Medical Careers: Thinking Outside the M.D.

Should you become a doctor?

For better or for worse, the career we chose to pursue affects our entire lives. Who we are friends with, where we live, how well off economically we are, how much free time we have, and how stressful our lives are all directly affected by what profession we hold. This makes your career choice an important one indeed.

Since you are considering becoming a physician you probably have a true passion for medicine. In this profession, you will be needed and appreciated by those who look for your help. Medical doctors have an opportunity to work in a challenging field not many are privy to.

The profession still carries a high status and a reasonably high salary, but your income may not be as high as you are dreaming about. Did you know that the average income of a family practice physician is only about $177,330 in the US?

If you're not positive that you want to be a doctor, there are plenty of other options that might interest you. The health and medical field is extensive and there are a number of professions that don't require the schooling and long hours of an M.D. degree.

Physician's Assistant

If you're interested in medicine and are looking for a less expensive education, becoming a physician's assistant might be for you. PAs require a Master's level degree, making it much faster than becoming a doctor. Individuals in this field examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses, and provide treatment under the care and attention of doctors. The average income for a PA is $86,410 dollars a year and they can work both independently or in close relation to medical professionals. The field is expected to increase by a whopping 30% in the next decade, making this career choice a secure pick.

Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists or CNRAs make almost as much as doctors. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists states the average salary in this field is $160,000. On the downside, the education is quite long. Before becoming a nurse anesthetic, you'll need to attain the position of a registered nurse, a Master's level degree. You'll then need to finish a 24- 36 month program to become a nurse anesthetic. Keep in mind, however, that people in this field have long work-hours and are often subjected to a great deal of stress.

Podiatrists

If, however, you want a comfortable middle ground between income and expectations, a career as a podiatrist may work for you. Podiatrists provide both medical and surgical care for people afflicted with problems with their feet, ankles, and lower legs. They diagnose ailments, treat injuries, and perform surgery. Their education is rather lengthy, given they need to attain a doctoral degree, and they need to get a license to practice in their state. On the other hand, they make a comfortable $118,030 per year. Though the employment of podiatrists isn't expected to grow quite as fast as that of PAs during the next decade, it is still expected to grow by 20%.

Dentists

The expectations, benefits, and requirements of dentists are very similar to those of podiatrists. Both make a comfortable living, need to be licensed in their respective state, must hold a Doctoral degree. Dentists, however, make slightly more than podiatrists, clocking in at $146,920 per year. Dentists diagnose and treat problems with the teeth, gums, and other parts of the mouth of their patients. A large benefit of being a dentist is that you'll likely work in a small clinic or office of your own.

Chiropractor

Becoming a chiropractor takes 7 to 8 years of post-high school study, after which you can attain your doctoral degree for chiropractic. Like a dentist, you can often work for yourself or a small clinic and will perform lots of work with your hands. Chiropractors treat problems concerning the musculoskeletal system and you're likely to make an average of $67,200. Much like other medical professions, the outlook for the field looks bright. The next decade is expected to increase the employment of chiropractors by 28%.

Other Alternatives

There are a great number of career choices out there and you will never be limited to just the few listed above. If however, it is the field of medical research and not necessarily clinical medicine that piques your interest, you may want to consider seeking a Ph.D. in neuroscience, biology, or chemistry. The advantage in these degrees is that they are considerably cheaper and easier to attain than M.D.s. On the downside, college professors may find it harder to gain employment and will almost certainly be paid less than medical doctors, but those entering the field of pharmacology can usually expect a much higher salary.

Sources:

American Association of Nurse Anesthetists; Questions and answers -- career possibilities in nurse anesthesia

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012). Family and general practitioners

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012). Physician assistants

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012) Podiatrists

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012) Dentists

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012) Chiropractors

Dr. Marie Cheour has worked as a Professor at the University of Miami Medical School and at the Department of Psychology for over a decade. She also works as a medical writer and has written over 300 medical articles for the general audience.

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