Views & Reviews Live from Liverpool

Would you advise anyone to become a doctor?

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 25 November 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2739
  1. Deborah Cohen, features editor, BMJ
  1. dcohen{at}

    “This is my granddaughter—she’s a doctor,” my grandfather told his mates in the pub. I didn’t have the heart to correct him and tell them that I was no longer a real doctor working on the frontline and making crucial decisions. He still refuses to admit that as a journalist I’ve slipped from near godliness to somewhere beneath estate agents (with whom he has newfound sympathy), lawyers, and now bankers on the social scale. Needless to say, he’s not a doctor, and to him medicine is still the ultimate profession.

    The next week—again in the pub—a group of doctor friends spent half the evening trying to dissuade a banker from quitting his unstable job and going to medical school to ensure a far brighter future. “I want to give something back,” he wailed, a mission statement that probably won’t wash with many interview panels any longer. Apart from derisive guffaws, his announcement was met with “Stick with the money,” “It’ll be the end of your life as you know it,” and “You’ve no idea what being a doctor is really like.”

    It was the banker’s turn to guffaw. “And you’ve no idea what any other job is like,” he retorted. He quite comfortably batted off the doctors’ complaints about job pressure and security, working hours, competitiveness, and government interference. What doctors lacked in remuneration—a concept I’m sure many outside this elite circle would repudiate—they made up in job satisfaction and respect, he said. Also, it’s a job that opens up international borders.

    But the banker had a point: most doctors haven’t had any other type of fulltime job before. They have no yardstick by which to measure their career woes. When I hear doctors say there’s no way that they’d advise any child of theirs to go into medicine, that it’s an awful job with little reward or respect, I wonder what else they think their children should do. Teaching? Or perhaps social work? Who else has to work unsociable hours while putting up with the overblown expectations of the general public and the ire of the media?

    Despite the trend to welcome students from “non-traditional” families into the medical fraternity, I always believed that the sons and daughters of doctors held a distinct advantage—and I’m not talking nepotism or a bit of extra help at exam time. They had a realistic expectation of the job rather than a fanciful idea that it would lead to Zen-like fulfilment. But as corporate escapees from the financial crisis turn to the public sector as bastions of stability and job satisfaction—as reports suggest—the question remains: would you advise anyone to become a doctor?


    Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2739