A Woman’s Hidden Sacrifice to Become a Doctor

Many people do not know what they are getting into when they start medical school. From my own informal poll of my classmates, 50% of them would not become a doctor if they knew what they know now. (You can read about the price of becoming a doctor here.)

But did you know that women pay a higher price than men to become a medical doctor. No? Well, you’re not alone. Most women do not even realize the full extent of what they are giving up to achieve their dream.

This sacrifice goes beyond money and time. It deals with a woman’s future family — or lack there of. A female doctor is less likely to marry than the average female.

Why? One word: hypergamy (or marrying up).

Hypergamy in Action

Women would prefer to marry a guy that is more successful, makes more money, has a higher status, is taller, and is better educated.

As a doctor, few people will earn more. Few people will be as educated. Few people will be as smart. So the mating pool for a hypergamous female has shrunken significantly. (On the flip-side, male doctors have quite the advantage when it comes to finding a mate, thanks to hypergamy. And because a typical medical school class will have more females than males, that means the supply of male doctors are low, which drives up the demand. Works for me.)

The Disadvantages of Marrying a Female Doctor

Let’s assume that she can find one of those highly desirable guys. She would be competing with many other women for him. Why choose her over a younger, hotter, and less-threatening woman?

A female doctor cannot offer:

  • youth: Let’s say she finishes college at 21 years of age. Medical school at 25. A primary care residency at 28. This is not exactly young, for a woman. And this is a best-case scenario. Most likely, the girl would not smoothly transition from college to medical school to residency. And if she chooses to specialize, she could be in her mid-30’s by the time she is a money-making doctor. Mid-30’s is a desirable age for a man, but not so for a woman. The older women get, the harder it is for them to marry.

  • fertility: Fertility decreases with age. Birth defects rises with age. If a guy wants a healthy family, there is less risk by choosing a younger woman.
  • beauty: I’m not saying that there are no pretty female doctors. But the pretty doctor was probably prettier as a college student. Beauty is very important for most guys. Women’s beauty do hit a brick wall. Look at a young attractive girl and look at her mom. Most likely, there is a big difference for the worse as a woman gets older.
  • time: The time preparing to become a doctor is immense and does limit the time she can spend with the guy. A guy would prefer a girl that is available instead of one that is constantly busy. The female doctor is at a disadvantage when it comes to meeting guys — just because she doesn’t have the time to do so. And let’s say that she does not have youth, fertility, nor beauty. But her redeeming factor is her sweet personality. Well, it is very hard for the guy to notice her sweetness if they don’t spend time together.

When looking from a guy’s point of view, a female doctor is not exactly the best catch. Even if the female doctor was willing to forgo hypergamy and marry down, she may have to try very hard to finding someone. Many guys do not want their girls to make more money than them. Many guys do not want their girls to be more educated than them. (Yes, there are some insecure guys out there, but for good reason.) Combine that with my list above, it is not looking good for the female doctors.

Most Relationships Start Before Medical School

From what I have seen, many of my female classmates in a long-term relationship or in a marriage have found their significant other before medical school. Long-term relationships and marriages that are formed during medical school do happen, but they are comparatively rarer.

I remember during one of my rotations, one of the residents (a bitter, bitter woman) shared her concern of remaining alone for the rest of her life. She even asked for my help to send any quality guys her way. The female doctors, who I know for certain are married (and remains married), are either super, super attractive — like a model. Or they are foreign doctors and participated in arranged marriages.

I am absolutely convinced that quite a few of my female classmates will not find a significant other — married only to their jobs. There is nothing wrong with being single and being dedicated to your job. But if they do want to get married (which most girls do want), it is actually quite sad.

Don’t Be Hatin’

I’m writing this not to discourage women from becoming doctors. Au contraire, I promote it. More women doctors means less men doctors. This drives up my value. Out of good conscience and the desire not to see any life ruined by medicine, I write this to help women make the most informed choice — one which will impact them for the rest of their lives.

If you are a female, you can react to this in two ways:

  1. You can get angry, verbally attack me, and plunge head-first into medicine out of ignorance. You may feel good after doing so, but it does not change your circumstance. Deluding yourself doesn’t hurt me any. It is your life on the line.

