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Which path to take: medicine or actuarial science?

  1. Jul 20, 2011 #1
    Hi, I'm currently going into my second year of university as a math major and I am strongly considering becoming an actuary. I really enjoy math and physics, so I'm minoring in physics at the moment, though that may have to change for more business courses. I would therefore love a job that could use math, or at least the sciences. More importantly, however, I want a job that will pay well, and very well. I have thus been considering taking the MCAT. My issue is that I have absolutely no experience in chemistry, and only grade 11 bio. I can take entrance level bio and chem just to cover the exam, but is it worth it?
    I don't know what exactly would be on the MCAT, but from what I understand, I need bio, organic chem and inorganic chem, so 3 classes. I could definitely fit them in, but is it a waste of time? or should I focus on math and business?

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  3. Jul 20, 2011 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Are you asking us if you are guaranteed to succeed if you want to become a doctor? Or an actuary? What is the question?
  4. Jul 20, 2011 #3
    To be honest, doctors don't make a lot in proportion to the effort that they spent in school and residency when all is said and done. Neither do physicists. If money is your sole concern, business is a ridiculously easy college major in most places and I've seen quite a few people make a lot of money for very little effort. I'd personally go for an economics degree though. Business degrees are narrow in their application and a little light on the math.
  5. Jul 20, 2011 #4
    http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos041.htm"Actuaries can make a great deal of money.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  6. Jul 20, 2011 #5
    So you're deciding which highly paid career to go into? And neither of them are physics based?
  7. Jul 21, 2011 #6
    Firstly, no I'm not asking about a guaranteed job, I'm asking if it's better to kind of go for both, or if I should focus on one specifically, and if so, which one. Secondly, I thought doctors make a lot; regardless of the amount of schooling they put in, wouldn't they be able to pay it of quickly? Thirdly, I'm not a physics major, so a physics based career isn't nearly as likely as a math based one.
    Really what I'm getting at is my first point and that whatever I do, I want to get paid a lot. That is to say, enough to buy a really nice house after a few years of work, without having to pay mortgage.
  8. Jul 21, 2011 #7


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    Since you're already in a math major, you will have a more realistic view of what is required of an actuary, so that's definitely positive.

    In terms of exams, maybe you should you get some examples of your respective professional actuary website. They should give you a more realistic indication of what is expected in that regard (I think you may find the demands to be greater than the standard in your university).

    As for the "inside perspective", hopefully Locrian can jump in and give you an "insiders" view of the job since he is an actuary (I'm just a stats major).

    Again, in regards to exams, you need to do things like economics and business subjects like accounting, digesting financial reports and so on.

    I decided against it because in the end I didn't have the motivation to study the business subjects and was interested in other applications of statistics, but don't let me stop you: if you end up pursuing the route and become qualified, I'm sure you'll find yourself in a rewarding career (I base this statement off other posts like Locrian who do work in the field).
  9. Jul 21, 2011 #8


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    Based on your initial post, it sounds like your only reason to attempt medical school is the potential money you could be making from that career, I won't say that's a bad reason to look at it. However, it's a gruelling path and if you don't actually have any interest in it whatsoever you're going to have a hard time getting to the point where you'll be making the really big money.

    If, on the other hand, you're genuinely interested in medicine, there are many paths to a financially rewarding career if you go that route.

    Something to keep in mind though is that even medical degree is not always a meal ticket these days. Many medical students come out of school with an enormous amount of debt and then chose a residency which is not that well-payed. If they perform well, it works out great, but if they perform poorly and end up not passing their specialty exams they waste a lot of time.
  10. Jul 21, 2011 #9


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    How would you rather spend your work day: sitting at a computer for 8+ hours, or being around sick people for 8+ hours?
  11. Jul 21, 2011 #10
    Unless things have changed, medical schools typically expect a full year of general or inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and introductory biology (all with laboratory) in their candidates. So if your school runs on a semester schedule, that would be at least three classes per semester, presuming that there is an integrated laboratory component.

