We often talk about the most challenging part of being a doctor so that we can help prepare you for the inevitable obstacles. That being said, it’s important to not lose sight of the end goal, the reason you go through the arduous process of becoming a doctor in the first place. Here are the most rewarding parts of becoming a doctor.
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes
Three things – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether our work fulfills us.
The noble profession of being a physician hits all three, and then some.
1 | Helping Others
Of course, one of the most frequently stated rewarding aspects of being a physician is making a deep impactful difference in someone else’s life. You have the ability to significantly improve the quality of life of your patients, and this can be a tremendously satisfying experience.
In the process of doing so, you feel that you’re making the world a better place. That’s something that money can’t buy – purpose. Purpose is not only important for motivation, as described in Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, but it also provides an extremely valuable tool in resilience. If you feel that you’re working for a larger purpose – something bigger than yourself – then you’re not only more likely to enjoy your work, but also bounce back from setbacks and endure the challenging times with greater ease.
So in short, helping others helps you enjoy the day to day more, helps you bounce back from the hard times, and well, helps others – talk about a good deal.
2 | Personal Connection with Patients
Closely tying with the first, the personal connection with patients is hard to match in any other profession. It’s truly an honor to be trusted with another human being’s health and wellbeing, requiring a deep level of trust. Remember that as a physician, you are there for patients in their most trying times. This deep personal and emotional connection with another person is often challenging, but is also tremendously rewarding.
I recall some of my own conversations with patients when their family members were terminally ill, or when a patient needed a procedure that we all wish they didn’t need. While it was not fun in the traditional sense, I felt honored to be able to help them in such a moment of vulnerability, and to help them navigate such a frightening ordeal. Their demonstrations of gratitude were tremendously powerful and left an impact on me.
3 | Intellectual Challenge
Think back to the most epic moments of life – things you were proud of. Chances are, you had a strong feeling of elation after overcoming a significant challenge. That’s one of the reasons so many of us love being doctors.
The body of medical knowledge is rapidly expanding, with an exponential rise in published research articles each year. It’s impossible to keep up, and that’s ok. Medicine forces you to continue to learn for the rest of your career – hopefully at that point, you’re studying the subject matter you enjoy.
The intellectual challenge applies to solving difficult medical cases as well. I’ve never watched the TV show House (I was more of a Scrubs guy), but I hear this would be a good demonstration of this intellectual challenge in managing obscure conditions. The satisfaction from finally solving a challenging medical case with a diagnosis and watching the treatment work effectively is hard to replicate. Even right now, my inner nerd is getting excited thinking about the challenging inpatient cases we worked on as a team during my internal medicine rotations.
4 | Autonomy
Tying in and building off of the intellectual challenge is autonomy. Doctors are the highest in command in the medical treatment team. They are analyzing the objective data, the patient’s concerns and presentation, and making treatment decisions. Having this challenge and seeing your efforts result in improvement to the patient’s condition is rewarding.
Unfortunately, modern healthcare rules and regulations in the United States are encroaching into physician’s autonomy. The legal liability, and increasing charting and administrative work slowly erode the autonomy that is so valuable. This is one element of the multifactorial rise in burn out amongst physicians. However, that discussion is for another post.
5 | It’s Straight Cool
Lastly, medicine is just a straight awesomely fascinating profession. The way the human body works, the complexities and nuances – there’s just so much cool science to uncover. Every medical student gravitates to various aspects that interest them. For me, plastic surgery felt like science fiction. I’ve gone over the first case I ever saw, where we created a makeshift bicep out of the latissimus dorsi back muscle on a patient. Plastics also does hand transplants, face transplants, microsurgery for cancer or trauma reconstruction, and so much more. Regardless of your specialty, there’s something amazing about the science there – from psychiatry to plastic surgery and everything between.
Note that I didn’t mention the paycheck. That’s intentional. While being a doctor is one of the highest paid professions, it’s not nearly as lucrative as most people think. That boils down to two factors: the opportunity cost of delaying your paycheck for an extra 7 to 11 years, and the cost of medical training. In short, don’t go in it for the money.
While being a doctor is one of the most challenging and arduous careers to enter, it’s truly a privilege and a tremendously rewarding profession. If there are other rewarding aspects of being a doctor that I didn’t cover here, let me know down in the comments below. What part are you looking forward to the most? For those of you who are interviewing for medical school right now, take a look at our all-new How to Ace the Medical School Interview Course – it’s the most comprehensive and high yield guide you’ll find anywhere, hands down.