Is Medical School Worth It?

I received an inquiry yesterday questioning the very notion of entering medicine.

Hey Rishi,

I’m heading into my second year of college as a computer science major. I was perusing through your blog, and was inspired to apply to medical school. I’ve always had an interest, but some random articles on the internet discouraged me because “it’s not worth it.” Simply, I wanted to ask for any advice you would give for someone who passionately wants to work in the medical field, but is afraid it might not be worth it.

Medical school is not something you enter with the intention of trying out. It’s a costly commitment in terms of time and money, and with health reform currently in the limelight, physicians are under increasingly growing scrutiny. It’s not a profession to enter for pride or financial gain, but rather, genuinely wanting to make an impact on the lives of others – whether it’s direct patient contact, teaching the next generation of docs, research, or a combination of everything – in spite of all the hardships one must endure in training and practice.

As a pre-med, it’s nearly impossible to garner experiences which are representative of a physician’s practice. Shadowing surgeries and rounding with hospitalists is not enough. Spend time with a medical billings secretary and see the paperwork associated with a single office visit, read up about private insurance and Medicare/Medicaid issues, learn about how defensive medicine and the overall cost of healthcare are intimately related, and consider the landscape of medicine several decades from now in terms of job security and compensation. You’ll realize how much responsibility there is OUTSIDE the doctor-patient relationship which often detracts from the very reason we’re here – to help patients return to their physical and emotional states of well being. So while seeing patients gives us the romantic aspect of healthcare, one must consider whether they can tolerate all aspects of this career before choosing to pursue it.

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  1. It will be a miserable lifestyle if you go into it just for the money. It will also be a miserable choice if you enter the field because you want to gain a sense of superiority over others. As a MS4 in the United States, I’m already seeing the difference in my fellow classmates. Those who want to become a physician because it was a calling (either as a kid or a 2nd year undergrad student) and have an amazing passion to help people will do anything and everything to get to that goal. That means having to endure many nights of very little or no sleep, lots of debt (expect $150-200K in debts after it’s all said and done), little pay (for the first few years after you graduate) and tons of stress to the point where many go through depression and sometimes suicide (2-4x increased risk vs the general population). Source:

    The few classmates, that I know, who are doing it only to gain a sense of superiority are getting humbled very quickly. Just because you wear a white coat doesn’t mean you have everyone’s respect automatically. You earn it with trust, mutual respect and humility towards your patient and fellow human. It astounds me when I see a classmate expecting the patient to respect them when they themselves didn’t respect the patient that much. Yes, those classmates are professional when they meet with a patient, but the sense of entitlement and smugness oozes out and patients, nurses, etc can easily notice it. That’s when the problems arise, which leads some students to wonder if it was all worth it.

    But all that said, if you like helping people with a passion and want to help people make healthy lifestyle choices, then go for it! Also ask yourself, if you won $10 million … would you still enter the field? If you say yes, then it’s probably worth it.

    My pre-med advisor asked me that $10 million question. I told him yes, just because I knew it was the answer he was looking for. But later that night, I thought about it hard and I honestly knew medicine was the right choice for me because even now with everything I’ve gone though, I’m very certain I’d still want to practice medicine even if I won the $250 million jackpot. No amount of money can extinguish my passion for medicine and the art of healing, and I think that’s what keeps me going no matter how bad things get.

    (Sorry if there are areas where I don’t make sense. I’m writing this after a very long night.)

    • I can personally relate to being asked the million dollar question, but it took me a year or two of med school to realize that I do indeed genuinely enjoy this career and can’t see myself utilizing my abilities to the fullest extent in any other profession. Thank you so much for the insightful comment, Marcus!

  2. I graduated med school in 1988. I am an Otolaryngologist. I can tell you that it is insane to go into medicine for the money. If you go into it solely for financial security, you will be relatively financially secure, but you will likely be miserable your entire career. However, if your brain is wired the right way, it is very rewarding. You have to be the type of person that gets a little buzz from making someone else happy. The accumulation of multiple daily buzzes makes the hard work (even at age 50 I am working harder than most of my non medical peers) and education costs tolerable.


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