“Is Med School Worth the Dollars, Stress, and Decade Spent in Training?”
I hear this question a lot. Even some of my most capable and well-adjusted friends and fellow medical students have confided to me that in the midst of medical school, they questioned whether this was the right profession for them and whether medical school was the right choice. I have also heard resident physicians confide to me that if they knew how long and arduous the training process was, they would not have entered medicine. And I’ve heard this from incredible people, no slouches.
I’d like to spend the next couple paragraphs to explain why the above question is the wrong question to ask. In short, I think you have to enjoy the process of the training, not just getting to the other side, or it’s not worth it.
Medical school and residency is a long expensive process. No one understands this better than me, as an MD/PhD student. Undergrad was 4 years, I worked in research for 2 years, then my MD/PhD will be seven years, and my residency-fellowship-postdoc will be another 5-7 years. If you can stomach adding that up, it equals 19 years. Let me repeat, that equals 19 years. That was not a typo. I’ll be 37 by the time I have a “real” job.
Life is too short and unpredictable to undertake a training of this sort if you don’t enjoy and find fulfillment in the training itself. Often you hear people say I have “XX” many years until I get out.” I think that is the wrong way to look at it. Learning and training is part of my career. Technically I am still training, but I feel like I am doing what I want to do and love already: learning, seeing patients, meeting phenomenal friends and colleagues, research, and running/cycling.
What’s the take-away point from what I just said? For someone considering whether to go to medical school (and it is highly preferable to figure out whether medicine is right for you before starting medical school), it’s important to think whether you will enjoy and find the process of being in a medical school fulfilling. It involves lots of learning, dedication, patience and empathy. If you think you want to be a doctor but will hate medical school and residency, I don’t think this is the right career for you. A decade of the prime of your life is not worth spending on something you don’t love.
And for people in medical school, try and enjoy this time for what it can be, not something to get through. For me, I love what I’m doing and am perpetually glad they made the clerical error to accept me.