Medicine is a respected profession, in part because most people recognize that doctors have great responsibility and spend years getting an education to earn their high incomes. The occupation is extremely broad, however, with many specialties and subspecialties, and variations in demand, demographics and income.
Training Takes Time
Physicians typically spend a minimum of 11 years -- and as much as 15 or even more years -- in the postsecondary educational process. This includes four years of undergraduate school, four years of medical school and at least three years in residency. The length of a residency varies according to specialty. A few medical schools offer a combined bachelor’s and medical degree that takes six or seven years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Physicians who want to specialize often complete extended training periods, called fellowships, that can last up to four years.
Financing the Education
Medical school is not only lengthy -- it's also expensive. Because of this, many physicians graduate with considerable student loan debt. Private schools cost more than public schools, which can also affect debt. The American Association of Medical Colleges reports the average debt for physicians who graduated from public medical schools in 2013 was $162,736. Physicians who graduated from private medical schools had an average of $181,058 in student loan debt. Eighty-six percent of graduating physicians had some debt, with debt amounts ranging from $100,000 to $300,000 or more.
A physician has the option to become a doctor of medicine or a doctor of osteopathy. Both receive similar training on many subjects, but the latter has a primary care focus and includes training in spinal manipulation similar to chiropractic therapy. The Federation of State Medical Boards reports that in 2012, about 7 percent of physicians with an active license were osteopaths, compared to about 93 percent who were doctors of medicine. Of all physicians, slightly more than 45 percent were between the ages of 30 and 59. Men outnumbered women, at around 65 percent to 30 percent, with about 4 percent listed as "unknown."
Specialization and Income
Many physicians specialize and become certified in that specialty. In addition, some medical specialties have one or more subspecialties. The American Board of Medical Specialties lists more than 130 specialties and subspecialties on its website, and 76.5 percent of all physicians with an active license hold specialty certification, according to the FSMB. Some specialties, such as family practice and internal medicine, are in great demand, according to nationwide physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins. Income also varies by specialty, according to the BLS. For example, pediatricians earned an average annual salary of $170,530 in 2013, while surgeons averaged $233,150 and anesthesiologists averaged $235,070.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- American Association of Medical Colleges: Medical Student Education- Debt, Costs, and Loan Repayment Fact Card
- Federation of State Medical Boards: A Census of Actively Licensed Physicians in the United States, 2012
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2013 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States
- American Board of Medical Specialties: Specialties and Subspecialties
- Merritt Hawkins: 2012 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives
- Photo Credit monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images
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