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The Physician


Persons employed in this occupation in the United States:
2004: 566,500
Projected 2014: 702,400

Persons employed in this occupation in Iowa:
2002: 2,380
Projected 2012: 2,810

2004 Median National
Annual Wages: $139,600
2004 Median Iowa
Annual Wages: $135,300

***Source: America's Career InfoNet

If I become a physician, I'm most interested in this speciality:
family practitioner
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Typically a student who intends to pursue a career as a physician would earn a bachelor's degree, complete four years of medical school and finish a three- to six-year residency. Kathleen wasn't a typical medical student. She attended college for about two and a half years, quit and moved back to her small hometown. After about a month her dad "encouraged" her to go back to college. She then completed a two-year degree as a registered nurse.

Kathleen's experiences and contacts as a nurse eventually led her back to school and a medical degree. Because of her unusual career pathway she advises students, "Don't be afraid to make changes." She worked as a registered nurse while working toward her medical degree. The change was a good one for her.

Kathleen believes the course work she pursued in high school was very important for her profession. Taking as many math and science classes as possible was essential, and English classes helped her to write papers in college. But most importantly, she thinks learning how to "teach yourself" in high school gives a solid foundation for college and medical school, where students need to be more independent.

A student thinking about a career as a physician should plan on at least eight years of college before beginning a residency program. The first year of a medical residency is an internship that provides hands-on experience. A considerable investment of time and money results in a career that promises hard work but plenty of rewards.

Work Experiences and Internships:

Students who think they might be interested in a medical career can gain some hands-on experience in high school and college by becoming a certified nurse assistant (CNA). This will provide an opportunity to become involved in patient care. Working as a ward clerk in a hospital will offer the chance to become familiar with the paperwork involved in medical care. Kathleen recommends volunteering in a hospital or nursing home or becoming a member of a First Responder or emergency medical team.

Activities and Organizations:

Kathleen was active in many activities throughout her school years. For nine years she participated in 4-H club. She also joined band and several athletic teams -- basketball, softball, track, cross-country. She was a member of the National Honor Society. Her high school was too small to offer specialized medical or science clubs, but she believes the activities that were available helped her establish a "life outside of books and studying."

Learning to structure her leisure time in high school was a skill that carried over to her college days. She made a point of being in bed by 10 every night, and always reserved time for running or working out. She believes establishing good nutrition habits and getting plenty of sleep are important for students.

Setbacks and Obstacles:

Kathleen's biggest setback in choosing a career was her indecision. She wasn't sure she wanted to make the time commitment that a career as a physician required. She knew it would mean she would miss out on activities with family and friends. She also considered the financial obligations a medical career would entail. As she says, "College and medical school are not cheap!" It can mean loan repayments and years of sacrifices.

Both time and money can create setbacks for anyone considering a profession in medicine. And while the years of preparation and thousands of dollars in loans are hefty, the financial payoffs aren't always spectacular. So, for anyone who thinks a career as a physician is a guarantee of wealth, think again!


Kathleen was motivated in her career pursuit by her desire for knowledge. As a registered nurse she got a "taste" of medicine, but she felt she was only touching the surface of medical knowledge. She was driven to delve deeper through her pursuit of medical school and becoming a physician. During her residency, when she was actually able to make patients feel better and they thanked her, she knew she was "in the right place." Kathleen says the fact that she is making a difference in people's lives motivates her.


From a very early age -- 5 or 6 -- Kathleen expressed an interest in medicine. With both parents working in the health field, it's not surprising. She frequently accompanied her dad to the hospital when she was young. Her dreams of possible careers usually centered around medicine.

Next: A day in the life of a Physician.



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