  2. You can thank me for revealing what was previously left unsaid, carefully consider what I wrote, and make a smart decision knowing all the consequences. (I doubt your academic adviser ever talked about this.) If this is the choice you make, you are indeed a wise woman.

You have been informed.

If you want some facts and figures about education and marriage, you can read How the Ascendancy of the Alpha Female Will Impact Marriage.

This article is part of the Get into Medical School series. Click on the link if you want more tips and hints about getting accepted into medical school.


  1. Pamudri Basnayake says:

    Well you have a point. There are lots of unmarried female doctors in hospitals desperate and unfortunate and lamenting of being a doctor. Contrary a pre-school teacher has a demand than a female doctor, that is true…
    But does this mean this condition apply to everyone? the point is a woman can be independent.. it’s individual, differs from person to person. what you have observed is true it is in the scene.. but what about the side you didn’t talk here..?? what about the people who succeeded in both professional and personal life?

    life is never perfect. it doesn’t come in a handy package. the fact is, if you step in to medicine you should as well be aware of the sacrifices. For a lady doctor, a fairy tale is not promised.. and the severity of the nightmare depends on how far she wants to succeed in her carrier and what are her attitudes when it comes for relationships.. so, everything depends on the particular person..

    as I say, a girl should always know the deal before stepping in….

    • Alex Ding says:

      Hey Pamudri,

      Of course not all female doctors would remain single. But many of them do, and I would guess more so than average — and not by choice.

      But if the female doctor already has a long-term relationship or marriage, more power to her. If she wants to be independent and free, more power to her.

      I don’t talk about the ones who “succeeded,” because that is given. Doctors are expected to succeed. I wanted to focus on what has not been said, that pursuing medicine could be more than what you have bargained for.

  2. This is all assuming that a female doctor will want to marry up, so to speak. Working in a primary care clinic with mostly female doctors, I can tell you this is only the case for 50% of the married female physicians I see every day. One is happily married to a fire fighter, after a previous “hypergamy” marriage.

    I think you should make it clear that this is your perspective, not that a female physician should oblige herself to marry someone in the same socioeconomic/academic strata. Out of the RNPs that I personally know, a good number of them married “down” to males in occupations like housekeeping and social work. Perhaps you are unwittingly perpetuating the “hypergamy” stereotype by descrbing it as a problem which perspective female physicians don’t even know they’re facing.

    Just my non-female perspective.

    • Alex Ding says:

      “This is all assuming that a female doctor will want to marry up …”

      Women, in general, want to marry up. There is no need to assume anything; it is a fact.

      Let’s take a woman who is so beautiful she can pretty much date any man she wanted — a stunning supermodel. Would she date a hobo living in a cardboard box? Or would she date a famous actor, accomplished musician, or rich businessman?

      I rest my case.

      “Out of the RNPs that I personally know, a good number of them married “down” to males in occupations like housekeeping and social work.”

      There are only so many upper-tier men to marry. Not every woman can marry up. For the nurses that married down, that is the best they can do.

      On the flip-side of your observation, a good number of nurses are hoping to hit the jackpot and marry a doctor. You won’t believe the number of flirtations and freakiness that go on between female nurses and male doctors … especially late at night in the call room. (Oh the stories I could tell …)

  3. Hey Alex,
    Thank you for writing this article I am a first year college student on track to apply to medical school. I just finished my first semester of ochem, physics, and cell bio at a competitive college. I am really concerned about giving up so much as a female in the medical field. How much free time do you have in medical school? Break wise as well as free time? In another article you mentioned your days were 8:00-5:00 on a light day but some classmates had gone out after the exam. Is it possible to go out after exams? I really don’t want to miss out on my twenties because as crappy as it is twenties are a woman’s peak and I enjoy college and want to enjoy my years after. If I went to med school in a city would I be able to join my friends on nights out at least once a week?

    • Hey Kip,

      You have free time in medical school, but you’ll have to budget your time. Depending on what class or what rotation I was on, my free time ranged from 1 hour a day to 8 hours a day. In my free time, I had to fit in food, hygiene, friends, etc. It could get a bit hectic.

      It is possible to go out after exams. In fact, most of my peers did. I did too. But you will be missing out on your twenties, especially when compared to your friends. You could hang out with your friends, but you’ll hang out a lot less.

