# Which path to take: medicine or actuarial science?

1. Jul 20, 2011

### Maurice7510

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?

Thanks

2. Jul 20, 2011

Staff Emeritus
Are you asking us if you are guaranteed to succeed if you want to become a doctor? Or an actuary? What is the question?

3. Jul 20, 2011

### MissSilvy

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.

4. Jul 20, 2011

### daveb

http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos041.htm"Actuaries can make a great deal of money.

Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
5. Jul 20, 2011

### streeters

So you're deciding which highly paid career to go into? And neither of them are physics based?

6. Jul 21, 2011

### Maurice7510

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.

7. Jul 21, 2011

### chiro

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).

8. Jul 21, 2011

### Choppy

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.

9. Jul 21, 2011

### lisab

Staff Emeritus
How would you rather spend your work day: sitting at a computer for 8+ hours, or being around sick people for 8+ hours?

10. Jul 21, 2011

### Mike H

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.

11. Jul 21, 2011

### Locrian

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.

12. Jul 21, 2011

### Locrian

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.

13. Jul 21, 2011

### Locrian

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.

14. Jul 21, 2011

### Locrian

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.

15. Jul 21, 2011

### Edin_Dzeko

Pre-med student here:

Physics
Gen Chem
Organic Chem
Biology

Some schools may require Calc. and additional requirements but generally, they all want the 4 mentioned above.

16. Jul 21, 2011

### Edin_Dzeko

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.

17. Jul 22, 2011

### Maurice7510

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.

18. Jul 22, 2011

### Locrian

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.

19. Jul 22, 2011

### EricVT

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.

20. Jul 22, 2011