Why Choose an Advanced Career in Medicine?
The top performers in our review are Physicians & Surgeons, the Gold Award winner; Dentists, the Silver Award winner; and Physical Therapists, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a medical career that meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 careers.
Medical careers have a lot to offer. You play a key part in people's health, whether you're performing emergency surgery to save a life or helping a child see the world clearly for the first time. You get to combine important technology and scientific principles with personal care to improve the quality of life of your patients. Most people in the medical field say they find great personal satisfaction in being able to make a difference in people's lives. Plus, advanced medical jobs are high paying, secure and plentiful.
Yet healthcare jobs are also some of the hardest and most frustrating. They require multiple years of additional education – meaning huge student debt in most cases – and often come with demanding hours and a crazy amount of paperwork. Plus, these careers require expensive liability insurance. With that big an investment, you don't want to find out later that it wasn't worth it.
While the emotional and intellectual challenges and rewards are something you need to judge for yourself, we have researched and rated the concrete financial considerations for advanced careers in medicine. These include practical, hands-on jobs like chiropractors as well as research-oriented jobs like genetics counseling. Financially, physicians, dentists and physical therapists lead the pack, but each field has its own pros and cons.
If you are looking for a medical career that requires less schooling commitment, check out our Medical Careers Review site for more ideas. Even if these careers aren't your end goal, earning an undergraduate degree and working in a healthcare career field can greatly improve your chance of being accepted into higher-level programs. You can also read our articles on advanced medical careers for more insights.
Advanced Medical Careers Offer Healthy Salaries
Because these are highly technical fields, the salaries are significantly higher than the national average for all occupations. We've given you several figures to consider: the highest average wage, the lowest wage and the median. Use these figures to determine worst-case scenarios, likely futures and growth potential. Keep in mind that who employs you and where you work influences your income. For example, medical practitioners working for the government or military will have lower salaries but may have increased benefits.
However, this doesn't mean a medical degree is your ticket to vacation homes and a Maserati. Most people graduate with a six-figure student debt. Read on for ways to reduce or mitigate student loan debt.
Prescription for Reducing Student Debt
Several of the advanced medical careers we examined are among the highest-paying vocations in the nation. Nonetheless, getting an advanced medical career is expensive. In fact, a large percentage of doctors currently in the field said that if they had to do it over again, they would not go into medicine, citing student debt as one of the top reasons. Whether you're considering a career in healthcare or another field, we've examined some of the best places to get student loans. In addition, here are some ideas for keeping that debt to a minimum or paying it back quickly.
Scholarships: An obvious choice, earning a scholarship takes work beforehand. You need excellent grades, community activity or extracurriculars, and the ability to express why you are the most deserving for the scholarship. It also takes research to find the opportunities. Not all scholarships are need-based, so don't let your parents' income stop you from applying. You may need to select a school based on who gives you the best deal. However, as long as the program is sound, it might be worth attending your third-choice school.
Work-Study Programs: Programs like the Medical Scientist Training Program pay tuition, a stipend, and a modest budget for travel and supplies in exchange for agreeing to study a biomedical field that includes research.
Loan Repayment Programs: Some organizations, like the National Health Service Corps, will repay a portion of your loans in return for a time-limited commitment to work in an area that is short on healthcare professionals. Some states also offer repayment programs in exchange for working in specialties where doctors are needed.
Join the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps not only gives you a chance to help the less fortunate in third-world nations, but it also pays up to $30,000 of your student debt.
Join the Military: The armed forces often pay qualifying individuals full tuition to attend medical school, with a monthly stipend, plus it gives you a commission in the branch you join. You need to remain in the military for one year for each year you were on scholarship or in residency. In that time, however, you work in your specialty as an officer. The military takes care of your liability insurance as well.
Negotiate a Signing Bonus: Many hospitals, clinics and other healthcare organizations offer student loan forgiveness as part of their financial package.
Crowdfund: Crowdfunding is not just for people selling something or doing a project. Students are reaching out to the public for help in paying back student loans. We've explored some excellent crowdfunding sites. These services charge a processing fee, but otherwise, the money is yours. Who knows? The person who funds you now may be the patient you treat later.
Pauper First, Prince Later: A recent study showed some doctors in their 60s are still paying off student loan debts. Interest adds up fast, especially when you're talking about tens of thousands of dollars. While it's tempting to let your high-paying healthcare job draw you into an expensive lifestyle, you might be better off in the long-term driving your clunker and sticking to the apartment for a few more years while funneling as much of your discretionary income as possible into paying off the loans.
