An old doc’s letter to a premed student


I’m glad you’re looking at a career in medicine. I hope you will be happy with your choice forever. To help you out, these are a few myths I wish somebody told me about when I was in your shoes.

1. You’ll be rich. You likely won’t. After two decades or so of med school and residency, you’ll be paying back student loans with exorbitant interests for a few more decades before you pocket what you make. That’s less and less each day. Expecting to get rich fast will make you bitter and disappointed instead of happy to care for your patients. If getting rich is what you’re looking for, go into finance. That’s where the money is.
2. You’ll save lives. That will happen, occasionally. Most of the time though, you’ll be fighting the EHR, insurance companies, hospital administrators, consultants, patients, and families about many things you won’t agree upon. Then, you’ll go home to fight with your spouse about forgetting their birthday. If you want to save lives, become an EMT.
3. All your patients will be grateful. Some will. For the most part, they’ll be angry that they had to wait for hours to see you, and then you only had 15 minutes to spend with their many issues. If you want people to be grateful, become a life coach.
4. Everybody will love you. Not quite, especially not these days. Administrators will try to bend you to their rules. Your medical society will overwhelm you with endless exams and licensure requirements. Insurance companies will try to curb you from prescribing expensive medications and costly tests. Your patients won’t like you when you refuse them what they want. Newsflash: The people who will love you most are the lawyers. They’ll bend you over and love you as you’ve never been loved before. If you want people to love you, become a motivational speaker.
5. You’ll make the world a better place. I’ve been trying to do that forever, and my success has been moderate to nil. The world is a big place, and the efforts of one lone doctor seldom make a difference, unless your name is Lavoisier, Fleming, or Koch. If you’re into making the world a better place, go into politics. They hold the cards. I just wish they’d use them better.
6. You’ll inspire others. If you think your example of selflessness and dedication will inspire others, think again. These days, doctors are vilified more and more. We’re responsible for the cost of healthcare, the poor state of American health, the opiate crisis – to name a few. If you want to inspire the next generation, become a teacher.
7. You’ll be respected and trusted. Not so much. I’ve been called a cunt more than I can count. I’ve been spat at, thrown feces at, and I received threats from people I never met. Even my own son questions my medical judgment. Thankfully, my husband knows better. Yours may not. If you want to be respected and trusted, become a nurse. Year after year, they are the most trusted and respected profession, and they deserve it.
8. You’ll always be proud of the work you’ve done. I’ve never met a doctor who said that, and, If I did, I wouldn’t trust their judgment. I always try to do the right thing, but many nights I wake up in a cold sweat, wondering if my patient is still alive. If you want to always be proud of your work, become an artist. You can throw away your failures.  Unless you’re a tattoo artist, you’re unlikely to kill anyone, and you can display your best work for all to see. I’ve never posted my joint relocations or chest tubes. As for my intubations? Forget it. HIPAA frowns on that. What’s HIPAA? Google it. You’ll want to know.
9. Everybody will want to date you. They might. Until you blow them off again and again for some emergency. Or until you fall asleep before the appetizers, after being on call for a week. It gives them a taste of the life to expect with you, and they’ll likely bail out. If you want a hot dating pool, become a personal trainer.
10. As a doctor, you’ll have a healthy lifestyle and set an example for others. Not so much. My last hot pizza was in 2017. That was my healthy food. Can you spell donuts, cookies, and coffee? That’s what you’ll live on for the next 10 years, while completing your medical education, and many call nights and weekends after that. If you’re into healthy living, become a nutritionist. You’ll teach people how to make cauliflower bacon – cauliflower rice is already passe – and vegetable bone broth. I can’t wait to see that. I’ve never met a vegetable bone.

Why bother to be a doctor, then, you ask? The pay sucks, the job sucks, the benefits suck. Why should you go through decades of hard training, unhealthy living, and poverty to become the target everybody shits on?

Good question. These are my reasons:

1. There’s nothing else you’d rather do.
2. You’re endlessly curious about people.
3. You want to help people, whether they like you or not.
4. You’d rather be overwhelmed than bored.
5. You want to spend your whole life learning.
6. You love being useful.
7. You’re passionate about discovering new things. If so, medicine is for you. There’s no other field with more left to be discovered, besides astronomy.
8. You don’t care what others think, as long as you know you did the right thing.
9. You thrive under pressure
10. You love working with people smarter than you are.

Good luck, young friend. I hope you decide you really want to be a doctor, whether they pay you, they appreciate you, they like you, or not. Otherwise, we’ll all be in deep doo-doo in thirty years, when we’re old and sick, and there are few doctors left. Fortunately, we’ll have plenty of administrators.

Rada Jones MD is an Emergency Doc in Upstate NY, where winters are long, people are sturdy, and the geese speak mainly French. She lives with her husband, Steve, and his black deaf cat Paxil. She’s the author of three ER thrillers: OVERDOSE, MERCY, and POISON, and a collection of tongue-in-cheek medical essays, Stay Away From My ER. Find more at


3 thoughts on “An old doc’s letter to a premed student

  1. Interesting article…..I was glad of the last list of things that say one should become a doctor, “if”………but even so, I admire you so much for taking it on!

  2. I kinda liked it… too bad doctors have become so cynical in the last couple of decades. 

    Things were better in the “good old days”.

    You’re spot-on about nurses – it is most assuredly the more gratifying occupation.

    But they get bitten, spit on and have things thrown at them too. 

    BTW, you might correct the spelling of HIPAA (not HIPPA). 🙂

  3. Well said. I have long wondered why I stay in medicine with all its absurdities. It turns out my reasons are the same as yours. Thanks for the insight.

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