I want be a Doctor but I don't want it to completely take over my life

The more science I study the more interesting it gets to me, however I have always really prized beach/music/family/whatev er time as well. Really all the money I need to be happy is upper 5 figures, I’ve made both above and below that and finally settled on a number. Add in wife/kids someday it goes up some but basically $120K a year adjusted for inflation and I’d be happy.

I’d also prefer not to work >40 hours a week except for rare circumstances and I don’t want to do surgery.

Is this possible as a Doctor? Are there certain paths you would recommend? I don’t mind busting my ass in Med School or at various points in my career to achieve this but I just know myself that I don’t want to sustain a lifestyle where work is life.


Hmmm…I’m at a loss on how to respond. I have added this post to my favorites though because I am very interested in reading the responses from other people.

So, that’s a reasonable question. “lifestyle” specialties are becoming more and more popular because of the reasons you cited. There have been a number of articles published recently on how doctors in all specialties are cutting back on their hours. The rationale seems to be that will declining reimbursements/pay, a great many physicians have decided to enjoy life a little bit more (i.e., working harder does not necessarily gain you more income anymore).

I also think more and more matriculants to medical school are looking to find a balance between work and family and the idea of working lots of hours on week and lots of hours on call isn’t appealing to them. There are greater of numbers of physicians working “part-time” (some claim due to the increase in female physicians).

Some specialties that tend to have fairly decent hours (as in ~40 hours a week) and little or no call: radiology, ophthamology, anesthesia, dermatology (formerly known as the ROAD) specialties. Others that kind of fall in that category: psychiatry, physical medicine and rehabilitation, pathology, allergy/immunology, heme/onc (depending on practice type), genetics, preventative medicine, nuclear med, occupational medicine, plastics (depending on practice type), urology.

Emergency medicine is attractive to a lot of people as a good lifestyle choice: ave EM physician works <40 hours a week and makes over $200k, lots of flexibility in when you work, when you walk out of the hospital, you have no patient responsibility (no pager, no call). However, many people don’t like the fact that you will routinely work nights, weekends and holidays.

Hospitalist medicine is growing in popularity right now. Many family practitioners and IM docs no longer admit their own patients, instead leaving care of hospitalized patients to hospitalists. Most hospitalists jobs have scheduled hours and limited call/responsibility other than when you are scheduled to work. Again, though, you may have to work nights/weekends/holidays.

Other specialties are also becoming more family friendly. Many people choose to join large groups where call is shared among the group and they may only have to take call a couple of times a month or where part-time practice might be an option.

So, there are lots of options out there. I’ll leave the discussion of how this mindset is contributing to the shortage of physicians for another time/thread.

Hope that helps.


I would suggest you try Optometry. My wife is one, we have two kids, that figure is around her salary and no surgery. Plus as a benefit, no residency. Of course this is strictly an option that does not address whether you want to be a physician or not.

Is this possible as a Doctor?

  1. $120K a year adjusted for inflation and I’d be happy.

    Easily achieved as an MD

  2. I don’t want to do surgery.

    No problem-- at maximum, you would only have to do the 12 weeks or so required in the third year of medical school.

  3. I’d also prefer not to work >40 hours a week except for rare circumstances

    Impossible-- in residency, three to ten long punishing years, you will be working over twice that.

I agree with what Amy said. On the other side of the medical school and residency journey, that type of lifestyle is possible. However, the 8-10 years of medical school and residency is wrought with long hours studying and in the hospital and is FAR from the lifestyle you describes.

Just realize that on the way to becoming a physicians, medical school and residency will run your life.

I feel your pain — as others have stated, the journey through medical school and residency will take up a lot of time in terms of workhours. You can plan on a minimum of 60hours a week in medical school on average and 80 hours a week in residency on average.

If you can deal with working in an urgent care clinic as a clinic director -

40 hour weeks (arranged as 5x8 or 4x10), no pager, no call.

malpractice covered with tail

3 weeks annual vacation

sick time/pto

full benefits package

if you hit your first bonus incentive, you’re talking $220 to $240K/yr.

But—you’ll probably get some workers comp patients, have to practice medicine their way and all sorts of other fun things.