For example, say you graduate with $100,000 in debt with a 6.8 percent interest rate. If you pay $764 a month, the minimum allowed, it takes you 20 years to pay off the loan, with $83,201 paid in interest. If you pay $1,300, your repayment time decreases by more than half (8.5 years), and you pay $31,715 in interest. If you pour in $2,000 a month, you can pay off your student loan in less than 5 years, with only $17,914 in interest.
Unexpected Complications: Malpractice Insurance Premiums
In all of these fields, you are dealing with a person's health, which affects all aspects of their livelihood. A mistake or unfortunate circumstance on your part can have long-lasting effects on the future of your patient. The medical field has the highest percentage of lawsuits. In all of these advanced healthcare jobs, you need to pay liability insurance, more commonly known as malpractice insurance. Naturally, these premiums vary by your specialty, even within the medical fields we reviewed. For example, for physicians and surgeons, we found premiums ranging from $5,000 to $300,000 depending on the specialization.
How much you pay also depends on where you practice. New York, Miami, Chicago and Harris County, Texas, have some of the highest premiums, while states like Utah and Idaho have some of the lowest. This can radically affect the amount you pay in premiums. For example, Chicago-area neurosurgeons can expect to pay around $200,000 in premiums, while one in North Carolina may pay only $70,000. Some states cost more because the percentage of people suing and the cost of the lawsuits themselves. Where we could not obtain national averages, we got quotes from insurance agencies.
The military and federal government agencies will handle your insurance if you are working for them. It's something to consider when deciding where you want to work. Knowing the average malpractice insurance costs for your field is also useful when negotiating salary with an employer.
Your Schooling Prognosis
If you're looking for a job where you can get into the field quickly, then advanced careers in medicine are not for you. These careers can take an additional two to 11 years of education. All advanced medical careers require a bachelor's degree in a related science or undergraduate medical program at the very least to get into what are mostly doctorate-level programs. There are only a handful of advanced careers, such as physical therapists, where you can begin working with a master's degree.
We have listed the bare minimum for an entry-level position for the degree itself. Naturally, you need a bachelor's degree to get into medical school. Some programs require additional years of training depending on your specialty. For example, a family practice doctor needs three years in residency, but neurosurgeons require six or seven years of residence training. Spending less time in school may mean spending less on tuition and earning money sooner, but you need to weigh other variables, such as salary and job availability, as well as your personal interest in the field.
In addition, you will have many hours of continuing education throughout your career. Not only will you want to keep up on the latest findings and techniques, but some states require a certain amount of continuing education as part of their licensing requirements. Of course, continuing to study and learn not only benefits your patients, it keeps your own mind stimulated and active and can prevent you from falling into a routine.
Report to Work, STAT: Advanced Medical Careers and the Job Market
One of the big advantages to an advanced medical career is that these jobs are always in high demand. Most of the unemployment rates for the fields we tested were below one percent, and even the highest – 5.8 percent for physical therapists – is still well below the national average. It's also one job you can be confident won't get superseded by technology. No matter how complex technology becomes, patients will still need a human touch in their recovery.
Some of the career fields we examined offer specializations and opportunities for advancement in their fields, while others pretty much offer one top level. For example, physical therapists often concentrate on one area of the body: hands and arms, or legs and mobility. Advancement in your area can also depend on where you work. Doctors employed by a hospital or healthcare system may have more chances at leadership positions than a doctor working in a private practice. Of course, if you decide to work in the military, you will have leadership opportunities associated with your rank as well as your profession.
Under Observation: What to Consider About Your Future Employer
It's easy to think that in a particular field, the job is pretty much the same, but whom you work for and where can have a big impact on what your day-to-day is like. Doctors in private practice, for example, have more say in the hours they work, although they may be on call 24/7/365 unless they have a partner to cover for them. Meanwhile, a hospital doctor may work rotating shifts. Clinic doctors treat patients on a walk-in basis; while the job is never quite the same, they also don't have the chance to provide long-term care the way a private practice doctor would.
Some work environments, like schools, may have easier schedules and lower stress levels. Some, like nursing homes or home healthcare, give you a greater chance of developing a closer, friendlier relationship with your patient that goes beyond medical care.
