“I faint at the sight of blood.” This is not a good reason for avoiding the medical field as a career choice. As someone who fainted the first time I saw scalpel touch skin—yeah, before the “touch” even became a cut—I can assure you that people adapt surprisingly quickly to the sometimes gory nature of the task at hand.
That said—as a medical doctor and leadership speaker for the health care industry—I regularly hear people assert their suitability for a career in the medical field in ways that are as equally misguided as “fainting at the sight of blood.” These observations generally start: “A job in the medical field would be great for me because…”
I Loved Biology In High School
…And aced my science classes in college. Great, then you may be far better suited to a research career. No doubt, medical or nursing school will expose you to a ton of fascinating scientific information on the human body, ways in which we figure out what’s wrong with it and what to do about what we find.
However, actually working in the medical field involves far less “scientific thinking” and far more following the recipe, and trial-and-error than you might expect. For example, you might be well versed in all the factors that maintain a person’s blood pressure. Even so, managing a patient’s blood pressure is often about trying different drugs and combinations of drugs until you find one that works. This aspect of day-to-day medical practice often pushes doctors who enjoy the more scientific aspects of medicine out of a clinical setting and into a research lab.
There are, of course, lots of great reasons for considering a medical career. And, to be clear, my objective isn’t to put you off a career in the medical field but, rather, to help you separate the reality of life in health care from the fantasy pitched to you in TV dramas like Private Practice, Grey’s Anatomy and House MD.
I’m Great Under Stress
When you think about stress in medicine, what comes to mind? Maybe dashing from medical emergency to medical emergency—white coat flapping like Batman racing to the scene of a crime. In truth, most of the mental pressure you face will be far less dramatic and far more stressful. For example, trying to keep your patients’ waiting times under control while working within the latest “what if Disney ran your hospital” performance initiative from your hospital administrators.
Another frequent source of stress is advocating for a patient while a medically untrained insurance company representative insists that the treatment you’re proposing isn’t necessary and so refuses to pay for it. Not quite as exciting as the TV shows make it seem, is it? And, for many people, far more stressful.
I Want A Job That’s Different Every Day
Make no mistake, no matter who you are and what you do, much of the work in the medical field is extremely routine. Ask a cardiologist how many hundreds of times she’s had to give the same advice to people after they’ve had a heart attack. Even a “cool” specialty like cardiothoracic surgery can be kind of dull after you’ve replaced your 500th heart valve. I meet doctors and nurses every week who are bored, burnt out and wish they’d done something else with their life.
I Want To Earn A Fortune
You may eventually earn a fortune, but not before someone else has made a fortune off you first. According to the Harvard Medical School website, your first year tuition costs alone will run $47,500. This helps to explains why, according to a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine, a full quarter of med school graduates face debts greater than $200,000. And, remember that’s in addition to the financial burden of their undergraduate training.
And don’t forget that skyrocketing malpractice insurance costs will also take a chunk out of your bottom line. Malpractice costs in excess of $200,000 annually are often cited by disillusioned obstetricians as the reason for walking away from their medical careers.
So what are the attributes that make for a successful career in healthcare? Do “book smarts” help? Sure. Even so, the top of my list is resilience—the emotional fortitude to bounce back quickly after one of your patients dies unexpectedly. Secondly, the ability to walk the fine line between insensitivity to a patient’s plight and the over-empathy that leads to burnout. Third, the confidence to take immediate action based upon your medical assessment of a situation. Finally, having gotten to this point in my post, the conviction that a medical career is right for you and you can’t imagine doing anything else.
Author Bio. Dr. Steve Bedwell teaches perspective-driven professional and leadership development to corporate, association and healthcare groups. For more information visit: http://www.mindcapital.com/