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1 in 4 New Docs Regret Career Path

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, October 17, 2011

Do you want to talk about changing landscapes, or uncertainty? Talk to the 6 million people who've been out of a job for 27 weeks or longer. You shouldn't have a hard time finding them. Check your local unemployment office, or just walk down to the ED. Losing your job and your home certainly changes the landscape.

Now, let's talk about what young physicians face when they enter practice. For starters, U.S. physicians are the highest-paid class of workers in the nation, if not the world, and they are in very high demand. Merritt Hawkins' annual physician compensation surveys show that, depending upon the specialty and experience, physicians can earn anywhere from $130,000 to $650,000 or more, plus other benefits. 

Yes, most young docs are saddled with huge debts. That is a legitimate complaint. The Association of American Medical Colleges says that the average medical school student graduated with about $160,000 in student loans. However, because the demand for physicians is so great, not only are physicians highly compensated, job offers can include debt forgiveness incentives, most notably through the National Health Service Corp.

Meanwhile, outside of medicine, the average wage for all occupations is $44,410, roughly $16.27 an hour. But hey, wages increased 32 cents an hour from 2009, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I'm not sure how much that increase went towards health insurance premium hikes. That, of course, assumes that those workers have health insurance. 

Here are some career alternatives for young docs who want out.

  • Convenience store cashier, third shift: Now, I'm a little uncertain what these folks earn, but it has to be close to $10 or $12 an hour, although I'm not sure if they offer any benefits. You get a colorful smock and nametag, all the Slim Jims and Slushies you can stomach, smoking breaks are a few steps away, and you may get the chance to practice emergency medicine when the place gets robbed or a drunk slips on the tiled floor.
  • Roof bolter in a coal mine: These are the guys who go into the coal mine before the other miners to make sure the roof is safe. If it's not safe, they drill a bunch of bolts into the rock to secure it. This usually works, except when it doesn't. In which case, tons of rock from the mile of earth above their heads comes tumbling down. They earn $23.97 an hour.
  •  If you still want to be in the hospital setting but just not deal with the oppressive rigors of practicing medicine, you're in luck! Janitors can make about $12-$14 an hour, security guards earn about $10 to $12 an hour, and clerical help earns about $14 an hour, all according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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12 comments on "1 in 4 New Docs Regret Career Path"


Stevie RN (10/20/2011 at 3:43 PM)
I agree with 10 out of the 11 comments, written by articulate & well-informed readers. Truly, Commins has a problem, not the least of which is cynicism and a critical spirit. An annual salary of $50,000 working 80 hrs/wk is about $12/hr... high stress & no sleep. Give me a break! I'd be whining a little too. I have a guess, though, that of the 29% questioning their decision, I'll estimate that decreases by at least half within the following year, when they've had some time to have a more "normal" life. May God bless them all. Thank you to them for their dedication.

pinkcarnations000 (10/20/2011 at 12:17 AM)
I think this article is badly written. Bias and cynical. Many people leave the profession for reasons that you are not aware of. Using opinionated judgement without a reasonable cause is not a good reporting style. Analogies of work/pay are outright degrading to physicians as well as janitors, grocery clerks, etc.

Nancy K (10/20/2011 at 12:00 AM)
It's 29% of Merritt Hawkins' 2011 Survey of Final-Year Medical Residents.