It is quite obvious that the road to becoming a doctor is a long and difficult one. The sheer scope and scale of being a doctor, tasked with the duty of healing people’s ailments is huge. To not only know the ins and outs of the human body, and the different kinds of diseases that affect us on both a regular and irregular basis, but to also know and memorize all the different kinds of drugs and medicines meant to assist in their jobs, it’s no wonder that studying takes so long. But just how long, exactly? And how old do brand new surgeons actually start?
Let’s Do the Math
Most people end high school and start their undergraduate studies at the age of 18. Undergraduate courses are often chosen by aspiring doctors as a “pre-med” course. The most common pre-med courses include biology, chemistry, biochemistry physical sciences, humanities, psychology and human kinetics. These are meant to help give students sufficient background knowledge on certain aspects of medicine, such as different bodily functions in biology and human kinetics, the effects of drugs and other chemicals when they interact with living organisms in biochemistry, and even how to empathically deal with future patients in humanities and psychology.
Whatever the case may be, most undergraduate studies last for four years. That leaves us with most aspiring surgeons graduating from college at the age of 22. After which, it’s off to medical school.
Medical school is the grueling learning environment meant to train aspiring medical professionals in all aspects of medical science. Here, medical students study and learn the various knowledge and skills of the trade. They learn all the vital information on how the body works, moves, and functions, and also of the various diseases that they can expect to encounter, diagnose, and treat. Med students also take classes on pharmacology, where they familiarize themselves with the different drugs and medicines they’ll end up prescribing. And to top it all off, medical students also conduct numerous lab experiments, tests, and trials meant to simulate the
As you can imagine, this educational process takes many years. Five years to be exact, and working from the starting age, we can make the educated estimate that most students would graduate from medical school by the age of 27.
Of course, it’s not over yet. Seeing as how vast the field of medicine is, it’s virtually impossible for any one individual to specialize in all medical fields. This is where residency comes in. Residency is the post-graduate program wherein medical school graduates stay in a hospital for further learning and study, but this time focusing on their specific field of choice. Here, they are exposed to real-world cases and scenarios, as opposed to the simulated scenarios in medical school. It is here that they also experience life working in a hospital firsthand, and it is also where they get to gain advice and mentorship from seasoned doctors.
The length of residency varies from specialty to specialty. General surgery residency takes five years to complete, with other surgery specialties like neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, and plastic surgery taking an additional one to two years. In total, that’s 5-7 years of residency, which brings our end age to around 32-34 years old.
Amazingly enough, this is still not the end for a surgeon’s education and training. After residency, most surgeons also undertake a fellowship, which is basically an extension of their residency where they study further sub specializations like cardiothoracic surgery, pediatric surgery, vascular surgery, and others. Fellowships are designed to further the academic knowledge of doctors and surgeons in very specific fields of medicine, in order to further specialize themselves. Most fellowships last around 3 years, making the end age around 35-37 years old.
The Math Checks Out
According to various labor data science, the average median age for a surgeon at the time of their first appointment to a definite position in a hospital is 36.8 years old. Indeed, this advanced age for starting surgeons is quite shocking, considering that most people that age are already married with children, and already have well-established careers. But in the case of surgery, the sheer number of years it takes to get their first permanent position is truly a testament to how crucial the study of all aspects of medicine is.
Expenses, and Social Barriers
While it’s one thing to be at awe at the sheer length and difficulty the road to becoming a surgeon has, the practical, and monetary repercussions of taking on such a career path cannot be overstated. Medical school is among one of the most expensive schools in the world, so to stay in there for five years would cost a great deal of financial strain to the aspiring doctor’s family. In effect, this causes a bit of a class discrepancy with who can actually, realistically, aspire to be a doctor.
It’s a common thing to hear from children that they want to be a doctor when they grow up. But odds are, a vast majority of them ultimately did not end up going to medical school, due to the fact that their parents told them that going to medical school is too expensive. As such, only upper middle class families can afford the monumental expenses of medical school. This is also why there are many doctor “families” since the parents have most likely met during the long years they spent in medical school and/or residency, and they have enough financial capital to fund their own children following in their footsteps.
The Life of a Doctor
With all of this information, it’s easy to gleam on why doctors truly are special. It’s a lucrative job, yes, but one that almost disproportionately is wrought with so many barriers and challenges. Most young adults already get full-paying jobs at the age of 22 or even 18, while medical students have to wait more than a decade longer. In that time, they do not earn money, so it’s practically a losing proposition for almost all families who are trying to support a medical school student. Thankfully, inclusive scholarship programs are becoming more and more available in many schools around the world. So while the actual length of study may never change (and rightfully so), at least steps are being made to make the education itself to be more accessible for all.