After ordering ample amounts of sides and some fried chicken for my husband, I pulled up to the KFC drive-through window to pick up my food. I had just finished a long shift in the ED so I was wearing scrubs and my stethoscope was still slung around my neck. The young woman at the window looked at me curiously and asked, “Are you a nurse?”
It’s a common question.
I said, “Nope. I’m a doctor.”
“You’re a doctor??”
“That’s what I want to do. How long did you have to go to school?”
“Four years of college, four years of medical school, and I did four years of residency – so 12 years.”
“TWELVE years?! Well, I think I’m going to be a medical assistant first and then go from there.”
I have conversations like this a lot. People know it takes a long time to become a physician, but they’re really not sure how long.
Patients and friends will sometimes tell me that someone they know is in medical school. To which I usually respond, “That’s great! Where?”
The answer is often a community/technical college.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but generally speaking, most physicians think of medical school as a higher education institution that grants doctorates of medicine/osteopathic medicine.
While the general public isn’t well-versed in the intricacies of medical training, I’ve found that few physicians are experts on the training of the people who work alongside us. I didn’t know the difference between a paramedic and an EMT until I was half-way through my residency. I didn’t know what a perfusionist was until a few months ago and I had never even heard of a medical dosimetrist until I started preparing this article.
There are so many jobs in medicine with huge variations in training and compensation. So I spent some time creating a chart. The stated training periods represent the usual MINIMUM amount of time required. Salaries vary widely by region of the country and experience; the chart lists ball-park figures. I used Google search terms “job title” and “duration of training” or “average salary” to find this information.
I want to be clear:
- Job titles do not define intelligence. I know many physicians who were former CNA’s, medics, nurses and PA’s. Twelve years from now that cashier from KFC might be my doctor in an Emergency Department. You never know.
- Salaries do not define worth. Medicine, like football, is a team sport, but not all players are paid the same. According to Sports Illustrated, tight ends are paid less than any other position with an average salary of $1.4m. Quarterbacks are paid the highest salaries averaging $3.4m. Teams need quarterbacks and tight ends; hospitals need physicians and ultrasound techs. They’re just not all paid the same. One of the smartest, most valuable team members in the Vandy ED was a medic with years of experience. I have no idea how much he was paid, but whatever it was, it wasn’t enough!
Without further adieu, here’s the chart:
|Title/Profession||Total Duration of Education (including undergraduate degree if necessary)||Average Annual Income||Additional Comments|
|Certified Nurse Aide (CNA)||2 months||$12/hr|
|Emergency Medicine Technician (EMT)||2 months (80-150 hours)||$33,000||“Basic” requires less time “Intermediate” more.|
|Medical Assistant (MA)||9 months||$14/hr|
|Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)||1 year||$42,000|
|Surgical Technologist||18 months||$42,000|
|Paramedic (Medic)||2 years||$40,000||EMT+6 months experience, then 1 year|
|Radiographer (X-ray Tech)||2 years||$44,000|
|Computed Tomography Technologist (CT Tech)||2 years||$60,000|
|Ultrasound Tech||2 years||$60,000|
|Respiratory Therapist (RT)||2 years||$57,000|
|Nurse RN-ADN (Associate Degree of Nursing)||2 years||$60,000|
|Radiation Therapist||2 years||$75,000|
|Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist (MRI Tech)||3 years||$66,000|
|Nurse RN-BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing)||4 years||$75,000|
|Child Life Specialist||5 years (Bachelor’s + internship)||$36,000|
|Perfusionist||5.5 years||$85,000||Perfusionists run bypass equipment during open-heart surgeries and ECMO machines.|
|Hospital Social Worker||6 years||$50,000|
|Physical Therapist||6 years||$76,000|
|Occupational Therapist||6 years||$72,000|
|Speech Language Pathologist||6 years||$74,000|
|Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)||6 years||$90,000|
|Medical Dosimetrist||6 years||$90,000||Skilled in physics, assists radiation oncologist with radiation planning/execution.|
|Physician Assistant (PA)||6 years||$148,000|
|Nurse Practitioner (NP)||6 years||$90,000||RN-BSN and 2 years of grad school minimum. However many programs require nursing experience. 16 states allow independent practice without physician oversight.|
|Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)||7 years||$90,000|
|Certified Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)||7 years||$148,000||RN-BSN plus 1 year critical care nursing, and 2 years of grad school|
Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Emergency Medicine
Anesthesiology, Obstetrics/Gynecology, Physical Medicine & Rehab, Pathology, Psychiatry, Dermatology, Neurology, Ophthalmology
Radiology, Radiation Oncology, General Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Urology, Otolaryngology
Gastroenterology, Cardiology, Infectious Disease, Rheumatology, Child Abuse, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Endocrinology, Hematology/Oncology, Nephrology, Neonatology, Pulmonology/Critical Care, Endocrine surgery, Colorectal Surgery, Vascular Surgery, Breast Surgery, Neurosurgery
Pediatric Surgery, Surgical Oncology, Cardiothoracic Surgery, Plastic Surgery, Surgical Critical Care/Emergency General Surgery (Trauma Surgery)
If this chart proves anything, it’s that becoming a physician is an exercise in delayed gratification. Do you remember the marshmallow experiment? This John Stossel report explains it (and gives some good parenting advice about why you shouldn’t give into the demands of tantrums):
So becoming a physician is like waiting for marshmallows. When you’re in medical school, you watch your friends buy homes while you’re scraping by on school loans. But 11-15 YEARS later – you get TWO marshmallows (and late night KFC).
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