You find yourself walking down the aisles of your favorite clothing store. You’re looking for something to add to your wardrobe. You peruse the various clothing and accessory sections, and something catches your eye. Picking out the item, you examine its quality, colors, and style. After making a judgment that you really like that particular item, you check the price tag. At that moment, you decide whether or not that piece of clothing or accessory is worth the listed price.

We all make decisions about whether something is worth the price it takes to attain it. That “something” is not necessarily an object. That “something” can be success defined by advancements or accomplishments in your job, outshining the competition in a sport, excelling at a particular hobby, being the best parent, or any number of other activities, actions, or projects. There is some price to pay for doing what you want to do and how well you want to do it.

The price we pay to excel or become better can be measured in time, money, effort, or any number of other costs that it takes to move from one level to the next. When we see a professional sports figure or musician, we recognize that they did not become successful overnight. It took years of training with many successes and failures to get to where they were.  Investment in coaching, time training or practicing, a strict schedule of activities that likely limited social interactions, dietary restrictions, and time away from family while traveling for games or concerts are likely just a few costs that they paid to get to the top of their field. The same is true in medicine.

Decisions in Medicine

As a physician, time is spent studying in college to get to medical school. Once in medical school, the studying continues and the path to clinical training is paved with the transition to a residency program in the chosen specialty. After residency training, the choice is made to start working in the chosen specialty or obtain more training to subspecialize. The process often entails over a decade of education and training to just start working for real! But, after training, the decisions continue.

The decision to work in academic medicine or non-academic medicine, perform research, run your own business, teach medical trainees, become a public health advocate, or write a book are just a few of the many paths that physicians may decide to journey on. The list of activities, projects, and job positions is almost endless. But the thing that is not endless is one’s resources to pay the price of undertaking those activities, projects, and job positions.

Paying the Price

Nothing we do in medicine is without a price. The ultimate decision is whether you want to pay that price. Is it worth it for you to spend time away from your family while working on research and research grants to make advancements in the medical field? Is it worth it for you to dedicate most of your time to care for your patients at the cost of not taking care of yourself to maintain your physical and mental health? Is it worth it for you to accept more work from your department to maintain a reputation as a “team player,” despite taking more time away from your life outside of work? The choices are not just black or white. There are a lot of shades of gray in these scenarios and decisions.

Just as one looks at that piece of clothing or accessory in the store and decides whether or not it is worth the price, physicians need to look at their chosen path and decide whether or not it is worth the price as well. If the price is right, then pay it! But face the decision with eyes wide open and with transparency. Understand your priorities and weigh the price against your ultimate goal and what you are willing to sacrifice. Success and accomplishment are not without sacrifice. You just need to decide if your definition of success and accomplishment is worth the price to pay.