The other day my dad was reading the paper aloud in the morning hoping to catch my attention with the news “IIT student gets 1 crore starting salary (that’s like 10 million dollars in American currency) in a software job” he said and looked slyly at me as I was tying up my shoe laces preparatory to leaving the house for work. I didn’t say anything to the obvious sarcasm, for what could I say? An amount that big? To tell the truth I haven’t even seen such a big amount of money leave alone make it even after so many years of working and earning and here was a kid just out of his teens earning such an obscenely huge amount every year. Point made to his satisfaction my dad went back to reading the rest of his paper.
All day that day i felt an irritating itch in the back of my mind that i was a failure in life and to avoid explanations for my gloomy face i spent time alone -whenever i could get away from the crowds outside- analyzing where i went wrong in my life to end up here – among those who didn’t earn one crore a year. Of course it was blindingly obvious where it had all started going wrong – in my utterly stupid (in hindsight) choice of education and career. And to think that i had turned down an engineering admission to select a career in medicine is what made it all the more galling. If only I had had more sense at that age. If only I had not lusted after those stupid two words “Dr” in front of my name. If only i had not been seduced by the coolness of wearing that white coat. If only i had been clever enough and selfish enough (like those IIT students) to put myself first rather than some abstract concept called society or people, I too could have been making a crore an year. Hell I could have made even more given that i am not exactly a dunce and was more than a match for any engineer when it comes to intelligence.
The fact is on an average basis doctors are as good as and intelligent as any other field of specialists- like software engineers, like nuclear physicists etc. Besides doctors are trained to work long hours continuously without complaining, to get by with whatever is available at the moment by employing their initiative and to make difficult decisions in real time and implement them confidently. Pop a doctor into any unfamiliar work environment and he or she will most probably pull their weight around far sooner than you expect.
This is because the medical profession has not only a very steep selection process they also train the hell out of you to mange any kind of situation coolly- a skill which is translatable to any field. Despite the long, hard, years and years of training even the best doctors- even those at the top of the profession- never get to make the kind of money you read about in the papers as being offered to young software engineers in their twenties. Face it, even a cardio-thoracic surgeon or a heart doctor who can remove a dead heart and replace it with a live heart bringing a dead person back to life- never makes the kind of money offered to a fresh software engineer- for think about it, how many patients have to actually get an heart attack (and nearly die) for the doctor to make so much money in the same period?
And can you honestly say that the value to society of a senior and talented cardio-thoracic surgeon is less than that of a kid who just graduated with a engineering degree. Such easy money offered as starting salaries to beginners has another un-looked for effect on society beyond the obvious financial implications. For kids who see and hear about the humongous salaries being paid by IT jobs will naturally gravitate towards such jobs – and even those who don’t have an engineering degree want to work in the IT field as support staff for services. For face it, who would say no to more money? As time passes the other professions like medicine, science and even finance would attract less and less intelligent people. In fact I already see this in my field- most of the new practitioners in the field of medicine are those who already have a secure job at home – either their fathers/extended families own large/multiple hospital chains and wouldn’t mind paying any amount of capitation fees to make their kids a doctor (to carry on the family business) whether the kid is interested or has an aptitude for medicine or not.
Intelligent kids with no family background in medicine are already avoiding joining the medical profession. I myself have personally advised two of my neighborhood kids – bright fellows- to avoid joining medicine at all costs but to go join any engineering college/course and to get an software job -because there is no future in medicine. If after a certain period of time all the intelligent kids go away to become software engineers and only the dumb ones become doctors think how society would be? If god forbid you fall sick and you have an absolute moron operating on you -who only became a doctor because his dad could afford to pay whatever money was required to make him one? This is not a farfetched scenario- it is happening even as we speak.
And this is an inexorable process- no one can stop it. If the market determines every individual’s value then people who have value will naturally gravitate towards the highest bidder. For a large salary translates into a comfortable life, a good profile in the marriage market – haven’t you seen those ads in the matrimony columns of newspapers specifying grooms with MS degree/Green cards and onsite in USA? – and maybe a house in the city with a vacation home for the weekend- the perfect American dream in a poor country like India where other people struggle to find a tiny flat on rent as they cannot afford the high rent rates being charged by householders who assume that everyone is a software engineer and earn such large salaries- a perfect recipe for social disturbance. And that’s why I feel that disproportionate salaries in an otherwise poor country where everyone else earns very less is a recipe for disaster.
And let me conclude by talking about what many of you who read this will be itching (are your fingers already poised over the comments column?) to advice me- that medicine is a noble profession and i should be happy to serve people even if i make no money and such feel-good dialogues designed to make me feel better. The truth is those who say that medicine is a noble profession and doctors should not mind serving the poor for free – those people who mouth such empty platitudes – are most often those who earn in crores too. It is easy to preach moralistic platitudes on behalf of others and tougher to practice it. Those who earn in 7 and 6 figures are those who advice others to be happy with 3 or 4 figure salaries. That’s why I always avoid anyone who tries to preach to me about “MY” duties as a doctor. Hell, I already know them all, for i chose to become one didn’t i? While you who preach to us did not opt to.
Let me remind you that doctors are human beings too- we need to eat too, to buy/wear clothes and take care of our families and those who depend on us. You cannot force anyone else to sacrifice himself for society- maybe one or two saints will be there like that- but the majority of doctors would like to manage a comfortable living along with their social responsibilities. A working balance between ethics and earnings is what all doctors’ aim for and any disruption of this will lead to adverse events like overcharging and unnecessary treatments – something we are already beginning to see everywhere. So instead of blaming the medical profession for not standing up to the arbitrary standards of “noble profession” determined by society let society too reflect on why doctors are necessary for societal well being and why chasing kids away from medicine as a profession would be a bad idea for the further generations. Please think on that- a future where everyone is a software engineer and there are no doctors.
And as for me personally, having thought all day about it, I can only come to the conclusion that my dad is right. Society respects money and as long as doctors make less money than, say software technicians, we will always be seen as second class citizens with no real respect from anyone in the society. To regain respect from people I feel I have no other option except to resign my job, tear up my degree certificates and using my high school qualifications- apply again for an engineering degree- to start from the basics again. And four years into the future – I will probably be offered a software job with a starting salary in the crores too. That seems the wisest course right now- a mid-life course correction for an error made when young and innocent. So what do you think? Can I become a software engineer now? Or is it too late to do so?