Sunday, September 21, 2008

Physician Salary Averages

I commonly get asked the question, "How much does a physician in specialty X make?" The question is just as easy to answer as "What is the cure for AIDS?". You can't easily compare salaries in medicine because some docs work 30 hr weeks and some work 80hr weeks. Some physicians take call, some are in private practice, some work for a hospital, some take insurance, some are cash-only, some see general patients, and some do procedures only.

Just to give some examples of the complexity of physician salaries: I know a psychiatrist making $600,000+/year. I know another psychiatrist making $110,000/year. I know a pediatrician making $100,000/year and another making $350,000/year. I've seen a dermatologist making $180,000/year and another $1.1 million. I know a family practitioner making $90,000/year and another making $750,000+/year. I know a general surgeon making $180,000/year and another making $900,000. I've seen a psychiatrist moonlight in residency and make more money than practicing physicians with 10 years experience. Salaries literally vary $200,000+ in every field, and these are NOT outliers. Many people are on both sides of the spectrum.

With all this variety, medical students still take average salaries into account when choosing a medical specialty. I guess this makes sense if you want to work for a group practice where you have little say in management, take minimal call if any, and work the "average" hours/week in that field. If you actually have any business sense, don't mind working more than average, or can stand call every once in awhile, "averages" aren't very useful.

I guess my advise is this: If you want to practice "average" medicine and come straight home to your family, pay attention to average salaries because you will end up with one. Maybe it is worth doing anesthesia over family practice if money is that important. It just depends on your priorities. However if you really enjoy a specialty and want to make a good amount of money at the same time, you can do it in ANY field. Sometimes it takes more work and definitely more risk, but every field can be extremely profitable if you work at it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

D.O. degree more holistic?

The D.O. degree was originally started by an M.D. who was dissatisfied with the current practice of medicine. He made a number of changes and constructed the D.O. degree. Originally the degree had a different value. It was described as more holistic and was taught a little differently.

However over the year, the M.D. and D.O. curriculum's have basically merged. M.D. curriculums picked up where they were lacking, and now D.O. schools usually only have 1 extra class called OMM for Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine. This 1 class is the only difference between an M.D. and a D.O.

Do not tell me that I am more qualified for being an M.D. or that I am less holistic for not being a D.O. The arguement is useless because we are all trained the same. I have talked to MANY D.O.'s, and I have not had a single one disagree with me.

I have also heard that D.O.'s are more holistic because D.O. schools look at more than numbers when picking students. This is also false. D.O. students go through interviews just like M.D. students. We both have relatively high grade point averages and test scores. We both have older students in our classes. We both submit CV's.

People need to quit bickering and realize that M.D.'s are no better practicing medicine than D.O.'s and D.O.'s are no better at making me feel more comfortable than M.D.'s. Sure everyone has a personal study of n=1, but I don't want to hear it (sorry if that sentence doesn't make sense to everyone).

Now go hug!

D.O. degree

Many people bash, down-play, and even insult the D.O. medical degree. Maybe someone can explain their reasoning to me, because I just don't understand it. For those that don't know, the M.D. = D.O. with legal abilities inside the United States.

Sure there are some minor set-backs that D.O. degree holders will have to battle, but I consider them minor. Let's consider these set-backs first.

1. Outside the United States, some countries do not recognize the D.O. degree. This means you can not practice medicine in some countries. If you plan on practicing medicine inside the U.S. your entire life, this does not affect you. If you want to do mission work, you need to research which countries accept D.O. degree holders.

2. Specialty selection. There is still some stigma against D.O. students. This means that D.O. students need to work especially hard to get competitive specialties. However, if your future plans involve primary care (ob/gyn, family, internal med, psych, peds), you will not have a problem. Other well-reachable fields include general surgery, anesthesia, pathology, emergency medicine, neurology, radiology, ortho surgery, and PM&R. These fields require some pretty good scores and possibly research, but I know many D.O.'s in these fields. The real problem that D.O. students have is attaining fields like dermatology, ophthalmology, radiation oncology, ENT, plastic surgery, neurosurgery, and urology. I'm not saying that these fields are impossible for D.O. students because nothing is impossible. I'm just saying that I don't personally know of any D.O. to have ever entered these fields. Regardless of D.O. or M.D. if you want to enter the most competitive fields, you better work like never before and be prepared to sell a couple fingers/kidneys to the black market. Ok, maybe not that far.

3. I have also heard of some people refusing to see D.O. physicians for medical care. While some people are closed-minded, this is not the majority. I know this because specialty for specialty average salaries are relatively equivalent for D.O.'s and M.D.'s alike.

The only qualm I have about the D.O. degree is that some new D.O. schools do not plan their new schools very well. I would be wary about attending a brand-new D.O. school because I have seen some fail where I have never seen a new M.D. school fail before. Still, many new D.O. schools flourish too. I have heard very good things about DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, only in their 2nd year. Most new M.D. schools are based out of excellent undergraduate schools, and they have all the funds and name-recognition to help them excel. Thus I believe new M.D. schools have the clear advantage here. While all students complain, new M.D. schools seem to excel from year 1 universally.

In Texas, we have TCOM, and from what I have heard and seen, it is an excellent school. I have seen their top-notch labs, their quality curriculum, and alumni excel in all aspects of medicine. Would I trust a TCOM grad with my medical care - of course.

Would I recommend my children attend an M.D. school before a D.O. school? Yes, I would, but only because most D.O. schools are very costly (a couple exceptions) compared to allopathic state schools. Still I recommend everyone applying to med school to apply both M.D. and D.O. Putting off med school by applying M.D. in year 1 -failing, and applying to both program the next year because you didn't want to deal with the stigmas, just lost you $200,000+ in future earnings by being stubborn in that 1 year.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ivy vs. State med school

I've been asked, "If you had the choice to attend a Top Ivy league med school or a state school, which would you choose."

