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Five Drawbacks to Going to Medical School

Aug 1, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Medical school is generally seen as a safe choice—even in a difficult economy. Newly-minted doctors rarely have trouble finding jobs, have their choice as to where in the country they want to work, and these jobs pay very well. Or so the conventional wisdom goes. A career in medicine isn’t always the golden ticket it’s made out to be, however. Here are a few realities about the job that prospective doctors should be aware of.

A high-paying job isn’t guaranteed

After completing medical school, aspiring physicians must serve as “residents” in hospitals and other health care facilities, performing training in a specific field. This step is essential on the path to becoming a fully licensed physician.

There are plenty of medical schools across the country—with new ones opening regularly and filling every seat. And there is plenty of demand for physicians—there’s even predicted to be a huge shortage in a few decades as the baby boomer population ages. But there’s a bottleneck between medical school and a full professional career—and it happens in the residency stage.

Still, the number of medical residency spots available has stayed fairly constant. That’s because residency programs are usually funded by Medicare, which will pay only for a set number every year. That number was set in 1997, and it hasn’t changed since.

Despite that, the US population has grown by more than 40 million people, the complexity of care has grown along with it, and many more medical schools are graduating new classes. And for the first time, the US is experiencing a shortage of residency positions—with some students going unselected. In the past year, approximately 600 medical school graduates did not receive matches.

If you don’t get a residency, you don’t have many options. You may have a student debt load of $200,000 or more—and other science-related jobs you may qualify for, such as teaching at the high school level or becoming a research assistant, won’t come close to paying those loans

You’ll have major student loans

Speaking of loans, medical students rack up an astonishing amount. Medical school is costly, and many medical schools don’t offer housing—so you may have to take out loans to cover living expenses as well. It’s not unusual for medical school students to have $200,000 or even $250,000 in debt by the time they graduate.

Malpractice insurance can eat into your earnings

If you work at a hospital, your medical insurance is covered for you. But if you own your own practice, the cost of this insurance can dramatically cut into your earnings. Malpractice insurance covers you in the event that a patient sues if something goes wrong in treatment. This insurance can cost as much as $180,000 per year for the most expensive regions and specialties—and between that and your student loans, chances are you won’t be wealthy.

A long time between graduation and full work

While you might make good money as a doctor—in many cases—you won’t start earning that money for a long time. Doctors go through some of the longest training and apprenticeship periods of any other specialty, and that time in training can cut into other areas of life—such as marrying, having kids, buying a house, and other important life milestones. From the time you graduate from a traditional or accredited online college to the time you finish your residency, you can typically expect to spend eleven to fifteen years in school.


The long period between training and work means it’s almost impossible to judge which type of medicine you should go into based on economic realities. One specialty that’s in demand today may be facing difficulties by the time you graduate—and there won’t be anything you can do about it. With the changing economic realities, the aging baby boomer population, and the changing landscape of insurance, many new doctors are facing uncertainty as to where their careers will go.

Even so, the choice to go into medical school is still fairly solid. People will always need medical care. And with populations aging and new insurance laws making healthcare accessible to more people, that demand is likely only to decrease. If you choose a career as a physician, chances are you will have a fairly stable and lucrative career—despite the loans.



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