Is Being a Physician Overrated?

Is being a doctor overrated?

It is according to’s evaluation of the “Most Overrated Jobs of 2011.”

The article summarized’s evaluation of professions that tend to be highly regarded, but when examined more closely have hidden costs that make them less desirable.  The top 12 overrated professions identified, in order, beginning with the most overrated, reads like this:

  1. Senior Corporate Executive
  2. Surgeon
  3. Physician
  4. Psychiatrist
  5. Airline Pilot
  6. Attorney
  7. Architect
  8. Stockbroker
  9. Real Estate Agent
  10. Photojournalist
  11. Flight Attendant
  12. Advertising Account Executive

Some big professions, to be sure.  And notice that three of the top four involve an MD degree!  (Strangely, they chose to think of surgeons, physicians, and psychiatrists as different professions, when in reality they are all physicians.) 

Their rationale for dissing doctors?  In short, being a physician involves:

  • A high degree of job stress (much responsibility for patient health and welfare)
  • Long hours (including physical fatigue, in particular for surgeons)
  • Increased regulation
  • Decreased compensation (pay)

They made no mention of the burdensome debt that new physicians incur in order to join the profession, and the years it often takes to pay it off.

The PA profession isn’t immune to some of these problems.  But clearly being a physician assistant gives you a modicum of balance that’s rarely available to physicians.  So being a physician isn’t what it used to be.  But is it that highly overrated?

I say yes.

Bringing this article up could definitely sound like a fox-and-the-sour-grapes tale, as if I believe being a physician is overrated because I am not a physician.  But I’m not sour on doctors.  Rather, I chose to become a PA in large part because I saw what being a physician would do to my relationship with my family – I have three young children. isn’t the first to make the assertion that being a physician is overrated.  Just a few years ago, US News and World Report came to a similar conclusion.  And if you google this topic, it won’t take you long to find  internet forum debates among medical students and even physicians on the subject.

Hear me now, readers: I have no axe to grind.  My father and grandfather were both physicians.  They loved medicine.  But it was a different era.  Today’s high cost of medical care, the litigious nature of modern American culture, and the exploding population of patients needing care (the Baby Boomers) have made being a physician something less than it once was, and it often seems to me that the physicians are the only ones who realize it.

So why does the public continue to lionize doctors?  Much of the praise is deserved – the work of doctors will always be crucial to the health and well-being of our society.  And it takes serious time and diligence to become a doctor.

I think the public has a poor understanding of just what a doctor’s daily life has become in recent years.  They see the good – glory, the authority, the salary – and rarely think to get familiar with the harder facts: missing time with family; debt and overhead of an office; the pressure to see more and more patients; the weight of charting and other documentation; the struggle to balance the needs and wants of patients with their own needs, and the readiness of the American medical legal system to capitalize on their failures.

What do you think?[subscribe2]




  • Megan November 14, 2011, 6:38 am

    I completely agree. The attendings I work with (in a pediatric hospital’s ER) work their butts off and many of our residents have told me they wished they would’ve done the PA route. That’s not to knock the physicians, but I think the public and even pre-med undergrad students have, as you said, glorified ideas of what is means to have that MD/DO these days. For those who live for their work and like the prestige the profession is great. But for the rest of us who enjoy a day off every now and then and don’t want the pressure of meeting a quota of patients or being constantly targeted by lawyers, the PA profession is perfect for this period in time. The US needs PAs now more than ever and I don’t see that changing anytime soon!

  • Paul November 14, 2011, 9:04 am

    I’ve heard comments to that effect many times from physician’s that I’ve worked with. They love the work, but often find that it’s the things that go with it that frustrate them and get in the way of doing what they want to do: see patients. I rarely hear these comments from PAs, but it happens for them sometimes too.

  • KateD November 14, 2011, 9:49 am

    Great topic of discussion! As a “PrePA” these are things that I have been constantly mulling over in my mind, and what I used to decide that to follow the PA path. Since I am rather green though… I do have some questions about what it’s like in the “real PA world”.
    A common thought that is flung around on various forums… “If you’re young, go the MD route. In no time you’ll be sitting back supervising the PAs that have taken over your work load.” In my mid to late 20s, yes, I still consider myself young. However, it’s not ONLY the school thing that would make my shy away from the MD route. It’s what I have perceived as the overall lifestyle of the doc having more pressure as the “Big Boss”, majority of the liability and mainly… more paper pushing and less direct patient care. Is this an accurate perception?
    Also, as someone coming from the business world…. running a company ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Some people are cut out for it… others (ME!) don’t like to stay up at night in this economy working to slash overhead, making a list of the lifetime friend-employees that need to me let go due to budgeting and the cutthroat world of taking out your competition. The business side of running a practice has no appeal to me. I want what I see as the meat and potatoes of healthcare…. caring for the patient… the critical thinking of diagnosing and then coming up with a treatment plan.. AND THEN, being able to relay that to your patient, to translate it and build a relationship of trust. Am I too idealistic? Are PAs just as stressed having to meet quotas and have just as many headaches as the doc with malpractice liability??