    You won't start making money as a physician, for the most part, until you've finished your residency and paid off your student loans. And while there are specialties that reduce the amount of time one spends around sick people, they are often very competitive.
  12. Jul 21, 2011 #11
    Some of this may be true, but it sounds to me as if the OP is looking specifically into actuarial science, which would mean none of it would apply to them. The big hurdles to getting a job as an actuary are the preliminary actuarial exams (which are entirely mathematical in content) and a somewhat overcrowded entry level marketplace. A business degree isn’t the usual route to becoming an actuary, though it isn’t a bad choice.
  13. Jul 21, 2011 #12
    Let me comment on statistical data of the salary and working condition of “actuaries”. The income data usually includes both actuarial students and credentialed actuaries in the same bucket. The median annual wages of credentialed actuaries is not $85k, it is significantly higher. This is an important distinction because those who do not get credentialed will not make $85k as a student; they may well be fired, or pushed into another department.

    Some recruiters do salary surveys. DW simpson and Claude Penland are two – googling should get you quick results. I have seen many discussions about their validity and consider them to be reasonably accurate, assuming you also consider benefits (greater or less than the norm) and remember to include bonuses.

    With some research one can find many examples where actuarial work is touted by the media as being low stress. This is true for some credentialed actuaries, but not all. It is also blisteringly, mind bendingly untrue that being an actuarial student is low stress. Working full time and studying for exams is not easy, and toss in some family obligations and it can be very hard.

    Being an actuary can be lucrative, but there's a price to pay.
  14. Jul 21, 2011 #13
    As to the question of whether to be a doctor or an actuary, that’s a really tough call. I mean, not tough for me – I’ve never for a day in my life wanted to be a doctor. But I can see the appeal. I’m not sure anyone can help you make that decision.

    My father is a doctor, and I’m an actuarial student, so maybe I know more than most. It’s still not much though, because the future of both professions is so uncertain – doctor more than actuary. Here are some thoughts, in no particular order.

    The cost, both in time and money, of becoming a doctor is much higher than that of becoming an actuary. The pay for a doctor is correspondingly higher. Net present value calculations I’ve done suggested to me that doctors make more money than actuaries. However, there’s even more risk, as the probability that something will happen to prevent you from becoming a doctor is higher. Both are challenging.

    Where are you located? I hate that this is never included in these posts, as it’s so critical. If you’re in the UK and want to become a doctor for the money, don’t. If you’re in the US and want to become a doctor to help people while making good money, you’re dreaming. If you’re in the US and a doctor, you’re either going to help people, or you’re going to make money, but you’re not going to do both.

    As an actuary you will never, ever, as part of your job, cause someone to die. Ever. You won’t even make them sick, though you may upset senior management on a few occasions. You won’t perform a septic procedure, you won’t misdiagnose an illness, and you won’t accidently give someone the wrong medication. No one is going to hug you and thank you for saving their lives, either, but if that’s what you’re into, become a fireman, because doctors don’t get a lot of credit.

    Ultimately, it won’t matter which you choose so much as it will matter that you excel at them.
  15. Jul 21, 2011 #14
    Ah. Well, you’re not going to get to do this as a doctor because student loan and other considerations will reduce your effective take home. You won’t accomplish this as an actuary because you’ll spend many years as a student ramping up your income.

    I don’t even think it’s a smart measure, because it doesn’t take into account the amount of time before you start working. Why not use the time from now until your mortgage is paid off as your metric? TBH, I think the only good metric is a risk adjusted net present value of the different career paths. Goodluck with that one.

    One career that will accomplish your goal as written is Lottery Winner. Warning: Barriers to entry are high.
  16. Jul 21, 2011 #15
    Pre-med student here:

    Gen Chem
    Organic Chem

    Some schools may require Calc. and additional requirements but generally, they all want the 4 mentioned above.
  17. Jul 21, 2011 #16
    Don't simplify it to that extent, lis. There's more to it than that. The field of medicine is very broad and it's not only "sick" people that you deal with. People who get plastic surgery for their breasts and other parts of their body may not necessarily be "sick" (maybe in the head) :rofl:

    And honestly, unless one is one's own boss or something what job would one not work 8+ hours or more? Even self employed people work 8+ hours or more.
  18. Jul 22, 2011 #17
    I should point out 2 main things in response to these: I'm living in Canada, but willing to relocate, and I'm very interested in the sciences and even quite adept at them, so interest levels and difficulty levels are not my concern. I'd be equally interested in both, and I'm willing to do a lot of hard work, and I'll do it well. I just want the greatest payoff, with the least risk of unemployment. I'm confident that I can complete actuarial exams with good marks, and likewise complete med school with good marks, it's just that I don't know how likely I am to get into a good med school vs how likely I am to acquire a high paying actuary job.
  19. Jul 22, 2011 #18
    Being in Canada changes the discussion about being an actuary a lot, because actuarial jobs are harder to get up there and they don't pay quite as well. I'm not sure about the medical side.