My question in response - "Do I have a full scholarship to the Ivy league school?"

All things equal, I can't see a down-side to attending a top rated med school. However things aren't always equal. Most top schools do not need to lure students with amazing scholarships to get people to attend. With that in mind, I would not pay to attend a top med school if I could pay a fraction of the cost to attend a state school.

For residency programs, USMLE scores are the great equalizer. If you have a great Step score, you write your own ticket. Do lesser known med schools produce students with good numbers - yes. Do lesser known med schools have as many students producing big numbers compared to Ivy schools - no. However, this is expected because the "smartest" (best test-takers) students are more concentrated in big name schools. If you take the same intelligent student, he/she has the ability to thrive at any medical school.

Case #1. JD attended Texas Tech HSC School of Medicine. A good school - yes. Ivy - not even close. JD studied hard and scored 240+ on his step 1. JD expressed interest in research to the anesthesia department from day 1 at TTUHSC and subsequently published over 40 papers in 4 years of medical school. Incredible - yes. True - yes. JD decided anesthesia wasn't for him and switched during 4th year to apply neurosurgery. JD was offered an interview at every program he applied to and matched at Mayo neurosurgery.

Is JD an exception to the norm - of course. Still, this is only 1 of numerous success stories that has happened in just the past 3 years at one of the smaller Texas state medical schools. Could JD have done the same at an Ivy league school - of course. Would it have been worth paying the extra $30,000+/year to attend a Top Tier med school? I won't answer that question for you.

The answer to the original question posed to me is that I believe that anyone can have just as much success no matter the school you attend. If it makes you happier to attend Harvard and you don't mind the bill, by all means attend Harvard. When I applied to medical schools, I had offers from a few out-of-state schools (Georgetown, GW, Miami). They aren't Ivy schools by any means, but even these schools cost a fortune compared to most state schools.

I pay approximately $8000/year tuition for my state school, and between grants, investments, and a loving family, I just may graduate completely debt free. In my opinion, debt-free is priceless!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Surgery Clerkship

I just finished my surgery clerkship, and wow! I loved being able to finally do some procedures (inserted chest tubes, started central lines, etc.). It actually feels like you are a doctor during your surgery clerkship.

To my surprise, the surgical residents are, for the most part, incredibly nice. From horror stories, I was half expecting all surgical residents to be royal jerks. They weren't. The people were overall very nice to talk to and seemed genuinely kind.

One downside I found in surgery, was the lack of teaching. When the residents did take time to teach, they were very good at it. However, it appeared like the residents were worked so hard that finding time to teach was rather difficult. Teaching is partly student-run however. As medical students, if you want to learn about something, you need to ask about it. Therefore, I think some of my teammates learned a lot more than others.

To be honest, the reason I disliked surgery the most was gowning up in the OR. I'm an athletic male that has the potential to sweat profusely, and putting on a gown, gloves, facemask, etc. is not my idea of a fun time. Having a change of scrubs is essential, and I would bring shower materials on call days. That said, I loved every other aspect of the OR. Ok....maybe I could do without a few of the smells, but it was worth it.

For the NBME exam, I definitely recommend NMS Casebook. I read Kaplan, NMS casebook, some CaseFiles, FA Surgery, and A&L Q&A. Yeah, I went a little overboard. NMS Casebook was definitely most helpful for the NBME exam. I haven't gotten my grades back, but I think I did pretty well.

Will I do surgery for a residency? Possibly. I liked the residents, material, and procedures. What is holding me back? I consider myself more of a family-oriented person, and I fear that surgery is one of the most time-consuming residencies/lives of all physicians. So we'll just have to see how the other clerkships pan out first.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Choosing a Medical School

So you have the interviews already, but you have no idea which school fits you the best..........
A bunch of my undergrad buddies and I got together recently. All of us are in different medical schools now. What I found quite interesting in our conversation was that we all agreed that curriculum mattered the least when choosing a medical school.

The fact is that almost every medical school has a slightly different curriculum. Some are systems based, others organ based, and some based in pure randomness. Yet, every medical school churns out excellent medical doctors that go on to practice in every field of medicine. What does this tell me? Curriculum does not matter. The knowledge needed to pass medical school and do well is there no matter what order you teach it.

A friend of mine attends UTHSCSA and hates/loves the curriculum. The school has class hours on the higher end of medical schools, but my buddy hates class. The result - he never attends class. By staying at home and learning the material on his own, my buddy has kept himself in the top 10 people in class rank thus far.

Even for those that attend class, curriculum does not seem to matter. The same material is taught at every medical school, and for the most part, students use the same review books at every school. The order you receive the material just does not matter.

Now my friends decided what mattered most: Cost, Location, and Amenities. When you look at loans and how they will affect the rest of your life, it is stupid to not consider COST of medical school when deciding between schools. I chose the school with tuition near the bottom ($7000/year) in a location that has minimal cost of living (Lubbock and El Paso, TX), and I could not be happier. I pay for a 2 bedroom townhouse what people in Houston pay for a small 1 bedroom and people in California pay for a closet. I know you are also thinking that I am crazy for thinking medical schools have amenities.........but they do. Some schools have extra rec centers for students; some schools give students free access to their associated institution's sporting events; some schools have amazing cafeterias. All of these things matter when it comes to quality of life, and when you are in medical school and have limited time for fun, everything you can add to quality of life - MATTERS!!!!!!

To sum up, go to the cheapest medical school you can find where you can maximize your own quality of life, and you won't regret it.