    • Paul November 14, 2011, 11:13 am

      According to my preceptor, who owns his own urgent care clinic, “I love the medicine – it’s just all the other stuff that I can’t stand.”
      There are some who thrive on owning and managing a business. Some even like the documentation. But, as Sundance alluded to in her interview, some become PAs so that they can do more of the patient stuff and less of the other stuff.
      Yes, being a PA can be stressful. There is documentation, there is still debate with insurance companies. But I think the age thing that you mentioned is a poor way to decide whether PA vs MD is for you. Because you’re young you can handle the stress better? You have more time for it because you don’t yet have a family? Not a good rationale, if you asked me. And because PAs are supervised by MDs doesn’t mean that they do the work while the doc sits on his keester. The reverse is probably more accurate. Docs almost always see more patients per day than PAs, and spend little time actually conferring with their PAs, unless that PA is a recent grad or new employee. It feels to me like some choose not to see some of the realities that go with being a physician because they just want to be a physician, and that’s that.. That may be okay for some, but not for me.

      • KateD November 14, 2011, 3:02 pm

        Thanks for your thoughts, Paul! And thank you for directing me to the interview with Sundance!! Great resource.

    • Chris R. November 14, 2011, 1:42 pm

      That’s the one thing that I always hear, and it can really be annoying. I’d choose to become a PA whether I’m 22 or 50. Like Sundance says in her video, my life can’t be completely about medicine. Becoming an M.D., at least in my opinion, would pretty much make most of your life centered around medicine. I’m willing to give up the title and the complete control in order to have a better lifestyle.

      Another thing that I think leads to an inflated view of physicians are the countless TV shows that involve doctors, like House and Grey’s Anatomy. It sometimes gives a really inaccurate portrayal of what a doctor’s life is like.

  • Eric November 14, 2011, 2:17 pm

    Good post.This just adds to the list of “Reason’s Why Becoming a PA is Awesome For Me”. I wanted to be an Md, mostly due to it’s universal prestige and over-glorified professional status. But honestly, the more and more I go on this site(as well as others) to research and to generally just check up on things, the more I realise PA is a much better fit for me. I have a friend who is set on MD, and I’ve sort of kept track of him to see how the road to becoming an MD is affecting him….and it’s not good. He’s constantly stressed, moody, and overworked. He picked up smoking to calm himself. Even after graduating from UCD, he couldn’t get into med-school (not sure why) and is now doing a post-bacc at UCSD…He seems a little defeated at the moment and it’s tough to see my friend change so drastically and negatively…I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m glad to go the PA route. I just can’t see myself doing that anymore. I wouldn’t want a profession in medicine that, to obtain it, would seem to compromise my own health(ugh…smoking) and “deflate” me like that.

  • Laurelin December 1, 2011, 5:29 am

    Very interesting post…thanks! Like most of you, I chose to go the PA route rather than MD because of most of the reasons described above. However, I think it stands to mention that I think some MD specialties (like some PA specialties) are much more conducive to a life of balance than others. My dad is a electrophysiologist, and I can’t remember him missing one single important event because of work my whole time growing up. He was around a lot…certainly, he worked VERY hard (still does) and was tired most of the time. But he never put his work before his family, something I am extremely grateful for. That being said, I think his particular situation has made that feasible (he works for a private group of doctors), and other specialties (surgery, ER med, etc) wouldn’t allow for that luxury. Anyway, just food for thought!

  • Shena March 30, 2012, 6:28 pm

    I have a somewhat unrelated question but I can’t seem to figure out how to start a new forum. In any case, I am wondering why Nurse Anesthetists make soooo much…more than PA’s? Is it that their education is more extensive? They start out at about 200K from what I heard!

  • Paul March 30, 2012, 6:58 pm

    It has to do with working in anesthesia. EVERYTHING in surgery is expensive, and pays well. Anesthesiology Assistants (the PA equivalent of a Nurse Anesthetist) get paid equally well.

    To start a new forum, you should go to or forum page, at


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