I am a prospective physician who will start medical school in a few months. One thing that has always bothered me about this career, though, is the low level of impact that it makes on the world. Medicine in developed countries does not save nearly as many lives as hygiene and nutrition. In addition, there are diminishing marginal returns to medical care, which we see everyday in unnecessary tests and procedures. To make matters worse, doctors are highly replaceable in that if you left medicine, someone else would just step in to take your case. Perhaps they might be a tad less skilled or the patient might have to wait a tad longer, but the end result would be near indistinguishable.
People smarter than me have done the back of the envelope calculations (no one has sat down to get the rigorous numbers because we as a society haven't given anyone the funding to do this). https://80000hours.org/2012/08/how-many-lives-does-a-doctor-save/
They calculate that the average doctor saves just 20 lives in their career, which is probably a vast overestimate.
Just working in finance and donating more money to the third world would do more.
Unless you are earning to give, it seems to me that the only moral justification for becoming a physician is to believe that your predominantly white, wealthy and first-world patients' lives are worth more than those of children starving in developing countries. You are shifting the trolley car from killing one person to killing a hundred or more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem
When I talk to physicians, many of whom I admire for being intelligent and strong people, they seem to have a very inflated sense of their direct impact. In fact, they cite "lives changed" as one of the most rewarding parts of the job, one that helps them cope with the mindless scut work and moral injury of the profession.
To me, that seems like a convenient fiction. But I am not here just to pontificate, I am wondering what YOU, the physicians and trainees of reddit think. Do you believe that society is right to consider doctors as noble altruists? Or are you more cynical perhaps, and secretly feel guilty that society affords your profession such respect?
If so, how do you continue to do your job? Do you give extensively to charity? Or do you believe that life is nasty, brutish and short, it's OK to do this job for the money and the cars?
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