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Why Medicine And Why Not

May 16, 2008
So you are thinking of becoming a doctor? But are you quite sure that you know what you are letting yourself in for? You need to look at yourself and look at the job. Working conditions and the training itself are improving, but medicine remains a harder taskmaster
than most occupations. Doctors have also never been under greater pressure nor been more concerned for the future of the NHS.

Before starting medicine you really do need to think about what lies ahead. The trouble is that it is almost impossible to understand fully what the profession demands, particularly during the early years of postgraduate training, without actually doing it.

Becoming a doctor is a calculated risk because it may be at least five or six years hard grind before you begin to discover for sure whether or not you suit medicine and it suits you. And you may change; you might like it now, at your present age and in your current frame of mind, but in six years time other pressures and priorities may have crowded into your life.

Medicine is both a university education and a professional training. The first five or six years lead to a medical degree, which becomes a licence to practise. That is followed by at least as long again in practical postgraduate training. The medical degree course at university is too long, too expensive (about 200 000 in university and NHS costs, quite apart from personal costs), and too scarce an opportunity to be used merely as an education for life.

It might seem odd not to start considering medicine or not by weighing up academic credentials and chances of admission to medical school. Not so; of course academic and other attributes are necessary, but there is a real danger that bright but unsuited people, encouraged by ambitious schools, parents or their own personalities, will go for a high profile course like medicine without having considered carefully first just where it is leading.

A few years later they find themselves on a conveyor belt from which it becomes increasingly difficult to step. Could inappropriate selection of students (most of whom are so gifted that they almost select themselves) account for disillusioned doctors? Think hard about the career first and consider the entry requirements afterwards.

Why do people want to become doctors? Medicine is a popular career choice for reasons perhaps both good and not so good. And who is to say whether the reasons for going in necessarily affect the quality of what comes out?
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