Why you shouldn’t study medicine: Confessions of a practicing doctor

Eh son, next time grow up be doctor ah! When I old already can give me free treatment. Then wah also can earn a lot of money. Good life leh! Better study hard now ok?

Medicine. A revered course of study in all Asian cultures. Being a doctor and a practitioner of medicine is great, it’s noble, it’s meaningful. Yea sure, but that’s not the story I’m here to tell you. I’m sure all the perks of being a doctor have been hum-drummed into you by your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I’m here to tell you why you SHOULD NOT be studying medicine, and trust me, I’m a doctor.

  • We Don’t Earn Much

Sorry to burst your bubble but the majority of us don’t take home 5 figure salaries, drive around in Mercedes and live in big mansions. I live in a HDB flat and I take the bus/MRT like all of you regular folks every single day.

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Doctors earn a starting pay of $4,000+. It’s not that much, really. After you deduct your CPF, income tax and what not, you’re left with $3,000+? I mean, there are numerous other degrees out there like Business or Accountancy that earn you the same amount of starting pay, without the gruelling experience of medical school. If you really want a high-paying job, I recommend you look at the financial sector or the IT systems industry; their salaries match, if not exceed ours.

If you think that your pay will somehow skyrocket exponentially, think again. Over the next 6 years after graduation, you’re bonded to the government, so don’t expect your pay to rise much, don’t even expect a figure above $6,000+ for the next half a decade unless you’re an exceptionally bright star.

Let’s also not forget that your pay is also determined by your rank. Housemen earn the least, followed by Medical Officers, Registrars and then Consultants. In order for you to raise your pay, you’ll most likely need to climb up the ranks. So if you’re stuck at the rank of a Medical Officer due to….poor work performance, or difficulty manoeuvring office politics, you’re going to be receiving a pretty stagnant and mediocre pay for a really long time.

It is true, though, that you do have the potential to earn a lot of money as a doctor (if you’re a surgeon or specialist), but given the saturation of the market right now, securing a residency and then specialty is incredibly hard. Approximately 1/50 doctors get that privilege, and even after being 1/50, you still need to undergo a gruelling residency training to get your title of a specialist.

Conclusion: Medicine earns you a decent above average income, but there are easier and faster ways to get rich.

  • The Working Hours Suck

If you’re a family man by nature, then don’t study Medicine. Work-life balance? More like work-work balance.

Your studying years in medical school itself is already bad, maybe not so much for Year 1 but when you hit Year 3/4/5, you realise the true meaning of “work never ends”. It’s like a never-ending free-flowing buffet of patients and admin work.

Working hours are normally deemed by society to be 8am – 6pm with 1 hour lunch breaks from Mondays to Fridays. That comes up to 9 hours a day x 5 = 45h/week. Even if we do add in half-days on Saturdays, that will be at most 50h/week.

Per guidelines, doctors should work a maximum of 80h/week, but in reality, it’s impossible to stick to these numbers. As a junior doctor around the age of 30, I constantly clock in more than 90h/week, almost doubling the working hours of an average office worker. I spend more than 12-16 hours at work on weekdays, not to mention the hideous on-calls, where I run 48 hours without sleep on a weekly basis.

I get only 1 free day per week, pretty much spent to sleep and recover and I hardly see my family for dinners.

Combining this with the point above, I came to the realisation that the friendly janitor who works with me on the same level, earns more per hour than I do.

  • It’s Bad for Your Health

Ironically, being a doctor is one of the worst professions if you’re looking to live a long healthy life. We recommend our patients get 8 hours of sleep a day, but we ourselves get around 5-6 on a lucky day.

You don’t need me to tell you that the lack of sleep predisposes you to heart disease, diabetes, ageing, and all kinds of medical conditions.

Plus, considering our crazy working hours, we don’t get much time to exercise or see the sun, even, which further puts us at risk of more preventable illnesses.

Beyond the lack of sleep and exercise, being a doctor is incredibly stressful. Every decision you make concerns another human being’s welfare. Your mistake doesn’t cost a company to lose some money; your mistake could cause someone to lose his or her life. It’s hard to stay focused with so little sleep, and to try to deliver your best for your patients can be really hard.

Furthermore, hospitals tend to be a pretty stressful environment to work in. Everyone’s always rushing around, you’ve got no time to eat, drink or even pee. Since everyone’s in a time crunch, everyone’s snappy and impatient. Ever tried working as waiter, that’s kind of what being a doctor is like, patients will yap at you, saying they’ve queued so long and start complaining and yelling at you, then your senior doctors would come in the room and start ordering and scolding you for every tiniest mistake you made on your rounds and clinics.

Getting jammed in the middle of the yelling chain can be pretty tiring.

I’ve seen countless number of colleagues of mine crumble under the stress, sobbing uncontrollably in the toilets after work due to mental and emotional fatigue and even friends who’ve gotten into car accidents due to physical fatigue, falling asleep halfway behind the wheel.

In fact, the British Medical Journal has published a research paper detailing how bad being a doctor is for your health.

Being a doctor isn’t exactly a fast-track to a fancy life.

I know this sounds all discouraging and what not, but the point of this article isn’t so much as to why being a doctor sucks. It’s to tell you that being a doctor would really suck, if you came into Medicine for the wrong reasons and with unrealistic expectations.

If you’re considering medicine because you got straight As and didn’t know what to do with your life, your mum told you so, or because you think you’re going to be earning some good money down the road, do think again.

 

The author is a specialist in training in Singapore

[Note for Readers] Are you looking for a degree programme that matches your aspirations? Here's your chance to talk to a senior in person. On 6 Apr at the highly-touted Future Academy, you will be brought around by a senior. Registration is free! Check it out now to ask questions and engage in discussion!

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