If you seriously can be ok with upper 5 figures and don’t want the headaches, open a pizza joint.

Don’t go into medicine for the money…go because you can’t see yourself doing anything else or you won’t survive medical school…seriously.

  • OMTDave Said:
If you seriously can be ok with upper 5 figures and don't want the headaches, open a pizza joint.

Don't go into medicine for the money.....go because you can't see yourself doing anything else or you won't survive medical school....seriously.

I see this said now and then, and I admit I'm talking purely out of speculation as I've not yet even started my first class as an undergraduate, but I'm not sure this is true.

Isn't is possible that you could succeed at something you believe is the best option of many good options? For instance, I hated the last five to seven years of my career. I changed industries even to try and fix how I felt about what I did day to day. It didn't work, but I still succeeded, I still did very well. That was while absolutely loathing what I did.

Loving what you do, even if it's not the only single thing you can imagine you could ever be, I think would make it all the more possible.

Not to mention, imagine the consequences if it were really the only thing you could see yourself doing. If for whatever reason, life intervened and made it impossible to go to school (spouse seriously injured, us seriously injured, political upheavals etc.), should we then just look for the nearest bridge without a guard rail?

I do agree completely however that money can't be the only motivating factor. There are many, many ways to make money, most of which are easier than becoming a Doctor. It's that unique combination of having the intellectual aptitude, the scientific curiosity, the incredible work ethic, and the sincere desire to help others in a very direct manner that makes becoming a Doctor irresistible.

There are other fields that offer most of these however, at which point money can play a role. It's hard to justify turning your life upside down for seven to twelve years, wracking up huge amounts of tuition debt, if the end result pays you so little that the loans alone will dominate your finances.

Dunno, just me being a little pragmatic this morning. I think it's because I just had to write my personal statement this morning, and these very thoughts were running through my head as I tried to make sure every word was more than simple honesty, that it was the written version of how I really felt deep inside which is sometimes difficult to know.

I see what you feel TAC, I’m concerned about the money issue too. I dont want to be a slave to my job either.

I want to be primary care and the income versus the loan expense is my biggest fear. (I used to be afraid of the time school takes from my life, now I realize that I’d be working in a job ANYWAY for that much time.) As far as loans, there are options where you commit your life to a certain geographic location. Either the “health care service corps” which will pay a stipend while you are in school and pay your loans while you practice in a rural area, or the armed forces have a program where you can commit to serve as an officer.

after 4 years of practicing at extremely lowered income, you should be experienced enough and aware enough how to run a private practice… and then open your own in your preferred geography. As a McKesson rep in the past, I’ve seen that its not as easy as just throwing up a shingle.

Then you can be having a fair income, control your practice and live your life as reasonably as before.

my second biggest fear is what happened today with the medicare reimbursement cuts. Congress has steadily been moving backwards at reimbursement rates over the past 3-4 years and costs for supplies, labor and overhead have been increasing at inflationary or higher rates. Since I’ve been educated that most insurance companies base their rates at a percentage of medicare, this is toxic to primary care. if this doesnt get fixed, I’m not going to be a slave doctor, and I cant go to medschool. :frowning:

I think the pay for doctor’s in general is high enough that even if it slides, you’ll be a far cry from a slave.

When I was thinking of ways you could go that would leave you burdened with educational expenses you couldn’t pay back, I was thinking of people pursuing PhD’s in fields that while fascinating, are notorious for having almost no source of income. They have my respect.

Yeah, I also think it’s not a problem to make $120K a year as a physician but you have to go a long way to be able to work 40 hours or less and get that 120K. As already mentioned, you have to work hard at medical school and then the first years will be tough, too, especially residency. So think twice before you start at university, maybe you should think about other job options, too.

I’ve read a few posts where people described med school like a 9-5 job with some studying at night/on the weekend (i.e. what most people work these days - about 50 hrs/week).

Would anyone here refute that?

I’ve also read that residency usually mirrors the specialty hours - less for things like family practice, more for any of the surgeries. True?

  • janny Said:
Yeah, I also think it's not a problem to make $120K a year as a physician but you have to go a long way to be able to work 40 hours or less and get that 120K.