A few employers offer the opportunity to travel abroad, which has its own rewards and challenges. Working for non-profits may mean practicing medicine in the poorest of areas with little in the way of comforts or modern conveniences. In the military, of course, there is always the risk of battlefield medicine.
We've listed some of the most common types of employers. You can check the definitions on our matrix for details on what each offers. The average American changes employers about every five years, so having a wide range of opportunities can help you to find new challenges and interests – and, of course, increases your chance of finding the perfect fit for your skills and personality.
Self-Examination: Which Advanced Medical Career Suits You?
Choosing the specific medical field in which you plan to make your life's work is not something to do based on finances alone. While the information we've provided can help you go into any of these fields aware of the monetary and job opportunity angles, you may still want to know more about the qualitative side of these careers. Here are some things to consider:
Are You a People Person? Some fields require a more personable approach. A physician assistant will need to have more interpersonal skills than a pharmacist, for example.
What Kind of People Do You Like to Work With? For example, speech-language pathologists are more likely to work with children or stroke victims, while physical therapists can work almost exclusively with athletes depending on their employer.
How "Hands On" Do You Like to Be? Chiropractors and physical therapists do a lot of physical manipulation, which means a lot of touching strangers.
How Well Do You Perform under Stress? Physicians are more likely to deal with life-threatening situations than audiologists.
How Squeamish Are You? If you are sensitive to smells or high-pitched whines, dentistry may not be your best choice. On the other hand, if the sight of blood makes you faint, it goes without saying that you should steer clear of surgery.
What Relationships Do You Want with Your Patients? Optometrists see their patients once a year or less on average, so they won't have the same chance to develop a long-term doctor-patient relationship as family doctors.
What Drives You? If a bright smile makes your day, then dentistry might be where you can bring more joy to the world. Do you value the ability to read? Maybe you should become an optometrist to help others see better.
How Well Do You Handle Loss? Physicians and physician assistants are more likely to deal with a death of a patient than speech-language pathologists, audiologists or others.
How Detail-Oriented Are You? While all of these careers hinge on clear attention to detail, some, like genetics counseling and pharmacy, require precision.
Do You Thrive on Intellectual Challenge? Some advanced medical careers require a higher level of technical and scientific understanding, like genetic counseling. In addition, some have specializations that are more technical, such as oncology versus family practice, so that you can start in one field and specialize.
Second Opinions: Learning More About Medical Careers
An advanced medical career is not something to take lightly. It can determine your lifestyle more than most vocations. It's certainly not something to select based on a potential paycheck or the glamorous portrayal on television. Take time to find out what the fields really entail. Scrutinize how many actual hours are spent with medical work as opposed to paperwork. Discover the biggest stressors as well as the best rewards. Learn what a typical day is like, both when starting out and after you have a few years under your lab coat. Here are some ways to get more information:
National Organizations: Nearly every advanced medical career has at least one national organization that supports practitioners and encourages people to enter the field. Check out their websites and ask questions via the forums or through their contact pages.
Medical Magazines: You are more likely to get a realistic view of medical life from magazines like Hospital Physician than from TV show, "ER." Many of these are online or have back issues available.
Personal Interviews: Find someone in the field locally, either through your college or a national organization, and ask to visit. Take them to lunch and bend their ear about their job. Be sure to ask about family life and other lifestyle issues.
Shadow Program: You may be able to shadow someone in the field for a day or more. Check with the pre-med program in your college as well as your local medical school, hospital or other employers of people in the field you are interested in.
Check Career Sites & Blogs: There are websites devoted to careers that explore the less-concrete sides of vocations. You may find blogs by people in your field. Don't expect to find too many details, as these bloggers still need to protect their patients, but it could give you insight into the emotional and lifestyle issues they face.
YouTube: You can find clips of "Grey's Anatomy," but skip those. Instead, check out the interviews with real doctors.
Take Quizzes: You can find online quizzes that match healthcare jobs to your personality type.
What's the Diagnosis? Our Verdict and Recommendations
We can't tell you if your personality is more suited to be an optometrist rather than a dentist, or a physician's assistant rather than a surgeon. However, we can tell you what to expect in these advanced medical careers as far as salary, job availability, anticipated expenses, and potential hours and employers. You should take this information and combine it with more qualitative information about the careers themselves in order to make a proper diagnosis on what career best suits you.
An advanced healthcare career is a long-term goal. However, reaching your goal offers excellent salary ranges and decent job availability alongside a rewarding career where you can make a difference every day in someone's life.