Overrated Career: Physician 2009

Doctors are spending less time than ever with patients and more on paperwork.

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The Appeal: You get to help keep people healthy and cure them when they're sick. Prestige is high, and so is the pay.

The Reality: Fewer and fewer patients see their physicians as godlike, especially those who go online for medical information. Doctors are spending less time than ever with patients and more on paperwork. Insurers keep hacking away at physician costs. And it seems increasingly more likely that physician pay will decline as part of healthcare reform. Also, their workload will more likely increase as the existing cadre of physicians may be required to care for the 47 million currently uninsured people in the United States.

And those are just the new problems. This career has long had other liabilities. The training spans more than a decade, including four years of science-heavy college coursework, four demanding, expensive (often $200,000) years of medical school, followed by an internship year of 90-plus hours a week, and capped by a few years of residency. After completing all that, there's usually the ongoing stress of managing your office, trying to care for noncompliant patients, giving unsuspecting patients bad news, and seeing some get sicker and die.

So it's not surprising that, according to a recent survey of primary care physicians by the Physicians Foundation, 49% of the 12,000 respondents said they would seriously consider leaving medicine within the next three years if they had an alternative.

An Alternative: Physician Assistant