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Medical Career: Why a Medical Profession?

Expand your horizons! Take a moment to peruse the list of descriptions of health careers. These have been divided into the traditional health careers (medicine, veterinary medicine, and dentistry), the major Allied Health Professions, and other Health Careers options. Medicine is becoming more highly specialized and many of the non-traditional areas are expanding enormously. Many students enter Fort Lewis College with the idea of becoming a physician, and through ignorance do not consider the many options available today. Educate yourself! The health care delivery team has many more members than the traditional primary care physician. Medicare has become very specialized. Consider your options, and decide what you really want to do.

Many of the health professions require rigorous coursework, and some entering students may not have the necessary interest or motivation to enter these fields. It is not enough that your mother or father or great-aunt Martha want you to grow up to be a doctor.  It must be what you want for yourself, and you must want it more than anything else.  You will save yourself, your family, your advisors and your teachers considerable time and unhappiness if you examine your motives closely before you embark on a poorly-chosen course of study.  As you move through your program you should continue to ask yourself if this career is what you really want, and if it isn't, don't be afraid to change your goals.  No matter how intellectually gifted you may be, you will not succeed in achieving a career in any field unless you are determined and absolutely serious in your pursuit.

You should also examine your idea of what a traditional health-career practice is going to be like.  Some pre-medical students suffer from a romanticized vision of a doctor's life; they have watched too much television and seen too few real-life doctors in action.  It is not a glamorous profession.  People are rarely at their charming best when they are sick, and they cannot be relied upon to display their symptoms only between nine and five, Monday through Friday.  Physicians have very little time to call their own; they are at the mercy of their beepers when they are away from the office or hospital.  Veterinarians must deal daily with the trauma of putting down abandoned and abused animals, or with the difficulties inherent in controlling the emotions of distraught human clients. Personal and family life inevitably suffer.

Nor do physicians routinely perform the heroics that fill the pre-medical student's day-dreams.  As a doctor you will spend more time dealing with people suffering from indigestion than you will saving lives.  You will also sometimes have to explain to patients that they suffer from something that you and your colleagues are unable to cure.  You will have to tell grieving parents that their child is going to die and that nothing you can do will prevent it.  Worse yet, you will have to live with the knowledge that some of your patients died, whom you might have saved had you been quicker to make the diagnosis, had you been more skillful as a surgeon, had you been just a little smarter or not quite so tired. . . . .

If you are preparing for one of the traditional health fields, you probably anticipate making a lot of money, and this part of your vision may be realistic.  If, however, you consider the investment in time and money involved in obtaining a D.V.M, D.D.S., or M.D. degree, the rewards do not seem so great.  You have four years of college, four years of professional school (where the tuition is usually astronomical), and then a year of internship and several years of residency (where you are severely overworked and considerably underpaid) before you can even approach the pot of gold at the end of your rainbow.  And then you have the costs of setting up an office. Most health fields, particularly the traditional ones, afford comfortable salaries; but don't neglect the cost to you - both fiscal and emotional.


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