  4. If I were to give advise to girls is don’t go into the field of medical. I am a medical graduate at age 25 and I have three years residency to go etc etc….medical takes to much of your time and energy….when you can easily have another career earlier and marry an already earning guy. If I were to go back and choose another career would I ? No doubt!

  5. I plan on going to med school in the next 3 years. As for the marriage thing, I already have a boyfriend that I’ve been with for 9 years. As for the beauty thing, I plan on being just as attractive in the next several years. Everyone is still aging at the same rate regardless of continuing education or not. I see what you mean though about it taking several years of your life. Although it takes several years to become a physician many people still spend that same amount of time working long hours in a job they don’t like. Honestly, I would rather spend my time studying and working towards an education rather than working at a job I hate and not making very much money. Plus, it’s not like med school is 4 years of nonstop hell. You would on occasion probably be able to make time for other things and there is also the summerss.

    • Thank you!!! I agree with 100%. The people who aren’t happy with med school are the ones who lack the passion for it. Yes, it can be hard at times but that goes for every career. I couldn’t have said what you said any better!

  6. Well, I guess it could always be worse. I could be a broke woman with no career AND single lol there are many of those out there too. Just trying to look on the bright side after this depressing and unfortunately true article *sigh*

  7. I’m a married medical student. You seem really really bitter. Times are changing and yes of course there is still sexism in medicine and it is harder for a woman to find a guy that isn’t intimidated by a smart and successful woman. However, it really isn’t as bad as you’re saying it is.
    Also how is there any good reason for a man to be insecure as you said in your article? Also, if you’re actually a good medical student you’d understand that birth defects also increase with a man’s age and that 49% of infertility issues is because of the man in the relationship. Many women don’t want to marry old men either and you’re making it sound like that is the case. The average relationship has a 1-2 year difference in the US.
    Also, there are many average looking female doctors who are married as well. You don’t have to be attractive like a model most doctors aren’t.
    I hope you find someone after fixing your attitude.

    • Also with your logic a man will just divorce his previously young hot wife for a new one once she gets old. Why not talk about the severe quality guys there are?

      • Alex Ding says:

        “… a man will just divorce his previously young hot wife for a new one once she gets old.”

        When 70% of divorces are filed by women, that is unlikely.

        “Why not talk about the severe quality guys there are?”

        I don’t date guys, I wouldn’t know. Feel free to share your story.

    • Alex Ding says:

      Let’s deconstruct what you’ve said …

      “I’m a married medical student.”

      Proves my point. Most likely, you found the person before starting medical school.

      “You seem really really bitter.”

      Way to attack me instead of the points of the article. But I’m all for female doctors. Less male doctors drives up my value in the dating pool.

      “… harder for a woman to find a guy that isn’t intimidated by a smart and successful woman.”

      Was there ever a time when guys were more attracted to smart & successful over young with big boobs?

      “… is there any good reason for a man to be insecure as you said in your article?”

      When 50% of marriages end in divorce and 70% of divorces are filed by women, I would say, “Yes.”

      “… you’d understand that birth defects also increase with a man’s age and that 49% of infertility issues is because of the man in the relationship.”

      Not sure what this has to do with the article. And not sure where you got your statistics, but let’s assume that’s true. There is still no reason an older man should prefer an older woman over a younger one. Kids from old man with old woman (if IVF works) have more birth defects than kids from old man with young woman.

      “Many women don’t want to marry old men …”

      Correction: Many women don’t want to marry POOR old men.

      “The average relationship has a 1-2 year difference in the US.”

      Sure, if the objective of your relationship is to hook up.

  8. Jenna B says:

    I think you are being more negative than you need to be. I’ve had men like me over better looking, younger women and so on… so personality is a lot bigger than you would admit. And I dont believe women always marry up or even often…maybe in the media world. But in real life not so much. I dont even think about marrying up or down, its all about how much I get along with the person.

    Ladies who are doing medicine, go for it, its such a fulfilling career. Don’t be afraid. You will find ways to make life work. If its in your destiny you’ll find a loving partner, if not then there’s nothing wrong with being single either. I know many people who are in realtionships and they arent happy either. So its really neither here not there. So when happiness and contentment is not guaranteed no matter what you do, you might as well do what you want.

