The Wrong Reasons to Become a Doctor

There are many reasons people consider a career in medicine. So many of these are lousy that I have decided to compile a list of red-flagged reasons for pursuing a career in medicine. These aren’t flat-out “wrong,” but by themselves they will not lead to career satisfaction. If any of these reasons are on your list, I would encourage you to take a closer look at what medicine is actually like on a day-to-day basis, and make sure you have other, more reality-bound reasons to balance out your expectations.

  1. Money, stability or mobility (there are a lot of ways to make a good living, many of them “easier” to pursue than medicine).
  2. Respect/prestige (many people will trust WebMD more than they trust you).
  3. To be the boss (start a business if you’re ambitious and power hungry).
  4. For my family (whether this means to make mom and dad proud, or to provide for your own family, you are off track. Your parents’ approval won’t matter when you’re cleaning out a patient’s giant fecal impaction at 3:00 am. As far as your spouse and kids, medicine will force you to compromise, juggle, and miss things more than it will make you a good provider).
  5. To make the world a better place (even the most productive, brilliant physicians are not currently effecting macro changes. You will make a difference in the life of your patients; don’t expect more than that no matter how hard you work or how smart you might be).
  6. Because I like ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and/or House (On some level, you must know that real hospitals are nothing like the ones you see on tv shows. Likewise, real doctors and patients are not like tv doctors and patients. Spend some time in a hospital to see just how different they are).
  7. Because I don’t know what else to do (it is important for a doctor to want to be a doctor. This is different than not having any better ideas. If you default into the profession out of a lack of better options or clearer direction, you will probably end up wishing you had made a more thoughtful choice. Remember that when a doctor doesn’t actually like his or her work, the patients suffer).
  8. Because I tried other things and did not like them (by itself this isn’t enough, but you’re on the right track. You ought to love medicine, but it helps to have a basis for comparison. Hating other jobs without knowing what medicine is like does not mean you should be a doctor. Explore medicine to see how it stacks up).
  9. My parents are physicians (this tells no one that you are cut out for the profession, nor does it say anything about why you would want to become a doctor).
  10. Hero worship (“I tore my ACL and I really admired my orthopedic surgeon and I want to be just like him!”). There’s no substance behind this reason and it shows a lack of personal reflection.

We’ll leave it at that for now, although I’m sure this list could be a lot more extensive.


6 Comments on “The Wrong Reasons to Become a Doctor”

  1. inplaceofsomeoneyoulove says:

    I try to tell people interested in going into medicine: If there is anything else that you would rather do, then go do it. If medicine is it then it is right for you. You will have no regrets.

    • medzealot says:

      Thanks for stopping by, and for commenting. I’m honestly shocked to receive my first non-spam comment, especially since I haven’t updated this blog in months.

      I hope that you can be a trend setter and cause more people to engage in the discussion of whatever sundry topics end up on this blog.

      I used to carry a one-way ticket on the train of thought that you shouldn’t pursue medicine if there is anything else you could imagine yourself doing. I actually chose “medzealot” as a handle and a blog name when I was in that phase. I thought only people with zeal–with true passion for everything entailed in the practice of medicine–should consider it as a career.

      Various things have changed my opinion on this. One is spending time with multi-talented, multifaceted people who would make brilliant doctors, and would enjoy it, but have chosen to pursue other things.

      Similarly, I’ve been intrigued by doctors who have many non-medical pursuits and talents that they’ve successfully balanced with their medical careers.

      If medicine is the “one and only,” that’s great. It makes the decision a no-brainer. But there are people in this world who have an amazing breadth of talents and interests, who could have successful, fulfilling careers in medicine, or in something else. Honestly, I think we’d be lucky if more of those people chose medicine, rather than stayed away from it.

      I do think it is very appropriate for people who are unsure about medicine to pursue other interests first.

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  3. Clarisse says:

    Hi! Thanks for this post. I’m actually a first year medical student and I am very, very close to just dropping out already. Reasons 7 and 9 are pretty much spot on. All my life I feel like I’ve been conditioned to believe that being a physician is the perfect profession. To make matters worse (for my morale, at least), my parents and my two older siblings are already medical doctors. As the youngest in the family, I feel like the rest of the world is just waiting for me to get my degree. But I can’t… I just can’t, for the life of me, discipline and force myself to study and immerse myself in med school life. I don’t know if this is the pessimist in me talking, or I’m just not really cut out for medicine…

    • Jacob says:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Clarisse. You’re in a tough spot. Remember that the first two years of medical school are very different from the rest of the road in front of you. I think it’s probably too early to say that you’re not cut out for medicine.

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