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Career Overview

What do you imagine when you hear the word 'doctor'? Is it a person in a white lab coat with a stethoscope around their neck? Or is it a guy in bright blue scrubs, running around a hospital with a clipboard in hand? Whatever you imagined, both are fitting descriptions of a physician.It's difficult to say what a normal day on the job is like, simply because every day is completely unpredictable. Your duties might more or less stay the same, but the specific actions could differ drastically each day. You might just be performing routine checkups one minute, and resuscitating several patients with heart failure the next. The one thing you can count doing in each case, though, is finding a treatment option that fits both the patient and the condition. Sometimes, the illness determines the treatment and it could be as simple as taking a certain kind of medicine twice a day. In more severe cases, you'll likely need to consult nurses, surgeons, or other doctors in order to find the best solution.But treatment is only half the battle for a physician. Before you can start treating the illness, you have to know what the illness actually is. Since there isn't a cure-all treatment that works in every situation, you have to figure out the problem before you can find its solution. You'll run tests, conduct physical examinations, ask specific questions, look at x-rays, and do anything else that could help you correctly diagnose the problem. Only after you've made a diagnosis can you begin to find the appropriate treatment for your patient.It's needless to say that a physician's job is never done. The number of diseases and health conditions continues to grow each day. Physicians are constantly faced with a nonstop flow of patients, each with their own problems and sicknesses. No matter what the problem is, it is their job to help people. And if you're the kind of person who wants to help others, then becoming a physician might just be what you're looking for.

Salaries and Job Outlook*

2013 Median Annual Pay
Number of Jobs in 2013
Projected Growth Rate
13.3 %

Education and Training

Degrees Required:
Bachelor's Degree Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) 3-8 years of internship & residency

Becoming a physician is neither quick nor easy. First, you must earn at least a bachelor's degree in order to apply to med school. While there is no specific major requirement, it is still recommended to pursue a degree in a relevant field. Once you've finished that, it's on to another 4 years at medical school. Unfortunately, getting into medical school is often times a lot harder than finishing it. Many of the top schools are extremely competitive, and require students to submit transcripts, results from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and a handful of letters of recommendation. The higher the school is ranked, the more difficult it is to get into.As if 8 years of school and competitive schools weren't enough, earning your M.D. doesn't quite make you a full-fledged physician just yet. You have to start your career with a few years of internship and residency within the hospital or medical center you're working at. Though you will be responsible for treating patients, you won't be an official physician until your residency is over.

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Valued Traits & Abilities

Problem-Solving Skills
Communication Skills
Detail Oriented.
Leadership Skills
Decision-Making Skills

Career Opportunities

When you consider how many specific fields exist within health and medicine, the possibilities for your career seem endless. There's a huge list of specializations and careers you could pursue as a physician, and it all depends on what you choose for yourself. You might choose to become a cancer specialist, or even focus on patients with very specific bone conditions. Below are just a few of the many career paths you could pursue as a physician.


Instead of running tests and treating patients, surgeons treat patients directly through operations. Surgeons use many tools and instruments to physically cut into the patients to fix whatever the problem is. General surgery is most common, but many choose to specialize in a special area, such tumor removal or oral surgery.


A child's body is still developing, and that makes it a drastically different thing from an adult's body. That's why some physicians choose to become pediatricians, who treat patients who range from infants and toddlers to teenagers and young adults. They focus on health problems that apply more commonly to children than adults.


Not every health problem is a physical one, and that's why some people become psychiatrists. They diagnose and treat mental illness through a combination of counseling, psychoanalysis, and medication. Similar to therapists, a large part of a psychiatrists' work is in discussing their patient's problems and helping them find solutions.

Work Environment

Being a physician is a full time job, and can often be very demanding. In addition to long, irregular hours and random overnight shifts, you're also expected to remain on call for several hours a week. That means you'll have to drop what you're doing and come into the hospital in the event of an emergency situation. Such a demanding job, though admirable, could take a huge toll on your personal life. You might have to sacrifice time with family members and loved ones in order to do your job, and that isn't always an easy thing to do.You must also have great emotional strength, as you will encounter patients that you cannot save. As their physician, they put their faith in you to help them get better. Sometimes, their recovery is out of your control and it is inevitable that patients will die while in your care. As depressing and disheartening as it is, you must always be able to accept this and continue to do your job despite the emotional stress you are faced with.

* Source: BLS Data - 2013