​Expectation Versus Reality

Inspired by a true story.

So your son wants to be a doctor?

After high school...

He has to take the MCAT, he is 18 years old.

It helps if he enters a public institution. But if he matriculates at a private school, then be prepared to:

  1. Dig deep into your savings. You'll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the next seven to eight years.
  2. Liquidate your investments or sell your assets.
  3. If you have neither, then get ready to sell your house if you do not want your son to go broke halfway through medical school.

After medical school...

You're happy. He's finally a doctor and becomes the family crown jewel. Not so fast!

He must complete his residency. It's usually in the middle of nowhere and the reward is not worth it. You still need to support him financially.

Two years later...

The residency training is finished. You celebrate with a big party! Your son is 28 years old. You're happy and proud. He'll soon become independent. You start thinking about his spousal candidate. It’s time for him to build his own family. But that's not quite the whole story.


He's not a “real” doctor just yet. Why? Because:

  1. The average salary for a general practitioner (GP) is very small. The work hours are long.
  2. To get enough patients, he has to practice in the city. But there are many specialists with better qualification and experience than him.
  3. He could go into private practice. But then he's is no different than a company employee. It gets worse, he's making the clinic owners richer and receives only a small cut for himself.
  4. Work in a private hospital. As a GP he would be a class 3 doctor, under the sub-specialist and specialist doctors. Most would work in the emergency room. And every day he'll wonder if the “white coat” is really something worth to be proud of. The money is certainly not worth it. The workload is heavy. And the threat of malpractice lawsuit is highly probable. Nevertheless, it looks perfect! At least you can be proud that he works in a private hospital.
  5. Considering a public hospital? Well, the bigger the hospital, the more he doesn't count. Both the salary and remunerations are small.
  6. Of course he'd be very proud if you allow him to pursue his passion and join “Doctors Without Borders”. Especially if it's far inland. The more he's proud, the more he'll be appreciated. You'll see him uploading pictures caring for patients on a paddle boat. He'll share his passion on social media and tags you. Then your heart starts pounding. You're worried about his safety. You may think that his passion is equal to his income. Wrong! His income is less than an experienced urban nurse.

With no other option, he decides to go back to school and become a specialist. Be prepared to wipe those tears. Because he needs your help, and not for the last time. Unfortunately, you are entering retirement. Your income alone is not enough and your savings are exhausted. The “doctor” needs to save up the money by himself.

And your in-laws? Disappointed! They never imagined marrying a doctor could actually become a burden. Reality doesn't seem to equal with expectations.

While your son is trying to earn money, he feels frustrated every day. After taxes and bills, there is very little left to save. His own children starts popping-out. They need to be fed. And don't forget the rent payment, otherwise he and his family will be evicted. You're also frustrated. Unfortunately, you're retired and helpless.

Let's go sideways for a moment. There are alternatives. First, your son gets a full scholarship. Sadly, there are more who can't than those who earn. If he's lucky, then it's worth it.

Second, he marries a wife with a good job, or better, she’s rich. Then the story would be a little different. They can work together to build his career as a doctor.

And third, what if he doesn't become a specialist? Eventually, on a “long enough” time frame, he would become independent. He'd be able to support his family and buy a house. He'd have enough money, but not rich.


Back to the story...

Your son’s been working for three years and doesn't buy anything because he wants to save up and go back to school. He's 32 years old.

He moves to the city, tailors a new white coat, rents a house for two years, and “works” in a large education hospital.

You're proud. Finally, your son is working in a prestigious hospital. You'll share that moment on social media for sure. But wait! Evidently:

  1. Your son works day and night at the hospital with very little pay. After all, he is “going back to school”.
  2. He's at the hospital for almost 24 hours every day, and rarely sees you or his own family.
  3. The cost of living in the city is high. The wrinkles on his face are as vivid as yours.
  4. He often argues with his wife over small things. He's not earning enough money. Meanwhile, rent and grocery prices are increasing. He doesn't seem to care about his family. His commitment to the hospital is far more important. He's almost never home. When he is, he would either be lying on the couch or on the floor. You get closer to your grandchildren, because he “doesn’t care” about his own children. Your daughter-in-law carps a lot. She feels disappointed moving to the city, away from her friends. The white coat isn't earning any money! Sometimes your daughter-in-law thinks you're using the money, or perhaps you've become suspicious yourself about where the money is going. Is your son having an affair with another woman?
  5. On the third year, he feels stressed. The house contract runs out and he’s broke. He carps to you about it. You're confused. He starts borrowing money from relatives. Then realizes he can't payback the money. The whole family becomes suspicious. He's 35 years old and is increasingly tired by the day.

At age 36 he finally finishes his “education”.

You're 70 years old.

You're happy, even though you're old. You're still hoping your son would make you happy in the coming years.

You pray that he keeps his job in town. It turns out you were wrong. He needs to finish his clinical fellowship for a year at a different hospital that's far away.

One year later... 

Your son is 37 years old now. He starts making BIG bucks. And you begin to think: “Finally, after twelve years of school he can start to help you and take care of his own family. What kind of education is this?”

After completing his clinical work, he starts looking for a job as a specialist in the city. Unfortunately, it's not easy to find a job as a specialist in a city hospital. Your son meets up with one of his colleague who offers him help. He's back with a murk on his face and says: The hospital has enough specialist.” Then you start reaching out to your own friends for connection. But you came up with nothing.

You're disappointed!

Finally, your son gets a job in a suburban hospital that doesn't have enough specialists. He leaves with your grandchildren who are already close to you. You begin to feel how lonely it is at home. You ask yourself: “Why is my son's destiny so different than others?”


  1. Their parents are already rich! They don't care about how much money their children make. The white coat represents a “status symbol” for the family.
  2. Their parents are doctors who own a private clinic and is affiliated with a major hospital. So their story would be a little different than yours.

We have our own destiny. And in the end, you realize “this is your destiny”.

I have no intention of stepping on some people's toes. I only wish that you would have a better judgement when it comes to deciding your child's career. Choosing a profession on the basis of income alone will lead to trouble when the outcome doesn’t equal to the desired expectations. That said, when someone decides to pursue a career in medicine, it should be done because of their devotion to helping other people. You can forget about the money, because it won't give you contentment.

It took me years to find what I want to do. I didn’t have a teacher to show me the way. I had to be brave, but also humble enough to accept whatever the outcome. Once I found it, I quickly realize that when you're in the right place, life is quite different. You develop a sense of purpose. Life is fulfilling every day. You feel invigorated doing something you truly love. Of course this concept is very hard to understand for people who haven't found their purpose, because if you've found yours, we would be having a friendly conversation over tea.

Perhaps, it would be wise if you'd help your child decide their chosen profession from what they are good at doing and also have the love for it. So let me ask you again, what is education to you?

Seek and you shall find. If you do not seek, how can you find what it is you are looking for?

Of course everyone is never on the same page. I hope not. Because if we are, there is nothing more to be said.