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Is Being a Doctor Worth It? The Financial Pros & Cons

Some of us have already chosen our careers, and we’re well along in them and on the way to financial independence.

Some folks, however, are still out there choosing. And they might land here on our humble abode to find information to support or dissuade them from becoming medical professionals.

What are some considerations to choosing a career as a physician?

In particular, is being a doctor worth it financially? Will your salary outweigh the high amounts of debt you’ll incur in medical school? Read on to find out!

This article was written by Rohan Jotwani, a Former Chief Resident in Anesthesiology, Weill Cornell Medicine, & Admissions Officer, Columbia University

 

 

A day that begins at 6:00 am and ends at 11:45 pm, chock-full of screeching babies, medical emergencies, back-to-back appointments, hurried lunches, and late on-call pages. This is the typical schedule of a primary care physician day in and day out.

As exhausting as it may be, these tasks are highly rewarding for physicians. They spend several years and thousands of dollars to be able to complete this demanding routine and gain great satisfaction from it! But, is being a doctor worth it? Even if it’s a fulfilling career, is a medical degree worth the hefty price tag?

This guide will compare the financial pros and cons of becoming a doctor to help you decide!

 

The Financial Pros of Being a Doctor

Let’s start with the positives!

 

High Earning Potential

One of the largest draws to becoming a physician is the large paycheck it comes with. Regardless of your specialty, you can expect to be well-paid for your expertise and practice. Here are just a few of the median salaries of popular medical specialties:

 

Specialty Median Salary
Pediatricians $198,420
Family medicine physicians $235,930
Internal medicine physicians $242,190
Emergency medicine physicians $310,640
Cardiologists $353,970
Dermatologists $302,740
Radiologists $301,720
Anesthesiologists $331,190
Neurologists $267,660
Psychiatrists $249,760
Obstetricians and gynecologists $296,210
Surgeons $297,800

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Being a doctor is one of the most lucrative careers out there. Those that specialize have the highest earning potential and can expect to only make more as they gain experience and expertise.

Learn how to better manage your student loan debt, and explore refinancing to a lower rate with cash back offers up to $1,000! Student Loan Resource Page

 

Generous Benefits

Along with your high pay, you’ll be offered extensive benefits as a physician. Depending on the organization you work for you could be offered the following benefits:

  • Full dental and medical coverage
  • Disability insurance
  • Robust retirement savings plans that will be equally or partially matched by your employer
  • Partial student loan repayment
  • Continuing medical education repayment
  • Paid time off
  • Sick leave
  • Prepaid legal services

While not all organizations offer loan repayment assistance, it is becoming more popular as the demand for physicians increases!

 

Job Security

Knowing the salary and benefits you can expect as a physician is helpful, but what about your job security? If you graduate with thousands of dollars of debt, are you guaranteed a job that will help you pay these loans off?

Fortunately, physicians and surgeons are in demand, especially family and internal medicine physicians which is driving the starting salaries for these physicians up. There is particularly high demand for all types of physicians in rural areas, so you can rest assured you’ll have various employment opportunities when you graduate.

Many physicians are also offered employment with the hospitals they complete their residencies with, so you may not have to look too far to find a job!

 

The Financial Cons of Being a Doctor

Here are some cons to consider as you wonder if being a doctor is worth it:

 

Medical School Costs

The largest con to being a doctor is the cost of medical school. Not only will you have to go through extensive years of training to become a doctor, but you’ll have to spend thousands on your education.

You’ll need to complete an undergraduate degree, which costs an average of about  $10,000 to $40,000 a year and a four-year MD, which costs $39,237 to $63,630 a year on average.

To give you an idea of just how much medical school costs, here are the tuition costs of five medical schools of varying ranks:

 

School Tuition and Fees 
Harvard University $71,305
Yale University $79,897
University of Chicago $61,252
Dartmouth College $69,788
Texas A&M University $21,760 (residents)

$34,869 (non-residents)

Sources: Harvard University, Yale University, the University of Chicago, Dartmouth College, Texas A&M University

Aside from your tuition costs, you’ll also need to worry about other expenses such as housing, textbooks, transportation, and personal expenses. The total estimated cost to attend a four-year medical school is around $255,517 to $337,584!

You can expect all of these figures to be even higher for the top-ranking Ivy schools that tend to be the costliest to attend.

 

Student Loan Debt

If you, like over 70% of medical students, require financial assistance to cover these high costs, you’ll graduate medical school with a shiny new degree and at least some education debt.

If you plan on attending a public school, you can expect to graduate with around $194,280 of debt, or potentially more. Around 14% of public medical school alumni graduate with over $300,000 in debt!

For students interested in attending a private medical school, the debt you can expect to graduate with will be higher, at around $218,746. Around 27% of private medical school alumni graduate with over $300,000 in debt.

 

Strategies for Maximizing Financial Benefits

If you’re certain the medical field is right for you and the only aspect holding you back is its costs, there are ways to make medical school more affordable.

