If you are reading this post, you are likely contemplating on whether to spend the next four years of your academic career pursuing a major in engineering or medicine.
Before I get into the gist of the two worlds, I would like to point out that both engineering and medicine are highly competitive fields. With that being said, those seeking to enter such need to prepare for sleepless nights, rigorous coursework year after year, and at times the will to sacrifice your social life. If any of the preceding overwhelm or scare you, then neither engineering or medicine is the right route for you.
Please note: When I refer to “doctor”, I am referring to a primary care physician, general practitioner, or general doctor (however you prefer to call it). I am not referring to cardiologists, gastroenterologists, dermatologists, radiologists, or any other medical specialist. Also note, when I refer to “engineering”, I am referring to Electrical Engineering, as this tends to be the most popular engineering major at four-year universities nationally.
Here are some pros and cons of pursuing a pre-med degree:
Pros: Diverse course load, laboratory experience, cognitive benefits in learning organic chemistry.
Cons: Lots of “weeding out” classes in first two years, loads of redundant memorizing, high GPA is a must for medical school, taking 3-4 science classes at a time, and essentially working towards a low-paying degree unless used for further academic study.
Here are some pros and cons of pursuing an Engineering degree:
Pros: Excellent early career salary, high likelihood of rising to top management positions, abundant job opportunities in every sector worldwide.
Cons: MATLAB, Many of the high-level abstract math classes required are unnecessary for the actual profession, rigorously competitive atmosphere at colleges with known programs, few practical skills upon graduation, lack of Co-Op programs while in school.
Statistically, most physicians are dissatisfied with their their job. A 2008 survey of 12,000 physicians found that only 6% described their morale as positive, and nearly 85% said that their incomes were stagnant or decreasing. The profession has far drifted from what it used to be in the 90’s, and many can argue that with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act under President Obama, battling through the demon known as medical school is a million dollar mistake. Physicians are being squeezed by new dubious billing practices which limits time spent with patients and decreases the number of patients a physician can see.
Now to the million dollar mistake claim: According to NerdWallet research, the average medical school student goes into $166,750 worth of debt. To pay that debt off over 30 years at 7.5% interest, it winds up to being around $475,000 worth of debt. In addition to that, you need to add the income that the medical student could have been making during the ten years that their fellow colleagues from undergrad had been accumulating income. Let’s say the average colleague starts his or her career at $50,000 per year. That’s $50,000 times ten years which amounts to the other half ($500,000) of the million dollars.
Despite recent statistics, doctors possess skills that the world desperately needs and that no one can take away. Is it a million dollar mistake if you truly found your purpose? No. You cannot put a price tag on finding your self worth or purpose in life.
Now to engineering…
According to the American Society of Engineering Education, 40-50% of engineering students either switch to other majors or drop out entirely.
Students note poor quality of teaching and advising, a difficult and demanding curriculum, and a lack of “belonging” erodes a students confidence and ability to stay on track with the program.
While this remains true, middle and top tier electrical engineer students are scooped up by the bundle at companies such as Raytheon, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing upon graduation. As you can see, almost half of all jobs available to electrical engineers consist of working for the Department of Defense and other similar government contracted agencies.
For those students who are fortunate enough to have made it to the more well known companies, the probability of jobs being outsourced to countries like China and India with cheaper labor is always a looming fear in a globalized economy.
And while a generous starting salary in the range of $59-75K is certainly a perk of working at a larger known company right out of college, these options are not always available to a vast majority of engineering students who graduate with below a 3.0 GPA.
Was the four years of undergrad stress worth it? Ask any electrical engineer a year or two into their career, and they will tell you that other than applying the principles, only 10-15% of what is learned in the classroom is used in everyday work. At times, this leads young idealistic engineers to become disillusioned while forced to work on projects that they are not particularly passionate about.
Like every other college student, engineers face the same struggle of having high amounts of student loan debt. Despite the generous starting salary of $59-75K, having tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt is no way to jump-start a career.
Despite what any credible source says about engineers being in demand, that piece of paper is no guarantee to a stable job. When the economy is in a downhill spiral (as it has been recently), anyone from a Raytheon or Lockheed Martin to a smaller local firm is subject to packing their bags.
So which is the better career? The ball is in your court.