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Survey shows why doctors choose medicine and the challenges they face


She was just 15 when it happened. She started having trouble breathing when she ran cross-country, and she felt intense itching on her body, especially her lower limbs. She would stay up all night because of it, but she wasn't really worried, just annoyed.

After visits to different skin doctors, an evaluation by a pediatric dermatologist at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Oregon changed everything.

“He was the one who said that this is really concerning and there is something more than a skin problem going on. He ordered some blood tests, and the results were not good, so then he ordered an MRI,” said Shira Einstein, now a third-year undergraduate medical student at Oregon Health and Science University.

Her mother broke some of the news to her.

“One day she picked me up at school, and I got in the car. She just started crying and she said, 'I just got a call about the MRI they did at Doernbecher, and they need us to go talk to a cancer doctor today,'" Einstein recalled.

The MRI showed a 10-centimeter mass in her chest. Her oncologist told her she had a life-threatening form of cancer that, if left untreated, would result in her death within a year. As she was undergoing treatment, she said, she had a very positive relationship with her doctors and nurses. The process forced her to become more emotionally mature; she remembers sitting in a room with doctors and talking about issues such as fertility.

“I grew up really fast. I think I went from being a kid that went to school and hung out with friends to getting this really intense sense of responsibility. I was like, I am going to be a doctor. I have to be a doctor, because these people saved my life,” Einstein said.

Einstein is one of many doctors or doctors-to-be who picked the profession because they wanted to help people, according to a new survey published this month. The survey, conducted by the American Medical Association, also addressed how satisfied physicians and medical students are with their career choice and the challenges they face, said Patrice Harris, who chairs the AMA board.

The survey found that nine in 10 physicians are satisfied with their choice. Medical students topped the chart, with 94 percent feeling very satisfied. When asked what motivated them to go into medicine, three-quarters of the respondents cited helping people as the main reason, followed by intellectual pursuit.

Like Einstein, four in five medical students and about 3 in 5 residents and physicians chose medicine because they had personal experiences either as a patient, volunteer or with family members, the survey found.

Where challenges were concerned, more than 60 percent of the residents and physicians ranked administrative burdens as one of the top difficulties they face. And despite the long hours, more than three in five medical students continue to pursue a medical career even after receiving some sort of discouragement, the survey found.

“Knowing the challenges helps the AMA be what we call a career ally” and will help the association design resources and tools to help medical students thrive, Harris said.

“I think we in medical education take these surveys very seriously,” said Rajesh Mangrulkar, associate dean for medical student education and associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan's medical school. “We put into play many initiatives that help our students be able to better manage stress so they can do a much better job in caring for others.”

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