 

Scholarships and Grants

The majority of medical schools offer extensive scholarships and grants to students based on their financial need or merit. These scholarships can cover the full or partial costs of your tuition.

Some schools also offer full-ride scholarships for students that demonstrate outstanding leadership, community involvement, or academic excellence. Most commonly, students that achieve the highest MCAT scores in their applicant pool are considered for these scholarships.

You should also consider applying to external scholarships that are given out by non-academic institutions.

 

Budgeting and Financial Planning

The final way to make your medical education more affordable is to create a realistic and comprehensive budget for yourself to be mindful of your expenses. Try to cut costs where you can, consider buying used textbooks, living at home, and seeking flexible employment opportunities you can pursue throughout medical school.

Do your research to learn the total costs of attending the schools you’re interested in so that you can limit your loans as much as possible by knowing exactly how much financial assistance you’ll need.

 

FAQs: Is Being a Doctor Worth It?

In this guide, we’ve answered the question, “is being a doctor worth it?” and provided you with some financial pros and cons to consider as you decide if medicine is the right path for you.

 

1. Is Being a Doctor Worth It Financially?

The majority of physicians graduate with high amounts of debt which can make it difficult to enjoy the first few years of your career. However, considering the scholarships available to students, the high salaries physicians make, and the loan repayment plans employers offer, becoming a doctor is typically worth it financially.

 

2. Are a Lot of Doctors In Debt?

Over 70% of doctors graduate medical school with some debt!

 

3. Is Medical School Worth the Money?

Medical is undoubtedly a significant financial investment that results in students incurring significant debt to cover the cost of tuition and their other expenses. However, because med school grads earn higher salaries than many other professions, it can offset these costs and make medical school worth the money!

The impact you’ll have as a physician is also hard to put a price on! This career is highly rewarding, allows you to make life-changing differences in people’s lives, and will rarely have a dull moment!

 

4. How Do Students Pay for Medical School?

Many students pay for medical school using a combination of personal or parental savings, scholarships, grants, and loans. Some students also work part-time during medical school to help cover their expenses.

 

5. How Long Does It Take to Pay Off Medical School Debt?

The time it will take to pay off medical school debt depends on various factors including the amount of debt you have, the interest rates of your loans, your income, and other financial commitments. Some doctors are able to pay off their debt within just a few years while others may take over a decade to pay it off.

 

Final Thoughts

So, is being a doctor worth it?

Ultimately, whether medical school is worth the money depends on your priorities and personal circumstances. You should carefully consider the financial implications of attending medical school, the financial pros and cons of becoming a doctor, and your passion and commitment to the field to make your decision!

 



 

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13 thoughts on “Is Being a Doctor Worth It? The Financial Pros & Cons”

  1. I think strictly financially it’s not worth of because of the cost of school and giving up your 20s to some extent
    I think it’s rewarding but I think other fields could provide the same reward such as physician assistant or nurse practitioner in less time still make 100-200 K which is still plenty of money
    tell me I’m wrong and why? And I don’t think you can!

    Reply
    • Right – we love medicine and am glad I got to practice but the choices today with the time and costs of training are quite different then before.

      Reply
  2. Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  3. Several obvious things we can stipulate
    1. If you go into a highly compensated procedural speciality, of course it’s worth it financially. If you go into primary care, of course it’s not worth in financially (except in concierge care)
    2. Independence increasingly a myth. More and more doctors are employed . If you are employed, you don’t have any more independence thN any other employee. You’re are supervised and subject to standard Hr procedures, hiring firing, etc
    3. Doctors benefits on A whole are no more or less generous than similarly compensated employees.
    4. Doctors hours are worse than most other jobs, esp with regard to holidays and weekend and of course nights(nobody works night outside of medicine, nobody. Except perhaps starting people in finance who work an occasional night-by nights I mean awake all. Night, no sleep.) many docs can avoid this -of course derm,path, non interventional radiology, rheum, etc)
    5. You can’t work’ anywhere’ -try getting a job in a major sophisticated metropolitan area with decent climate. Yes you can do locums a Great solution if. No family . If you want to work in rural arae and slide can hack that -ie no career, far from family- yes opportunities remain great.
    6. When spray foam insulators clear $120,000 a year these days, self employed plumbers easily clear $300,000 , control their own schedules, total independence , are not supervised and don’t have any reports, and can work anywhere, eps popular urban areas, , one really needs to think long and hard about seeing Medicine as financially very attractive. Let’s not even talk about corporate execs and small business owners; Most my college classmates who went to law school had less than half the educational debt, made throughout their careers T least 3.x and sometimes 10x what I made , never worked a night or full weekend, always had holidays off. No medicine makes zero sense FINANCIALLY as a career for a bright college student if you have even rudimentary social and entrepreneurial skills . Now there ARE careers that make even less sense – architecture, even non computer science engineering, etc. but that’s not why most physicians did or should attend medical school. But it’s getting really hard to justify the sprawling costs ,sacrifices and hassles of medicine when you go to work every day to face more hasssles, more demands, etc. do you know anyone, in any field, that has gone into work the past decade and basically had to work 5% more and make 5% less every year/ no of course not.

