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So You Want to be a Doctor the Future for Physicians

Aug 17, 2007
Employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow faster than average for all occupations through the year 2014 due to continued expansion of health care industries. The growing and aging population will drive overall growth in the demand for physician services, as consumers continue to demand high levels of care using the latest technologies, diagnostic tests, and therapies. In addition to employment growth, job openings will result from the need to replace physicians and surgeons who retire over the 2004-14 period.

But what is this career about? Is it such a great opportunity as everyone claims?

Well, this career allows you to help people and advance knowledge and your work and contributions are an important part of your community. It offers you lots of career options from the same education base and it changes daily, so it's hardly ever boring. It's a social work; it doesn't tie you to a desk all the time. And finally, last but not least, it enables you to earn a good living with a secure future and your skills and knowledge are in demand, wherever you choose to live. Physicians and surgeons serve a fundamental role in our society and have an effect upon all our lives.

Few fields offer a wider variety of opportunities. Most doctors' professional lives are filled with caring for people and continuously learning more about the human body. Every day in communities around the country, doctors work in neighborhood clinics, hospitals, offices, even homeless shelters and schools to care for people in need.

Physicians work in one or more of several specialties, including, but not limited to, anesthesiology, family and general medicine, general internal medicine, general pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, and surgery. A number of other medical specialists, including allergists, cardiologists, dermatologists, emergency physicians, gastroenterologists, ophthalmologists, pathologists, and radiologists, also work in clinics, hospitals, and private offices.

Physicians do many other things. Physician researchers are at work today developing exciting new treatments for cancer, genetic disorders, and infectious diseases like AIDS. Academic physicians share their skills and wisdom by teaching medical students and residents. Others work with health maintenance organizations, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, health insurance companies, or in corporations directing health and safety programs. People with medical skills are in demand everywhere.

Many physicians-primarily general and family practitioners, general internists, pediatricians, ob/gyns, and psychiatrists-work in small private offices or clinics, often assisted by a small staff of nurses and other administrative personnel. Increasingly, physicians are practicing in groups or health care organizations that provide backup coverage and allow for more time off. These physicians often work as part of a team coordinating care for a population of patients; they are less independent than solo practitioners of the past. Organized as clinics or as associations of physicians, medical groups can afford expensive medical equipment and realize other business advantages.

Medicine has many rewards, personally, intellectually, and financially. On average, doctors make about $160,000 a year, but this amount can vary depending on where physicians live and what type of medical specialty they practice. As the American health care system changes, fewer doctors are working for themselves and more are joining health care systems, often as salaried employees. In these organizations, physicians often can command salaries comparable to executives in other occupations.

About one-third of the nation's physicians are generalists, "primary care" doctors who provide lifelong medical services for the entire family. General internists, family physicians, and general pediatricians are all considered generalist doctors. They are the first doctors people consult for medical care. And they are trained to provide the wide range of services children and adults need. When patients' specific health needs require further treatment, generalist physicians send them to see a specialist physician.

Specialist physicians differ from generalists in that they focus on treating a particular system or part of the body. Neurologists who study the brain, cardiologists who study the heart, ophthalmologists who study the eye, and hematologists who study the blood are just a few examples of specialists. They work together with generalist physicians to ensure that patients receive treatment for specific medical problems as well as complete and comprehensive care throughout life.

Medical school is challenging. If you want to take responsibility for people's health and well-being, you've got to be serious about learning.

Formal education and training requirements for physicians are among the most demanding of any occupation, 4 years of undergraduate school, 4 years of medical school, and 3 to 8 years of internship and residency, depending on the specialty selected. A few medical schools offer combined undergraduate and medical school programs that last 6 rather than the customary 8 years.

Your college or university's premedical advisor can help you through the application process. Medical schools will evaluate you on your college grades, extracurricular activities, and personal characteristics. Most also require you to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which analyzes your knowledge of the basic sciences, your reading and writing abilities, and your problem-solving skills.

You also should consult Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR), published by the Association of American Medical Colleges, which provides the specific admission requirements of each U.S. and Canadian medical school.

Once you've been accepted, the medical school faculty and staff will do everything they can to help you succeed. In fact, more than 97 percent of entering medical students obtain their M.D. degrees.

During the first two years you will study the basic sciences' anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, pathology, and pharmacology, as well as behavioral sciences. You'll also begin learning the fundamental techniques of taking a medical history and examining patients.

Next, you'll go into the hospital and various clinics to observe and work with experienced doctors and begin to learn how to take care of patients. At this time you'll begin to explore the wide variety of career paths within medicine, such as family practice, internal medicine, surgery, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatrics.

Your final years are spent continuing your contact with patients and doctors in a clinical setting while taking elective courses.

After medical school you will spend three to seven years in a residency, where you will gain further experience and training in the specialty you have chosen.
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