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Courses Physics vs Medicine

  • Thread starter VNN
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VNN

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OK,I'm am currently going to go into y11 GCSE's...I have considered career option in engineering and physics(physicist)/Surgeon...

I personally absolutely love physics(And engineering) and it is one of my if not only true life passion...I'm intrigued by every aspect of it and i would like to study physics at oxford...

My DAD is a surgeon and my mum and dad are persuading me into a career in medicine and to be more specific:as a surgeon...

They list the benefits of the career on relation to physics /engineering such asigh pay,Respect,Easier for me due to dad being a surgeon,ETC...

I'm so confused ye determined on selecting a career so please could you assist me?

Also,Please don't say do your passion and its not for money as i am interested in medicine as well.

Thanks.
 

Choppy

Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
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Well, I can't speak much to the UK system, but I might be able to offer a few insights.

First, right now you're not deciding on a career. You're deciding on an education. While the two are related, they are separate things. I don't know how medicine works on your side of the pond. Over here (I'm in Canada), you do an undergraduate degree first, and so long as you get the appropriate prerequisite courses under your belt, it doesn't matter what you major in. So you can study physics or engineering and still get into medicine if that's what you decide you want to do.

Physics itself is an academic subject. There is a lot you can do WITH it, but it's actually quite rare to end up working as a physicist the way most people think of it (i.e. as a professor leading a research program). As a rough rule of thumb, you're looking at a 1/10 chance of remaining in academia for your career if you successfully complete a PhD (which is no small feat in and of itself). More often people end up figuring out some way of using their skills in the commercial sector - programming, engineering, project management, data mining, statistics, etc. Most of them are happy and earn a comfortable living, but they are not refining models for Alcubierre drives.

Medicine is quite competitive to get into (at least over here it is). But entrance into medical school seems to be the major bottleneck into the profession of medicine. The bar is so high that not too many people fail out. And there is some significant competition for the desirable residencies, but I think one you successfully complete your medical education there is a lot of room to grow into a career in the field. Salary-wise you're on the high end of most professions - probably earning at least a factor of 3 times that salary of the alternative you who chose to go into physics (once you finish your residency of course - it's also worth keeping in mind the enormous debt load that medical students accumulate). One of the major down sides though is that medicine tends to be an all-consuming career. There is not a lot of time for other things in your live - depending of course on your specialty.

Finally there are ways of combining the fields. I'm a medical physicist, for example, and I work in radiation oncology physics. This is a professional sub-field of physics (probably a lot closer to engineering than what most people think of as physics), and so there is a much higher chance of getting a job in the field. You could also looking into biomedical engineering or biophysics.
 

berkeman

Mentor
55,699
5,782
OK,I'm am currently going to go into y11 GCSE's...I have considered career option in engineering and physics(physicist)/Surgeon...

I personally absolutely love physics(And engineering) and it is one of my if not only true life passion...I'm intrigued by every aspect of it and i would like to study physics at oxford...

My DAD is a surgeon and my mum and dad are persuading me into a career in medicine and to be more specific:as a surgeon...

They list the benefits of the career on relation to physics /engineering such asigh pay,Respect,Easier for me due to dad being a surgeon,ETC...

I'm so confused ye determined on selecting a career so please could you assist me?

Also,Please don't say do your passion and its not for money as i am interested in medicine as well.

Thanks.
Have you had an opportunity to make patient contacts in a medical setting? Have you perhaps tried volunteering at a local hospital? Are you currently certified in First Aid / CPR / AED? If so, are there any local events near you where you could volunteer on the medical team?

My degree is MSEE, and I've worked in R&D for many years and have enjoyed it -- It is challenging and rewarding. But because I live very close to an earthquake fault here in Silicon Valley, I have gotten training in citizen disaster response, and we do lots of practice drills with the local Fire and Police departments. As I participated in those drills over the years, I could see that we would need a lot more medical help in a real disaster, so I earned my EMT license and started working part-time emergency medical shifts on weekends. That was 9 years ago now, and I've come to find that I really enjoy the patient contacts that I have made in my EMT work. Even with the difficult patients and those in desperate trouble, I really enjoy being able to help them medically.

If I knew about how much I enjoy patient contacts back in undergrad university, I probably would have chosen to go into medicine instead of STEM/Engineering. I probably would have worked to become an Emergency Department MD or Nurse.

So my point is that IMO, you should make your decision based on how you feel about your patient contacts so far. If you have none, I'd recommend getting the basic First Aid training and doing some volunteering at a hospital and/or local events. After a few months of those patient contacts, you will either really enjoy them, or you may not like them. It's better to find this out now, rather than part-way through Medical School as you start your clinical rotations... :smile:
 

StatGuy2000

Education Advisor
1,634
714
Well, I can't speak much to the UK system, but I might be able to offer a few insights.

First, right now you're not deciding on a career. You're deciding on an education. While the two are related, they are separate things. I don't know how medicine works on your side of the pond. Over here (I'm in Canada), you do an undergraduate degree first, and so long as you get the appropriate prerequisite courses under your belt, it doesn't matter what you major in. So you can study physics or engineering and still get into medicine if that's what you decide you want to do.

Physics itself is an academic subject. There is a lot you can do WITH it, but it's actually quite rare to end up working as a physicist the way most people think of it (i.e. as a professor leading a research program). As a rough rule of thumb, you're looking at a 1/10 chance of remaining in academia for your career if you successfully complete a PhD (which is no small feat in and of itself). More often people end up figuring out some way of using their skills in the commercial sector - programming, engineering, project management, data mining, statistics, etc. Most of them are happy and earn a comfortable living, but they are not refining models for Alcubierre drives.

