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I want to be a doctor. What will my salary be?

Despite what many think, doctors aren't just in it for the money

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This story is part of the Globe Careers’ series looking at specific jobs, with their qualifications, descriptions, responsibilities and current salaries. For more, see our Salaries series.

Job: Doctor

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Salary:

Starting at about $250,000 and can increase to more than $800,000 depending on the type of doctor. Pediatricians and family doctors are on the lower end of the scale, while cardiologists – with hearts often literally in their hands – are some of the top money makers.

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Education:

Doctors make a lot of money but they can spend up to 15 years readying for the profession. After gaining a university degree, doctors attend four years of medical school and then between two to six years in residency, depending on their chosen field of medicine. Four years of university and another four years of medical school costs roughly $100,000 in tuition alone. It’s not uncommon for most doctors to enter the workforce with more than $150,000 in education debt, says Dr. Jonathan Kerr, a family physician and president-elect at the Ontario College of Family Physicians.

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The job:

Family doctors not only care for patients, many also work in hospital emergency rooms and some have leadership positions in their communities. Dr. Kerr said a doctor’s job isn’t just to treat the sick, but also take a preventative approach and help encourage people to live healthier lifestyles. Hence the nagging at your last appointment.

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By the numbers:

There are about 74,500 physicians of various types across Canada today, according to the latest data from the Canadian Medical Association. About 5,100 of those are under age 34 and under, and about 12,000 are aged 65 or older.

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Job Prospects:

“The world needs more doctors,” said Dr. Kerr. There are few communities that don’t have openings for family physicians and other types of doctors. He says that’s the good part about spending 15 years and thousands of dollars training to be a doctor: “You come out needed.” Part of the demand stems from an aging population, but Dr. Kerr has also studied the shortage and says it’s also due to doctors working fewer hours than their predecessors (ie. 60 hours a week instead of 80) and more women in the profession, some of whom work part-time while raising their families.

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Challenges:

Most people complain about being overworked, but doctors have the added burden of life and death workloads that keep them thinking about the office long after they’ve left. “The stress level is high, the workload is high, the responsibility is high,” says Dr. Kerr. “It’s hard to leave work at the office because you feel emotionally attached to your patient’s well being and are responsible for them.”

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Why they do it:

For most doctors it’s the mix of wanting to help people and a deep interest in science of the human body. “People like the challenge of it,” says Dr. Kerr. But it's not an easy way to make a living. His advice for potential medical students: “If you don’t like spending your Friday and Saturday night in the library, medical school isn’t for you.”

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Misconceptions:

That doctors are in the profession just for the money. While the money is good, it takes a lot of time, hard work and also money to become a doctor. Many physicians also get a reputation of having a bad bedside manner. Dr. Kerr said that might be true in some cases, but patients need to remember that these are people too. “If you notice that your doctor is quick with you or has bad bedside manner it’s often because they were up all night with patients … or they’re missing their kid’s basketball game,” again.

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Give us the real scoop:

Are you a doctor in Canada?

Write a note in the comments area and tell us what you would tell others who are interested in the profession, or e-mail your comment to careerquestion@globeandmail.com

Want to read more stories from our salaries series? Click here.

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