We all know how difficult it is to become a doctor. It's a long journey filled with mental stress, lack of sleep, and social isolation. But in the end one becomes an MD and starts reaping the riches of American medicine, right? Maybe not. While it's true that most of the occupations that earn the top incomes in the U.S. are related to healthcare, the statistics don't take into account how much capital it takes to get there.
One website has done some calculations and it is quite sobering. The average medical student debt at graduation is $166,750. If it takes the doctor thirty years to pay off the student loan at an interest rate of 6%, then the total cost of the loan works out to over $350,000. Now we need to add in the years of missed income while studying in medical school while all our college buddies have already joined the work force after getting their undergrad degree. If one takes the median U.S. income of $57,000 per year, then the total loss of potential income is nearly $600,000. The amortized cost over a thirty year career is $20,000 per year. That's like buying two first class plane tickets to Australia every single year for thirty years. Or purchasing a good used car annually for three decades. This doesn't even take into account interest that could have been earned on that money or potential retirement fund appreciation.
The AMA and federal government are all encouraging more medical students to become primary care physicians when they graduate. Yet these are the lowest paying fields in medicine, with median salaries of $176,000 for a family practitioner. Take out the annual student loan repayment and that drops to $156,000. This figure doesn't factor in the stress of running a medical business with its constant threats of medical malpractice, myriad government and insurance compliance rules before receiving payment, and staffing headaches.
By comparison, a drug rep for a major pharmaceutical company generally only needs a bachelor's degree to qualify for the job. The average salary of a sales manager is $123,000. With that income, the rep probably also gets benefits like health insurance, matching 401K, travel expenses, sales meetings in places like Hawaii, and various other goodies as part of his pay package that a doctor can only dream about. Or what about an air traffic controller. They only need an associate's degree but make an average of $118,000. Though stressful, I doubt being an air traffic controller is any more difficult than a physician trying to run a medical practice while getting called from anxious patients and nurses every ten minutes. The controller also gets the perks of being in a steady government job, with generous health and retirement benefits and civil service job guarantees.
So next time the drug rep knocks on the office door looking to sell his latest wares, don't treat him with condescension. He may very well be making more money than you while taking every weekend off.