What I've discovered in a 15+ career in Research is that almost EVERYONE I've ever known that makes 120K+ money is stressed the hell out, in a demanding job.

It seems to me that once you cross that 6 figure mark in all the interesting career fields, your employers work you to death whether we're talking about a Scientist, Pharmacist, or Assistant High School Principal.

I simply decided that since that's my perception of the 6 figure salary mark, I may as well be doing something I'd really enjoy!

PathDr–I couldn’t agree more. There’s a reason the money is there. As stressful as a profession like medicine is–and as stressful as higher level roles are across most industries–it’s simply payment for the job.

In my opinion, I work a stressful job in Corporate America–and I deserve every bit of my salary. Likewise, the physicians I contract with (who make far more than I do) deserve every bit of theirs…and then some. But the stress just kind of comes with it. It’s packaged differently. It has a different feel to it. But in my experience, high pay = stressful job. Unless you are really, REALLY exceptionally lucky.

I’ve never met a neurosurgeon who wasn’t wound a little tight…and I’ve never met a primary care dr who didn’t work his/her behind off every week in order to meet overhead, comply with government regs, and take care of their staff–not to mention pay themselves and provide for their families.

So it goes back to what you always hear around here–do medicine because you love it. Because you are called to it. Because you are hardwired for it. Because you can’t imagine doing anything else. Otherwise? You may want to look very, very carefully at other career opportunities… Because the stress will be there. At most any job. Like Path said–might as well make sure it’s a job you love, so the stress becomes secondary.

  • In reply to:
So it goes back to what you always hear around here--do medicine because you love it. Because you are called to it. Because you are hardwired for it. Because you can't imagine doing anything else. Otherwise? You may want to look very, very carefully at other career opportunities... Because the stress will be there. At most any job. Like Path said--might as well make sure it's a job you love, so the stress becomes secondary.

Bingo, I was moving my way up the accounting chain and I made pretty good money. There was plenty of stress but for me no reward. I would much rather take the Doctor stress and 50K than the CFO stress and 250K. At least at the end of the day I can look myself in the mirror and say I am doing what I love.

If you love being a doc, you will be a good one, and if you are a good one the money will come and the stress won't "bother" you. I think going back to school at 32 was a heck of a lot more stressful than accounting, but I love it.

I can’t quite agree with the hours for med school. I think it is rather individual, but I think it runs closer to 10 hours/day plus about 12 hours average on weekends (more some weekends but less others). So I’d say closer to 62 up to 80 on a really bad week.


When I was doing the software thing, long work weeks and a similar salary were the norm. Some companies better than others, and depending what group you worked in, you could be overworked and stressed like I usually was, or it could be a 9-5 thing with nobody breathing down your neck like some other people I knew.

If it was just a money/lifestyle thing, I would probably look at other careers. Only do this if you want it bad. It’s too effin hard to get there if you don’t want it bad.

If you are willing to work a billion hours a week while you do your pre-reqs, MCAT studying, Basic Science years, During many of your clinical rotations, and then in your residency, then I say go for the MD/DO.

If you aren’t willing to make the time sacrifice for that many years, maybe consider becoming a nurse or a Physician’s assistant. From what I understand the ‘pain’ (AKA the time crunching learning years) are fewer in number, and you can get close to or reach your salary goals.

  • Disclaimer: This is just my vague remembrances from when I was doing my own cost benefit analysis when I was articulating why I was going the MD path versus alternative paths. So my information may be skewed, deficient or just plain wrong.

You can make that salary (at least in FL) for close to those hours as an NP or PA in the emergency room, in some psych positions and with some derm and/or aesthetics positions.

If what you want is that pay and that lifestyle and you do not feel the need for the comprehensive depth of medical training beyond the scope of NP or PA training (I am a NP), then you should seriously consider becoming a PA or NP instead. CRNAs also make at least that for a 40 hr work week in most locales and often make significantly more. I’m sure there are other healthcare related professions that can give you a six figure income with reasonable stress and a 40 hour work-week with less debt and years of training.

But if the comprehensiveness of the training is more important and you don’t feel anything but medical training will quench your thirst, then the subspecialties aforementioned is what you should likely consider. Housecall medicine is also an option by the way!