On Becoming a Doctor


By Dr. Nina Radcliff

Recently I was asked to speak on a topic assignment with a national television news organization with respect to a countrywide breaking story titled: “Nine out of 10 Physicians Unwilling to Recommend Health Care as a Profession, Exacerbating Anticipated Physician Shortage.”

Fascinated, but a bit jolted by the headline, I poured over the findings…repeatedly – as I found the many statements and much of the information incredulous. Not only because of what I personally believe (experiencing this profession and the schooling first hand) – but also because of the thousands of doctors over the years, throughout our nation, I have had the privilege to speak with in regards to “being a doctor.” 

Would I recommend becoming a doctor? As a medical physician with nearly 20 years in my field, the answer is, unequivocally “yes!!” And too, the lion’s share of the doctor’s I have connected with do in fact, share the same sentiment.

That being said, this independent study of 5,000 doctors originally released in 2012 by The Doctors Company, an organization founded by physicians for physicians, does shed light on attitudes, perceptions, and significant issues facing our physician workforce. I do believe that many of these are being (and must be) addressed in order to ensure that the medical field retains and continues to attract and recruit great, dedicated professionals. This is essential to prevent a physician shortage and preserve our Nation’s health, as a whole.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know: On Becoming a Doctor

Counting the cost vs rewards. Becoming a medical doctor as well as being a medical physician comes with a wide range of challenges, for sure. And not everyone who starts in medical school, graduates. Along with the schooling being extensive, it means years of late night studying, unpredictable and often demanding hours in the hospital. The road is long (it generally takes on average 14 years of training in US) and yes, there are plenty of sacrifices for the aspiring physician and their families.

As for the education costs, it is estimated the average physician has more than $180,000 in loans. It is important as a watchful nation that we continually address this to ensure an education dedicated to healing people is not so absurdly costly that it makes it too difficult to attain — that we are literally driving away promising, talented future interests.

While the costs are great, so are the rewards! Every day as a physician we are entrusted with the precious connection with human lives and the awe of treating the human body. We have the privilege of being trusted to give advice; the honor of helping someone with health prevention or through a difficult illness or procedure. Physicians have the opportunity to be a part of the health care world to make a difference in lives, to help people through care and aid in the healing process. I am continually overwhelmed with joy in what I do as a profession as well motivated daily by my patients, colleagues and team members (and family).

As with any profession, the key for a prospective doctor is to manage his or her expectations, by acknowledging the challenges associated with the profession. Recognizing (and counting the costs as well as the rewards of) these realities helps doctors live up to the ideals and understandings that inspired them to medicine in the first place. 

Burnout and Work-life Balance. Physician burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance was a major concern seen on this survey. In fact, the American Medical Association (AMA), the largest association of physicians, reveals that burnout has escalated in recent years with more than half of physicians reporting at least one symptom. Doctor shortage is adding to this issue as generally speaking, there aren’t nearly enough of physicians to care for the U.S. population. By some estimates, the country is already short of tens of thousands of doctors, a problem that will only get worse as the demand for care increases with our aging population.

And, it is important to note, generally speaking, as a nation, we do have a problem with burnout. Americans spend more time on the job than people in other developed countries. Add to that, we do not get or take as much vacation, and are more prone to working nights and weekends. This can cause work-life imbalance and have a negative impact on American’s health. We all need to personally do better in order to find or re-establish balance.

And for doctors that are stretching to help in a population challenged by physician shortage along with the other professional stressors, we must take action to manage our stress and work to maintain a healthy work-life balance and avoid burnout. Medicine has a powerful tendency to push all other life priorities to the side. Our training reinforces innate workaholic tendencies and the “call” to keep on keeping on at full-steam ahead in order not to fall behind schedules. As well, the documentation requirements are a constant pressing work. Physicians and health care professionals must continue to take steps to alleviate their burnout.

Change. Another key issue was the loss of autonomy with growing number of physicians now being employed by hospitals. This trend has been dubbed by some as a “concerted turn from cottage industry to big business.” But perspective is needed. Overall we are experiencing trends that will redefine society, industries, markets and nations into the future…so it is with healthcare. In fact, experts have stated that we are undergoing the most transformative changes the healthcare industry has witnessed in over 200 years—shifting from a system where we fix people when they are sick to one of preventative, diagnostic medicine. Medical health professionals work with the dynamic of change—often in life and death dynamics. While demanding, it is rewarding. And the response from the physician community has been passionate. 

Again, would I recommend becoming a doctor, “yes!” And I know I join with millions of other physicians who experience the righteous rewards every day. Yes, there are a wide range of challenges to be managed. But, for aspiring physicians that want to care for people and who are prepared to manage the costs to press forward…know, they are pressing forward to what I believe is the greatest reward or privilege, to help care for people.

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.