the stamina to ride out lengthy struggles? Do you roll with the punches? If so, a career in medicine may be in your future.
Learn to manage your money, ASAP. Take a course on personal finance – no time like the present. Learn how to budget. Avoid unnecessary debt. These are adult skills crucial for anyone, but especially if you’re going to take out and pay back enormous amounts of student loans.
Think about if you’re the entrepreneurial type or not – if you’d rather be in charge, making the big decisions, or if you’re content being an involved employee. If you’re inclined towards owning your own practice, strongly consider taking some business classes in college.

I LOVE all of the helpful information and personal experiences you've shared with me, thank you so much! I'd love to talk to you more about how exactly you've been able to balance your career and your personal life as well as you mental, physical, and spiritual health. Marlene U.

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Richard’s Answer

Yes! It is absolutely worth it. There are a lot of long hours studying in the library followed by long hours in the hospital, but it is a fulfilling career. There are so many opportunities after medical school... different specialties appeal to different individuals. Or you can follow a nonclinical route in research or even hospital administration.

Thank you so much! I will definitely keep my options open :) Marlene U.

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Rachel’s Answer

As someone who completed a general surgery residency, I would say that the sacrifices are substantial. I missed a lot of time with my daughter and son that I will not get back. However, now that my training is complete, I have more time with my family, and I am very happy with the decisions I made. I would not work in any other field, and I am glad that I made the sacrifices I did.

Thank you! I’m glad to read a different perspective and I appreciate your honesty. :) Marlene U.

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