Entry from a current Undergraduate Medicine Student at Monash University.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably wanted to study medicine since you started school all those years ago. And with good reason – medicine is a fantastic course, and opens the door to a career that many people can only dream of: being a doctor. But life in the medical field is certainly not perfect, and the question of why to study medicine is one that many people face throughout their education and career. When you start to doubt your decision, it helps to know why you chose this path in the first place, and why it is such a privilege to be a doctor.
Medicine isn’t just a course or a job – it’s a life. Unlike many other professions, you enter the medical field on the first day of university. Once you join a medical course, you gain immediate entry to an exclusive fraternity of students, doctors and educators, who will become your family over the duration of your career. This feeling of camaraderie is one that few other professions offer, and is particularly strong within your university life. Unlike other courses, where year levels consist of thousands of students and constantly changing tutorial groups, medical cohorts are small. You go to lectures together, you have tutorials together and you handle exams together. Through this, you make lifelong friends, and join an entirely new world of opportunities and social events.
From your first day of the course, you also have another opportunity: the chance to do good. Medicine is not unique in this quality; one can make a positive difference in almost any career. As a doctor however, you have a rare privilege to be allowed into people’s lives when they are at their most fragile. You see patients in all their vulnerability, and in turn, you receive their trust and respect. This is a chance that few other professions offer, and allows a level of intimacy that most people rarely get to experience. The gratitude and appreciation shown by your patients lets you know that every day, you are helping people in a deeply meaningful way. Knowing this will hold you in good stead when you have doubts about your career.
On a more practical level, medicine not only offers the promises of friends and purpose, but security too. Today’s job market is more hostile and volatile than ever before; the workplace is changing rapidly, and many of the more ‘traditional’ pathways are becoming obsolete. Through this uncertainty, medicine remains an exceptionally secure job pathway. All Australian medical school graduates are guaranteed a first-year job (the ‘medical internship’) out of university, a privilege that does not exist in any other degree. Remuneration and employment rates are also particularly high for doctors. While first year salaries are fairly standard, senior level doctors earn well above the overall average for university graduates. Additionally, the title of ‘doctor’ still carries exceptional status and weight in the wider community. Doctors are revered for their knowledge and sensitivity; while prestige should never be your motivation for becoming a medical professional, knowing that you have the respect of the community is a rare and undervalued gift.
One of the crucial junctures in any medical career, however, is choosing your area of expertise. ‘Do you know what you want to specialise in yet?’ is probably the most common question you’ll receive from friends and family throughout your degree. Yet while irritating at times, this question also reflects the amazing opportunities offered by life as a doctor. You can work with children or the elderly; as a surgeon or a psychiatrist; in metropolitan hospitals or third world field roles. The diversity of specialties and opportunities within medical life is huge – every business, every city and every event requires medical facilities, and there are always positions for doctors in every field.
It’s important, however, to be aware that medical life is not always easy. Starting with the course itself, you will likely have more contact hours and greater study commitments than your non-medical peers. Hours will be longer and holidays may be shorter – it’s a privileged career, but it comes with a lot of responsibility. Before you embark on the road of medicine, you need to ask yourself whether or not you are really committed to seeing it through. If the answer is yes, then the extra study won’t seem so bad. You’ll know that you’re in this for the long haul, and you’ll reap the rewards when you start working. It’s also worth knowing that while the hours as a doctor aren’t always easy, they’re also fairly extensive in other high level fields. Graduates in finance, law, nursing and engineering tend to work very intensive hours as well.
If you decide that clinical life isn’t for you, you won’t have put in all that work for nothing. The beauty of a medical degree also lies in its status within other fields. Doctors are associated with intelligence and aptitude, and often find positions in non-medical fields if they decide that clinical life isn’t their aim. Common non-clinical career pathways include public health positions, health policy and advocacy, politics and management consulting. Each of these are areas were former doctors are desirable assets, and can provide key insight on health matters.
Ultimately, people want to study medicine for a very clear reason: it’s a fantastic course that leads to an even better career. When you join a medical course, you’re not just going to university – you’re entering a pathway that will set you up for life. Friends, opportunities and job security all come with the medical degree, and while you may have to work incredibly hard to get that spot, it’s all worth it at the end of the day. When the doubts creep in (and they will at some point!) about whether you’ve made the right choice, think back to why you wanted to be a doctor in the first place, and remember that you made that decision for all the right reasons.