For centuries, the physician has been one of the most respected members of society. Shamans of indigenous tribes were revered for their knowledge of the healing arts. The family doctor often treated patients for their entire lives and was called upon not only to assist in births and deaths, but for advice and guidance as well. That seems to be changing somewhat in the litigious society of today.
The Cons of Being a Doctor:
Malpractice insurance has skyrocketed in the wake of many lawsuits aimed at specific physicians, hospitals, and the field of medicine in general. Distraught families no longer blame God or fate for the death or disability of loved ones, they blame the doctors who treat them. As in any profession, there are certainly some who deserve such blame. However, careful, caring physicians are more and more often finding themselves fighting legal battles for their right to continue practicing. In what other profession can a simple mistake cost a life? Doctors are not heartless, their failures weigh heavily on them. Yet neither are they perfect, and often we expect too much from them.
Today you may find an Ophthalmologist selling cars, or a Neurologist writing textbooks. Hardest hit may be the specialty of OB/GYN, whose malpractice insurance can be upwards of $200,000 per year. Many good doctors are leaving the profession, citing rising malpractice costs and a lack of respect from their patients. Pressure from powerful HMO's and the public to keep costs to a minimum is greatly decreasing the earning potential of solo practitioners. Consequently they must work longer hours and see more patients to make ends meet. One Family Practice physician recently complained that her net take-home pay after all expenses (including malpractice and student loans) is approximately $37,000 per year. Less than her husband's salary as a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy. You find many doctors leaving their practices for jobs with pharmaceutical companies, hospital administration, and research. Positions with high salaries, better work hours, and less stress.
The Pros of Being a Doctor:
Despite the changes taking place in the profession, applications to medical schools rose to an all-time high in the late 1980's and early 1990's and while they have stabilized in the last ten years, schools still receive 3 to 5 times more applicants than they have positions for. Certainly one reason for this is that medicine is still among the highest paying and most prestigious professions in the country. The following chart shows the average salaries of US physicians:
Median net income in US dollars of M.D.s after expenses in 1998, according to the American Medical Association:
All physicians $160,000
Emergency medicine $184,000
General internal medicine $140,000
General/Family practice $130,000