    Reply
    • Excellent points. Very long hours. Benefits listed? They come out of your check.
      you could be offered the following benefits, says the article (don’t count on it) :

      Full dental and medical coverage no
      Disability insurance no
      Robust retirement savings plans that will be equally or partially matched by your employer
      YES, a nice perk if available and you’re a saver so they will match it.
      Partial student loan repayment I don’t know but doubt it
      Continuing medical education repayment no
      Paid time off no
      Sick leave no
      Prepaid legal services no
      All these perks deducted from your check, at least where I worked. Great if you can get them.
      Don’t believe the salary and perks the hospital suits tell you about. They’ll vanish soon in about a year, and your pay docked if your production doesn’t meet the hospital levels. Very few opporunities outside of hospital systems. You won’t get paid what you were promised to recruit you.

      Hospitals give you very little and pay as little as possible. CME and jumping through hoops to practice. EMR incredibly time consuming and game playing to get reimbursed. I spent 4 hours per shift on EMR at home. Hospital will be your boss, not you. Dermatology lucrative and grossly overpaid. I am retired and glad to be out of medicine. The only reason to consider medicine again is the income. Emergency medicine was horribly demanding and frustrating. Hospital systems only interested in their income and want Drs to run patients through like cattle because they make more money. Most of the listed perks are taken out of your check. No paid vacation or sick leave, just a smaller check for the work you missed. No paid legal except to defend the hospital system. Tax deferred matching is nice if available and you have the extra money to contribute. Many emerge from training already burnt out.
      I worked in the emergency department 42 years for hospitals and do not miss it at all. Not many Drs, nurses and others seem to really enjoy what they are doing and the time involved. After saving for 42 years for retirement, it is all diminished by current government now and nothing I can do about it except continue saving. I retired at 68. If I sound grouchy, I am. I never thought retirement would be like this in spite of my preparation to save enough. Take this as the dark side of medicine according to me. I’m sure I’ll get lots of nasty comments.

      Reply
  4. I’m not a doc but from personal observation, there appears to be a shortage of doctors. I base that statement on the long lead times to get an appointment, whether for routine checkups (6 months as established patient), GI pre-colonoscopy consult (4-5 weeks), dermatologist (4 weeks), or as a first time patient with a rheumatologist (5 months).

    Unlike the information technology field, where they can cut spending during a recession, in the medical field people will continue to need preventive care and can get sick no matter what the economy is doing. And yes, medical positions are available country-wide, whereas the better paying IT jobs tend to be clustered in more highly populated metro areas.

    Reply
  5. I think the author should include the opportunity cost of lost income for those many years of medical school, residency and perhaps specialty training. (If you didn’t go to medical school you would be earning in another field). Having changed careers from engineering to pediatric critical care, I calculated that it was year 10 of attending life where I broke even financially. It was a great decision and a great job for me but perhaps not the most financially sound. Obviously, a procedural specialty or private practice would shorten this break even point, and primary care might lengthen it. But there are better solutions if money is your main motivation!

    Reply
    • That’s great feedback, and I agree wholeheartedly. Many of my peers from college had multiple six figures in earnings by the time I finished residency at age 30.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

      Reply
  6. In all of these surveys of annual income, why do neurosurgery and cardiac surgery never make it to the list? The lack of these highly compensated fields really alters the public perception of medicine. And yes, there are enough neurosurgeons and cardiac surgeons to count.

    Reply
  7. It occurs to me that if you have to ask this question, you probably shouldn’t choose medicine as a career.

    Reply
    • My point is that the public only perceives what is reported…. We all know neurosurgeons and cardiac surgeons are highly compensated, but the public never makes that connection. And besides, this whole article is about money. Did you totally gloss over that? And, I’ve been a board certified physician since 2004, so I’m totally able to make these comments!

      Reply
  8. Interesting discussion but there is more to medicine than just the monetary value. With a medical degree you have a high level of independence. You can choose to work almost anywhere in the US, if not the world. You can choose whether you want to be on the corporate track or be an independent practitioner. You can choose how much time you want to devote to medicine and how much to other activities (sacrificing some income but still doing well because of the high income you can obtain). And no amount of money can replace the intellectual challenge of the job as well as the joy of helping people. The cost of medical school tuition is high (too high and likely the reason for declining rates of minority doctors) but on balance the benefits far outweigh the debt.

    Reply
    • Great discussion on the money side of the equation. Definitely agree there is more to consider than just money but then this post would become a novel! Love how the author neutralizes the financial cons with the pros of being a doc. In the end it is worth it financially but definitely have to be proactive in personal finance and really have to love being a doc not just for the money.

      Reply

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