    It's really not worth a discussion of the details though. Reading your posts again, especially the last one, makes it clear to me that you're either asking the right people the wrong questions or you're asking the right question of the wrong people.

    "Compare my financial success in two wildly different professions fifteen years from now" is simply not going to get you the response you're looking for.
  20. Jul 22, 2011 #19
    Don't become a physician for the money. You will find yourself miserable and you will hate your career. If you aren't personally and professionally fulfilled by the 11 hours you spend every day in the clinic then all the money in the world won't make it a worthwhile career path for you.

    If you think being a physician is waking up, going through some motions for 8 hours per day and then driving home with a fat paycheck...think again. The money can be good, but being a physician requires MANY personal sacrifices.
  21. Jul 22, 2011 #20
    I just can't imagine why you would bring it down to these two careers. There are other careers that pay very well that don't require as much effort yet can yield very positive outcomes. For instance, if you decide to get an M.S. in systems/software engineering, computer science, or electrical engineering, you could get to be very useful to a lot of people. I mention those fields because your education as a mathematics major wouldn't require you to backtrack too much to cover some of the fundamentals, and if you're willing to take some classes now you could make a seamless transition. If you take those skills and get a security clearance, you could be making some really good money. If you're a math major, I would assume that you like math and enjoy it. Practical applications of math can be lucrative as well as let you do the things you love. I can understand actuarial science, but why medical school?
  22. Jul 22, 2011 #21
    There's no such thing. A basic tenet of economics says that you can get the most X with a certain degree of Y, or a certain amount of X with the least Y. So you have to define what you want first, and then go from there. The "best buy" namely only exists when you know what you're out for in more concrete terms.
  23. Jul 23, 2011 #22
    I think that perhaps Locrian is right; I'll try to rework my question. I know I want to make a lot of money, and I know there can be a lot of money in both actuarial science and medicine. I really enjoy math and physics, but I've also enjoyed the other sciences since I was young, and deeply regret not taking chem or much bio in highschool. To also incorporate hadsed's comment, I have considered those, but comp sci isn't exactly my thing, and if there's one thing I abhor about physics, it was pretty much any unit involving electricity. Thus, I have narrowed it down to doctor or actuary, and my real and initial question is which will I enjoy more, though I recognize that it would be impossible for anyone to actually answer. I understand that neither job is a walk in the park, and that both require a lot of work to even get into, which is why I'm trying to work out the kinks before I make that big of a commitment. In response to Ryker, I think that both jobs would pay well, so maybe it's just the risk of unemployment I'm concerned about. But perhaps I'll ask this question: should I take classes in organic and inorganic chem and bio or would it be a waste of time?
  24. Aug 3, 2011 #23
    new plan: maybe switch into physics, because goddamn I love physics, and also take chem and bio. good plan?
  25. Aug 3, 2011 #24


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    I think you should be a bit flexible before you jump into any one of those fields including medicine, actuary, or science. They all require very large commitments if you want to do any of them well, and as such you need to know what you are getting into.

    Based on what you have said, I would do a science degree base and then use your experience in that to be more specific so that you can choose a major.

    Medicine and physics require lab components in different areas, so maybe you could do a science concentration with something like physics, chemistry, math, and biology corresponding to medicine pre-requisites and physics. If you don't like science, but want to try math/stats, then as long as you do your standard first year calculus stream, you should be able to (if your program is like mine) be able to pick up an introductory stats stream, and other appropriate math subjects.

    My advice (and this based on my own learning through mistakes) is to find something specific and stick with it at least until you get your bachelors. You can decide in your second year but try and make a decision by then so that at least when you finish you have something to help you when you do further study. Chances are you will be in something you have a decent interest in, so this makes transitions to similar fields more palette-able.

    Use your first year wisely to help you choose. I remember going through all kinds of subjects from biology to accounting to get a taste of what I was going to stick to and I'm glad I did. I even did a teaching prac in a high school and that was a great learning experience.

    Good luck to you, and I say that sincerely because your situation reminds me of myself years ago.
  26. Aug 6, 2011 #25
    It seems a little twisted that seemingly the only reason you want to be a doctor is for the money. Being a doctor requires empathy, warmth and care, and if you're not considering the profession at least partially due to a desire to help people you probably wont provide the care to your patients that they deserve. Become an actuary.
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