Did you always know that you wanted to be a doctor? I didn’t either. In fact, even in college I was weighing my options between going into engineering, business, and medicine. Before we dive in, there are two caveats we must go over:
First, my personal story as to how I decided to become a doctor is much more personal than what I’m explaining in this video. Personal factors, such as being diagnosed with a chronic illness at the beginning of college, influenced my decision. There are several videos on the vlog channel that go more into my personal experiences with career options, health issues, and my philosophy on optimizing one’s life. For an even deeper and more intimate view of what this looks like, visit me on Instagram.
Second, I am inherently biased as I went to medical school and earned my M.D. That being said, I do love engineering and business as well, and have dabbled with both, as you’ll see. I will also do my best to be as objective as possible and portray the pros and cons of each, and help guide you in making your decision. For those of you with engineering or business backgrounds, I tremendously value your input as you have a different perspective than me. Let me know what you agree or disagree with down in the comments!
Without further ado, let’s get to it.
1 | Doctor
Is “Helping Others” a Good Reason?
I, like many others, consider medicine to be a highly noble profession. You deeply connect with patients, they trust you in their most vulnerable states, and you can leave a deep personal impact and change their lives in a away that is difficult to match in any other profession. One of the most common reasons people want to go into medicine and become a doctor is the fulfillment from helping others.
That sounds great, but remember that you can help others in a multitude of professions. In many healthcare settings, nurses actually have more frequent and extended patient contact than doctors. Policemen help enforce the law and protect those in need. Firefighters and EMT’s help people in the most dire emergencies. Engineers and business people help people as well through their work. Helping others is not unique to being a doctor.
That being said, the desire to help others is not a bad reason to pursue medicine. Helping others is fundamental in finding one’s life purpose and fulfillment. However, it isn’t unique to being a doctor. What is unique is the intellectual challenge and interpersonal connection in being a doctor.
I like to joke that all doctors are nerds, because it’s tremendously difficult to be successful in medical school and beyond without having an innate desire to learn, grow, and challenge yourself. Medicine is a profession where being a lifelong learner is essential – you are required to take boards every 10 years, and to provide the best care to your patients, you need to keep up to date with current research. At Med School Insiders, we go over a wide array of study strategies to make you a more effective lifelong learner, and that includes learning to enjoy the process of learning.
There are several other reasons individuals pursue medicine, but these are less frequently spoken about. At Med School Insiders, we keep it real.
You should never go into medicine because of the money, but to deny the job security and high earning potential as a factor would be dishonest. Compared to engineers or business men and women, doctors, on average, earn more. Emphasis placed “on average”. Based on the specialty, doctors can expect to earn between $200,000 to $600,000 per year. There are, of course, outliers to this range on both ends.
The reason you shouldn’t pursue medicine for the money is because of opportunity cost and the rigorous work required by the profession. By the time you’re actually making the big bucks in your thirties, you’ve sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into your medical education, and while others have been making a salary and saving for the past 7 to 12 years, you’re been in training and are now starting from a negative net worth. You’ll be working longer hours too, as the average attending physician works 60 hours per week in the U.S. In residency, expect that to be closer to 70 or 80 hours per week, plus studying at home. And remember, the average medical student graduates with close to $200,000 in debt.
The image of becoming a doctor and being rich is mostly antiquated. With decreasing compensation and increasing student loans, don’t expect a lavish lifestyle.
Most doctors are very risk-averse. The profession of medicine, after all, is extremely secure. Artificial intelligence is coming, but it’s going to be replacing several other careers before surgeons get replaced, and people will always need healthcare. There’s always a demand.
Assess your own risk tolerance and determine what you’re comfortable with. At the same time, don’t let fear of risk pigeon hole your potential future. Usually when there is more risk, there is the potential for more reward. Take business for example. Business men and women have a much higher earning potential than physicians and much more potential to change the world, but it’s not guaranteed. In fact, most business men and women, on average, make less than physicians. Stated another way, if you become a doctor, you’ll probablymake more money. However, you could potentially make much more money in business.