Medicine is quite competitive to get into (at least over here it is). But entrance into medical school seems to be the major bottleneck into the profession of medicine. The bar is so high that not too many people fail out. And there is some significant competition for the desirable residencies, but I think one you successfully complete your medical education there is a lot of room to grow into a career in the field. Salary-wise you're on the high end of most professions - probably earning at least a factor of 3 times that salary of the alternative you who chose to go into physics (once you finish your residency of course - it's also worth keeping in mind the enormous debt load that medical students accumulate). One of the major down sides though is that medicine tends to be an all-consuming career. There is not a lot of time for other things in your live - depending of course on your specialty.

Finally there are ways of combining the fields. I'm a medical physicist, for example, and I work in radiation oncology physics. This is a professional sub-field of physics (probably a lot closer to engineering than what most people think of as physics), and so there is a much higher chance of getting a job in the field. You could also looking into biomedical engineering or biophysics.
Hi Choppy. From my understanding, in the UK (unlike in Canada or the US, where you would either complete a full 4-year degree program prior to being accepted to medical school, or a minimum of 3 years of pre-med studies before being accepted), medical studies begin immediately at the undergraduate level. So the OP cannot just study any field and expect to pursue medical studies -- he/she will need to make that decision upon graduation from the O-levels or A-levels (the British equivalent of the last couple of years of high school).

British members of PF -- can you correct me above if I'm mistaken?
 

Larry Gopnik

Gold Member
33
19
Hi Choppy. From my understanding, in the UK (unlike in Canada or the US, where you would either complete a full 4-year degree program prior to being accepted to medical school, or a minimum of 3 years of pre-med studies before being accepted), medical studies begin immediately at the undergraduate level. So the OP cannot just study any field and expect to pursue medical studies -- he/she will need to make that decision upon graduation from the O-levels or A-levels (the British equivalent of the last couple of years of high school).

British members of PF -- can you correct me above if I'm mistaken?
Brit here, you have to decide your uni course at the start of your last year of secondary school, not when you finish secondary school. Yes, you specialise straight away when you go into university, even with medicine. O-Levels do not exist - they are now GCSEs. You pretty much need to make your course decision at the end of GCSEs (age 16) when you move into sixth form - which are the last two years of school when you take your A-Levels.
 

berkeman

Mentor
55,699
5,782
You pretty much need to make your course decision at the end of GCSEs (age 16)
Ouch. That doesn't seem like a very good system, IMO. I guess it has some advantages, but how many 16 year olds know for sure what career they want to pursue...
 

StatGuy2000

Education Advisor
1,634
714
Brit here, you have to decide your uni course at the start of your last year of secondary school, not when you finish secondary school. Yes, you specialise straight away when you go into university, even with medicine. O-Levels do not exist - they are now GCSEs. You pretty much need to make your course decision at the end of GCSEs (age 16) when you move into sixth form - which are the last two years of school when you take your A-Levels.
Here's a question for you, Larry -- suppose someone chooses your course decision at the end of GCSEs and take the last 2 years of school in your A-levels, but decide you want to change. How easily can this be done? For example, suppose that someone initially thought of studying, say, engineering, but instead decides to study law. Is there a way for a British student to make that change at some stage during university?
 

Larry Gopnik

Gold Member
33
19
Here's a question for you, Larry -- suppose someone chooses your course decision at the end of GCSEs and take the last 2 years of school in your A-levels, but decide you want to change. How easily can this be done? For example, suppose that someone initially thought of studying, say, engineering, but instead decides to study law. Is there a way for a British student to make that change at some stage during university?
Sorry, I must not have explained well. At A-Levels (age 26 16) you take (normally) 4 subjects (people can chose less or more but it's pretty much the norm to take 4) and those four guide you into university. I took Maths, Physics, Further Maths, IT and Chemistry (okay I took five) and tts from them where I applied for university - with these I could go into most stem subjects From my choice there is no way I could apply to cpurses on subjects such as the Humanties or Art subjects. I chose Physics at university so I only take Physics and Maths modules - I can't take say... Any English or Law etc. modules. The only non- Physics module option available to me is to take a language module instead one specified physics module, in the year I've just finished you could swap out Introduction to Astrophysics for a language so I took Advanced Japanese in its place, but every other module is preallocated by the Physics department.

Say if I went to uni on the Physics course and decided I didn't like Physics, either I'd have had to change within the first 4 weeks of arriving or drop out and start another course afresh starting next September. The second option of course causes problems with student finance and could mean your funding will be refused in the later years.
 
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StatGuy2000

Education Advisor
1,634
714
Sorry, I must not have explained well. At A-Levels (age 26 16) you take (normally) 4 subjects (people can chose less or more but it's pretty much the norm to take 4) and those four guide you into university. I took Maths, Physics, Further Maths, IT and Chemistry (okay I took five) and tts from them where I applied for university - with these I could go into most stem subjects From my choice there is no way I could apply to cpurses on subjects such as the Humanties or Art subjects. I chose Physics at university so I only take Physics and Maths modules - I can't take say... Any English or Law etc. modules. The only non- Physics module option available to me is to take a language module instead one specified physics module, in the year I've just finished you could swap out Introduction to Astrophysics for a language so I took Advanced Japanese in its place, but every other module is preallocated by the Physics department.

Say if I went to uni on the Physics course and decided I didn't like Physics, either I'd have had to change within the first 4 weeks of arriving or drop out and start another course afresh starting next September. The second option of course causes problems with student finance and could mean your funding will be refused in the later years.
From what I gather above, the British educational system forces students to make their choice of what field to pursue really during the secondary school period, and doesn't easily for flexibility for students to change their studies easily.
 
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You have to decide if it's your thing to work with patients. That's what most MD's do. And it's very different from a career in science or engineering.
 

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