  9. debbie c says:

    Hate to say it but there is some truth to this article. But, even for the female physician who find a husband and has children, her road is also harder. Most female physicians mothers I know are doing the larger part of raising their children and working on top of it. Their lives are not enviable. In spite of society trying to change men and women, men just do not seem to have the same instinct for nurturing and raising children that a woman has. The female physician soon sees this no matter what the social status of her husband is, whether she married up or down, and she has to compensate for the man’s lack of maternal instinct. In addition, she has a demanding job, full of responsibilities. When she tries to cut back on work to participate more in the raising/nurturing of her kids she is resented by her partners or employer who feel they should not have to pull the extra load for her and her choice to have children. With the shortage of physicians, many see that females take up seats in medical schools and residencies, but they may not be able to deliver the time overall to practicing medicine if she has children and takes time off to have them and subsequently goes part time to help raise them to be good citizens.
    Overall medicine is a rewarding field. but it is VERY demanding of your time and takes up a good portion of your life than most other jobs or careers. The exact same thing can be said of motherhood. When you combine the two – someone loses in spite of the delusions many have – that they can do it all.

  10. As a female doctor, the kind of man, whether more successful than me or not, that is intimidated by my success, money or educational achievements, is exactly the kind of man I have no interest in. Do you think women don’t know what they give up when they decide to become doctors? Everyone knows you give up your most of your social life, time you spend with your family, early marriage, having children early, to have a successful career and take good care of your patients. A woman cannot survive in the medical field if she is not prepared to acknowledge what she will inevitably have to lose. And this is why for a lot of successful female doctors, their passion and drive for medicine supercedes everything else. Don’t assume that these things you’ve listed here, are what female doctors want and as a result, they live their lives in constant unhappiness because they don’t have it. Trust me, they know what they’ve given up. And a lot of them are content because they’ve resolved to do so beforehand. The few ones that you may have heard complaining are ones that didn’t consider the full repercussions of their decision beforehand, and they have no one else to blame but themselves. So, refrain from making generalisations and acting like you know what female doctors want.

  11. Barr. Uzo says:

    I love female doctors. I look foward to marry a female doctor by Gods grace. I am a lawyer so I think her status and what ever will intimidate or deter other men will not be a factor. Once she is God fearing, I mean born again christian, respects me deeply, believes in me and loves me. Am in for the marriage.

  12. This article is funny! True contentment comes from achieving dreams. I am attending medical school next year, compete in pageants and love my life. And as for male doctors… I just kicked my nasty male doctor boyfriend to the curb because of his entitled attitude (not all male doctors are like this obviously)… But I am SO happy because I am achieving my dreams (the rest takes care of itself)… The road to true unhappiness leads to those women who do read this article and choose not to do medicine because of all the things that could “go wrong” … Instead of saying fuck you and achieving their dreams and being truly happy … you can be dedicated to your job and be a great mom… Not everything is so philosophical..FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS ../ the rest falls into place

  13. As a doctor myself, I can tell you it wasn’t easy, but it is worth it. You have to get honest about what you really want. Can you be a doctor and have healthy relationships with your family and those you love, absolutely. Is it hard work, undoubtedly so, but 100% worth it, IF it is what you truly want. While women face socially more struggles then men, and while after entering the work force women are EXPECTED to put in 100% in the work place 100% at home, ALL the time. Men typically feel under pressure to do the same but are better at setting boundaries and respecting their own needs than women are. So many female doctors feel as though they are a candle constantly burning at both ends. The expectation is the problem, not the gender. If you want to be a doctor, become one, if it is what you really want nothing else will suffice, be sure it’s what you want. As with anything in life the more passionate you are the more successful you will become.