Status and Respect
Certain cultures place heavy emphasis on the status and desirability of being a doctor. While this is a nice perk of being a physician, I am doubtful it contributes to long term satisfaction. Sure, it’s nice to be respected for the hard work, dedication, and long hours, but if this is your reason for going into medicine, it won’t sustain you. Intrinsic satisfaction and fulfillment from the work is much more important.
2 | Engineering
Next, let’s talk about engineering as a profession. Similar to medicine, engineering allows you to specialize based on your area of interest. In medicine, you can go with plastic surgery, pathology, radiology, internal medicine, psych, etc. and find the best specialty for your personality and preferred lifestyle. In engineering, you can also choose from a variety of specializations, such as civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical, and much more.
Similar to medicine, engineering also provides a high level of job security and a relatively high salary. While many physicians earn in the low to mid six figure range, many engineers are in the high 5 to low 6 figure range. Engineers, on average, make less than physicians, but they also aren’t required to go through 4 years of medical school and 3-8 years of residency, and they graduate with significantly less debt.
I was personally very interested in computer science because the way of thinking is so unique and logical. I loved programming in high school and it came easily to me. The problem solving of computer science and programming is very stimulating and fun. I was also a huge fan of math in high school and college and thoroughly enjoyed physics, calculus, and mechanical engineering electives.
But one thing that pushed me away from engineering was imagining what I would enjoy doing day in and day out. I like interacting with people, and I felt that the interpersonal stimulation of being a physician and meeting patients everyday would be more in line with my ideal future than what the job of an engineer would traditionally entail. It was difficult to see myself working at a desk as a 9 to 5. Not all engineers necessarily do, but doctors usually have more interpersonal stimulation than engineers.
3 | Business
This is a difficult career to cover in a single blog post, as business is the most flexible and diverse of the career paths. While the job security, clout, and average earning potential is not as optimal compared to medicine, business has several distinct and significant advantages over the other two options.
First, business provides tremendous flexibility in every aspect of your career. You don’t have to go to graduate school, you don’t have to work for someone else, you don’t have to follow the traditional rules. Second, while the average earning potential is lower, business men and women have the potential to make significantly more than doctors or engineers. Lastly, and most importantly, business provides the most direct path to change the world. Allow me to explain.
Since college, my interests have developed. I grew obsessed with biomedical innovation, or the invention of technologies to improve patient care. I found myself at the intersection of medicine, business, and engineering. I even founded a biomedical incubator at UC San Diego called Blue LINC (Learn, Innovate, Network, Collaborate) to pursue this interest. In the incubator, we combine teams of medical students, engineering graduate students, and business MBA students and mentor them to create healthcare startups. It’s tremendously exciting because there’s a potential to affect thousands or even millions of patients by improving healthcare technologies.
With my M.D., I have clinical expertise. However, had I majored in engineering in college, I would be better prepared to work on designing and developing healthcare technologies myself. If I had business training, that would help me take my ideas to market. Each discipline – medicine, business, and engineering – is necessary to create a lasting impact through biomedical innovation.
I love the idea of leaving a mark on the world – having a significant impact, and it’s much easier to do this through business. Don’t get me wrong – doctors and engineers have very important and significant roles in society. Doctors, though, usually create deep connections and help one patient at a time. Engineers create the infrastructure from which all of society operates. These are both extremely important professions that deserve respect. However, for a technology to impact and truly change the world, it needs to be sustainable from a business perspective.
You could create a new treatment for diabetes that improves patient outcomes. However, if it’s cost-prohibitive, is challenging from a patient compliance perspective, and is ultimately not sustainable as a business, it’s unlikely to make a significant impact. Elon Musk is revolutionizing space travel and challenging our dependence on fossil fuels for personal transport through business. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs revolutionized and creating the possibility of personal computing through business. Sheryl Sandberg has used her influence at Facebook to push for women’s health and immigration reform. Each of their impacts has been facilitated through business.
Medicine, engineering, and business are each fantastic careers to pursue. And remember, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one or stick to a prescribed path. Don’t be afraid to break the mold and take the path less traveled. Through Blue LINC and Med School Insiders, I’ve been combining medicine and business. What about you? Are you going all in on medicine? Considering a career in business or engineering? I’d love to hear your future plans down in the comments below.