Would you let your son or daughter be a doctor?

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published May 10, 2019

Key Takeaways

Electronic health records. Administrative paperwork. Prior approvals. Peer-to-peer review. Government regulations… There are so many obstacles that get in the way of actually providing medical care these days—who could possibly still enjoy being a physician? Surprisingly, most physicians do.

According to findings from a new MDLinx survey, nearly 7 in 10 physicians (69%) report they continue to enjoy practicing medicine. In fact, about the same percentage of physicians (70%) would still go into the medical field if they had the choice to do it all over again.

But that’s not the whole story. Although medicine may be fine for themselves, physicians are less enthused for their children to follow in their footsteps. Only about half of physicians (51%) would recommend the profession to their progeny.

“I don't want my kids to have to fight as hard as we've had to fight dealing with insurance, social media, competing hospital systems, and basically being a political football as a profession,” said an allergist/immunologist. “If healthcare in America gets its act together at some point…I would love my children to be doctors. At this point, I don't want them to have to train for 10 years after college to enter a profession that is fraught with uncertainty.”

‘Fun and excitement’

This nationwide survey included responses from 1,467 physicians—both specialists and primary care physicians (PCPs)—most of whom either agreed (42%) or strongly agreed (27%) with the statement, “I still enjoy being a physician.”


Physicians’ responses differed somewhat by age, with 65% to 69% of doctors aged 31-65 in agreement. And 75% of doctors over age 65 said they still like their work.

Perhaps surprisingly, the same percentage of both PCPs and specialists (69%) still enjoy medicine.

One cardiologist said: “It still has the widest breadth of options to pursue one’s interest in administration, clinical care, or research. There's fun and excitement somewhere for everyone. Also, every aspect has turned into a team sport, so one is never as isolated as in the past.”

On the other hand, a minority of physicians either disagreed (13%) or strongly disagreed (8%) that medicine is still enjoyable. Of those who disagreed, many lament that the positive aspects of medicine have been trounced by the negative ones.

“Medicine is no longer taking care of patients, which I love and [is] why I went into medicine,” a family medicine physician said. “Instead, it is a bureaucratic nightmare of endless paperwork and computer charting and begging people to get all their screening tests done. It is endless hours with no life balance.”

“I am now a provider and not a doctor,” said one oncologist. “My life is controlled by petty administrators who are horrible people.”

Passing on the profession

Again, while the majority of physicians still enjoy the profession, only about half would recommend it to their children.

You’ll recall that 75% of physicians over age 65 said that they enjoy their work. These senior physicians are also the age group most likely to recommend the profession to a child or family member. In fact, as many as 58% would recommend it.

This is almost the opposite for younger physicians, where 56% of those aged 31-45 would not recommend their children to become physicians.

Specialists and PCPs of all ages didn’t really differ in their responses—51% of specialists and 52% of PCPs said they’d advise a child or family member to have a career in medicine.

But just under half of all respondents said they won’t let their babies grow up to be doctors.

“Why should I want my kids to go into a career that demands extraordinary hard work and then be dominated by a bunch of administrators?” asked a cardiologist. “In addition to making his own living, through his work, he’d also have to make a living for those administrators. Knowing this, I would be crazy if I want my kid to go into medicine.”

Said an internal medicine physician: “My son was considering medicine. I told him to go to paramedic training and then go to [physician assistant] school to make decent money, have benefits, and enjoy the family he is about to have.”

Many physicians cite “lack of autonomy” as the main reason why being a doctor is no good these days. They point the finger at administrators, insurance companies, government regulations, and technology for tying their hands.

“Everybody but the doctor seems to know how I should be doing my job—until it actually comes time to do my job. Then it’s up to whatever resources I'm left with and hurdles that have been put in my way,” an orthopedic physician said.

Long work hours, comparatively low pay, and the lack of personal and family time also make medicine an unattractive career choice, physicians reported.

Do it again?

Nevertheless, if physicians could do it all over again, most would still choose to go into medicine. These responses lean toward older doctors (age 65 and older)—78% of whom said they’d still be physicians.

“Medicine as a career in many ways is not a choice. Medicine is a vocation/calling,” said an internal medicine doctor of this generation. “As much as I would bitch about it at times, it was something I had to do, it was my task, my responsibility. I was not always happy about it, but what I did gave me fulfillment.”

Among younger doctors (aged 31-45 years), a lower majority—63%—would do it all over again (“but definitely not internal medicine,” said one such physician).

“I still love being a physician, there's nothing else I'd rather do,” said an emergency medicine doctor. “I just wish it were more like it was 10 years ago.”

But nearly one-third of all respondents (30%) said they wouldn’t put on the white coat again. Why?

“Because there are many other careers where you earn more money with less responsibility and less work hours a day,” according to one endocrinologist.

“I'd start my own business instead,” an anesthesiologist said. “There is more upside, more creativity, and less work once it is established.”

“Also, med school was so stressful that I would never repeat it,” said a nephrologist.

But even with all the long hours and insurmountable problems, some doctors simply can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I love what I do and, even with the challenges, I cannot see myself in a different career,” said a pediatrician. “I would change certain aspects of my training and decision making, but I would still want to be a physician.”

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