  14. Harmony Udoka says:

    Please i need help.Am an “O” level student nd i wnt to be a doc bt am jst comfuse abt all this write up nd am worried too

  15. You’re funny. I like your sense of humor.

    I’m a female and a sophomore majoring in clinical lab science. I was actually looking for some information about studying for medicine, but it’s a pleasant surprise to find so much more than what I’ve anticipated. Thank you for making me more determined to pursue my dream 😀

  16. I am a married, female physician with three children, married to a non-physician professional (structural engineer). I have to admit there is some truth to this article. At the time I started medical school at 23 I was probably at my physical peak. I had been a cheerleader, homecoming in high school, never had a problem dating, etc. I assumed I would meet my husband in my medical school class, but was surprised to find that the guys in my class I found attractive were not interested in marrying another doctor. A few even specifically told me that. “You’re pretty. I like you. But I don’t want to seriously date another doctor. We would just argue over our careers”. I did date several future doctors when I was in college and med school, who are now successful and well-paid specialist physicians, but I never made the relationship a priority. Looking back, I wish I had. I think being marries to another physician would have been easier. Even though my husband is an engineer, it was still marrying “down”. I find myself being jealous of the stay-at-home wives of my male peers, and my husband resents that even though he had a master’s degree and is capable of making six figures, he is still the “lesser” partner, financially and educationally. Currently, I am 40 and my husband 41. Financially we are doing well (all debt paid off, kids in private school, nice house, etc.), we both love our kids and at least like our jobs. However, the marriage is hanging on by a thread. Honestly, I doubt very much it will make it more than a couple of years.

    So to young women looking at medicine here are what I look back on as the decisions I regret and those I don’t:

    1.) When I was very young and in college, and dating my fellow future doctors/lawyers, etc., I put my grades, resume, etc. ahead of the relationships. Looking back, I would have focused more on finding someone to date seriously in college, and, if I found the right person, either altered my career plans for his, or us support each other through graduate/medical school. I put too much focus on grades, resume, career.

    2.) By the time I was in medical school, I realized I had to make relationships a priority quickly, or I would miss the boat potentially on the best marriage partners. I admit, it cost me some grade points, when I met my now-husband and starting seriously dating him at age 24 when in my second year of med school, but, despite my current marital difficulties and it probably costing me a chance at dermatology and the other most competitive specialties.

    3.) I got married at 26 and had my first child by 29, then two more at 32 and 34. I got to have my big dream wedding in my twenties. I was blessed with three beautiful, smart, healthy kids. I, thankfully, was still young enough to be bale to handle full time medicine and pregnancy, etc. It was not easy, but it was possible at least, whereas I was afraid if I had waited later it would not be.

    4.) The toll on the marriage has been hard. I also discovered later that my husband is bipolar, so that lead to problems, too, especially when I didn’t know what was going on. Even he had not had that challenge, though, I admit that, and I hate to say this, that I ended up being more bothered later than I thought I would be by note being married to another physician. I don’t think of it as a “marrying up” issue as much as I do that there are just thing that only other physicians understand. My husband designs space launch systems and other Nasa, Spacex, etc. projects. I don’t think of him as less intelligent than a physician. But it is still not the some. Sometimes, only another doctor can really understand. At least that is what it seems to me. It may just be a “the grass is always greener” situation.

    5.) Interestingly, I think if I had not going to medical school and had gone for one of the less demanding careers I also considered, I would not have married the man I am with now. I hate admitting it, but I think he was a compromise I made, due to the fact that I had limited time to date while in medical school, I didn’t find the right person in my med school class who was interested in me too, and I didn’t want to “miss the boat”. Looking back, I probably would have been more likely to marry a very successful doctor, lawyer, etc. ( like those I dated in college), if I had made my career a lower priority.

    Bottom line is, for me, I am proud of being a doctor, but prouder that I did not let becoming a doctor interfere too much with my family plans. Being a physician has meant that, financially, I have been able to help my parents, in-laws and others who need help, and to provide a life for my kids that I did not have. Also, since it is me and not my spouse, I never have to worry about someone leaving me for a younger woman, etc. I know my financial stability and my kids stability is in my hands. But also, at the end of the day, relationships mean the most to me. If I had been able to figure out a way to have the lifestyle I have now and stay home more with my kids, I probably would have done so, even if that had meant putting my career on the backburner to support a medical fiancé/spouse develop his career back in my early twenties. Who knows if that would have been right though? Good luck! Life is hard. There is only so much time and energy to go around each day. And men and women are different. It has taken me decades to admit that.

    • Thanks for your story. It was the best comment I’ve received so far on this article.

      And when people look at the surface, you’re one of the few who “have it all” — the prestigious high-paying career, 3 kids, husband, intact marriage, etc. Imagine how much worse it could be: 40 years old dermatologist cat lady.

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