Is It Worth It To Be A Doctor?

Authored by: Anonymous

Becoming a doctor costs a lot. I ran some numbers.

Background: I’m 25. It’s not unlikely that I would be accepted into medical school.

Top marks: 520 MCAT (98th Percentile), 3.8 GPA, Cornell undergrad (2016)

Good research: 5 Publications, 18 Abstracts, 3 years in biomedical engineering lab at UPenn (2016-2019)

I’m a snowflake: a disadvantaged applicant, family received welfare, cash assistance via supplemental security income, single parent, 2 siblings, family income of $60,000. Got letters from Harvard and Washington Universty at Saint Louis asking me to apply (with a partial fee waiver, because I’m a snowflake).

The twist: I’m going to grad school, a 1 year masters in biomedical engineering, Cornell (2019-2020).

Recently, I’ve began to question whether it’s a reasonable decision to become a physician, as opposed to a biomedical engineer.


  1. Training takes time:

1/3 of medical school graduates complete residency training in 3 years. The other 2/3 complete residency in 5-7 years.

So in total, I would complete my training in 8-12 years. If I go MD, I would be 33-37 at the end; (if MD/PhD, I’d be 37-41). If I go for a job after BME Master’s, I would start working at age 26.

2) Applying costs money:

Applying to medical school costs $150 per application, $300 per interview. Apply to 30 schools, interview at 20 schools, that’s $11,000.

Fee waiver? Yeah, not a thing unless the applicant and parent(s) earn less than 400% federal poverty limit. Parental income, no matter how old the applicant is, must be included. The cutoff is $38,000. I live with my mother and grandmother. Because I make $32,000, and my mother makes more than $6,000 per year, I do not qualify for the AAMC’s Fee Assistance Program.

Could I appeal? No. “The program staff will not consider appeals based on a dispute of Fee Assistance Program policies, such as the use of parental income, to make a decision on your application.”

3) Medical school costs money:

Medical school tuition health insurance and fees is $37,000/yr (public medical school, in state)-$61,000/yr (private medical school). Cost of living is $22,000/yr. In total, attending medical school costs $236,000-$332,000.

Add in $11,000 in undergraduate student loans, $77,000 for master’s ($55,000 tuition fees health insurance + $22,000 living expenses)

Add interest, assume 4%/yr.

Assuming I attend a private medical school, complete a 5-year residency/fellowship, I start my first job $555,000 in debt.

The numbers:

Undergraduate: $11,000*1.04^10

Masters: $77,000*1.04^9

Medical School Yr1: $83,000*1.04^8

Medical School Yr2: $83,000*1.04^7

Medical School Yr3: $83,000*1.04^6

Medical School Yr4: $83,000*1.04^5

Total: $555,000

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports median annual income for physicians at $166,400. Monthly take home pay close to $10,000.

Note: other sources report higher salaries, so let’s be generous.

If I make $200,000/yr, that’s a monthly takehome of $12,000.

If I make $250,000/yr, that’s a monthly takehome of $15,000.

So how long will it take to pay that off?

Scenario 1: If I pay $10,000/month for 5 years, I’m debt-free in 15 years, at age 40.

Scenario 2: If I pay $7,500/month for 7 years, I’m debt-free in 17 years, at age 42.

Scenario 3: If I pay $5,600/month for 10 years, I’m debt-free in 20 years, at age 45.

Scenario 4: If I pay $5,000/month for 12 years, I’m debt-free in 22 years, at age 47.

Alternatively, If I get a job after my masters, I’d be $88,000 in debt. Biomedical engineers from Cornell start making about $75,000/year with a monthly take home of about $5,000.

Scenario A: If I pay $2,000/month for 4 years, I’m debt-free in 5 years, at age 30.

Scenario B: If I pay $1,500/month for 5 years, I’m debt-free in 6 years, at age 31.

Scenario C: If I pay $1,200/month for 7 years, I’m debt-free in 8 years, at age 33.

4) Retirement: When do I want to retire? I don’t know. How long will it take? How much will I have to save per month? Haven’t calculated that one out yet.

5) Mental Health: Physicians have a high rate of burnout, substance misuse, depression, and suicide. Google it. Personally, I know several of them, my father included.

6) House: When do I want to start saving up for a down payment? That’s $1500/month for 4 years plus a $1,700 mortgage thereafter.

7) Kids: One kid cost about $1,000 a month in living expenses. Saving up for College tuition costs another $1,000/month. Do I want to have one? Or two? I don’t know yet.

8) Professional investment opportunity flexibility: I train for 9 years to do one job. I’ll be in enough debt and earning enough to keep me doing that job. Although savvy loan repayment schemes are an option, I don’t know if I want to join the military or do public service.

9) Interesting: I like science, doing experiments, designing new things, thinking like an engineer, new challenges every day, learning all the time. Medicine has new challenges and clinical practice changes all the time. But will that be enough to keep me engaged? I don’t know.

10) Work/life balance: Medicine is not just a job, it’s a 65-100 hour/week lifestyle. The training is grueling. I like weekends. I’ve given them up for three years, and now I would like to have them back.

How much vacation do I want? More than 2 weeks a year. I like holidays. In training, each one is a gift. During a career, earning more than a couple holidays a year is a privilege.

My hobbies? I run ultramarathons. I like to camp, hike, and play music. I enjoy time spent on home improvement. And I love dogs. In my lifetime, I’d like to rescue a few. The physician lifestyle makes that tough.

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