Medscape Survey: Is Medicine All About the Benjamins?

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It’s not often that my recreational reading intersects with my professional reading, but I was fascinated by the discussion in the comments of this Gawker post, which briefly remarks on the now-notorious Medscape survey in which only 54% of physicians said they would choose a career in medicine if they had it to do over.

“What gives?” was the question that drove me to the discussion underneath, hoping Gawker’s famously prosaic commenters would offer some additional insight. From an outsider’s perspective, few other fields would seem to combine the fulfillment of helping others with such great pay – the very word “doctor” has become synonymous in our culture with kindness, humanity, prestige and financial success.

It’s by no means a rigorous analysis of the Medscape results, but as a straw poll, the Gawker discussion is revealing. Many of the commenters with MDs do find their work very fulfilling; their dissatisfaction comes not from the work itself, but from the way they are perceived by those outside of medicine. They resent that people assume they’re in it for the money, especially when, for Gawker’s younger-skewing readership, the money won’t kick in for quite some time. They resent that their sacrifices and self-motivation go largely unseen.

And they resent being part of a broken system and feeling powerless to fix it. Perhaps these words, from a radiologist commenter, will sound particularly familiar to you:

“I'm a radiologist, and, well, I make more than the average listed in the survey, and yet I certainly do not feel rich, in part because of where in the country I live. I too started my 'life/savings/family/home' later than most of you all, and it is very hard to put things in place like mortgage/retirement/etc., when you are shelling out $12,000 a year for the next 25 years to pay off medical school . . . Is it worth it? Some days yes, some days no. The truth is, folks, you are getting much worse care from your doctors than you think. I get referrals from them all and most are pretty damn clueless and too eager to waste tons of money on expensive tests, just so they don't get sued.”

I’d also like to call out this comment from a pediatric oncologist, which I thought contained some pretty sound advice for anyone in medicine:

“Don't let the jaded and bitter physicians rub off on you. Make time to get to know your patients as people, and never forget the awe and wonder and sense of privilege that you felt when you first started seeing patients -- the longer you can keep that alive in you, the more your patients will want to work with you, and the more you'll enjoy the job.”

We often talk about increased patient interaction as a path to a more sustainable future for radiology. What we don’t talk about is patient interaction as a path to greater fulfillment and satisfaction.

I’m not a radiologist, of course, so I’ll open it up to you, readers: If you had it to do over, would you choose medicine again? And if you’re unsatisfied with your job, what do you think would make you happier with it?