Engineering vs. Medicine – What Should I Study?


Engineering vs medicine? What’s the better field? If you are good at math, enjoy solving tough problems, and do great in school, you are likely considering these fields of study.

Medicine generally offers more pay. Engineering usually provides more flexibility. Determining which field is best for you is understanding whether it’s something you enjoy doing and whether the sacrifice is worth the reward.

Truth be told – you won’t enjoy every minute of your studies for either degree. Yet, unless you possess a genuine interest, the path to either degree will be incredibly difficult. So, whether it’s learning, tinkering with things, complex problem solving, or helping people, first understand your motivations.

Animated picture of engineer and doctor
Courtesy: Revising Rubies

In this article, you’ll learn to answer essential questions: is engineering harder than medicine, engineering vs. medicine pay, work-life balance, which is more a better field: engineering or medicine?

Is Engineering Harder than Medicine?

As we all know they are both hard degrees but for different reasons.

Medicine has more content, and it requires you to be a good communicator, which can be challenging for those more academically focused. The path is much longer to become a doctor than an engineer. It requires a four-year undergrad degree, followed by four more years in medical school. Subsequently, doctors must spend three to seven years in a residency program. Ultimately, the post-high school commitment tallies 10 to 14 years.

By contrast, an engineer can finish university in four years and even quicker for the ultra-motivated. Despite this, engineering concepts may be more difficult than medicine to fully understand. Engineering work requires application-based problem solving vs. medicine’s heavy emphasis on memorization.

Thus, when evaluating difficulty, engineering may strike some as harder due to difficult concepts and problems to solve. However, in Punchlist Zero’s evaluation, medicine emerges as the clear winner due the long years of commitment.

Engineering vs. Medicine Pay

Both professions pay well. Engineers generally can expect an average median annual wage of close to $100,000. In contrast, doctors’ median wage clocks in at over $200,000. Both of these numbers vary hugely depending on experience, the field of work, and the country of residence.

A bag of dollar in two hands
Courtesy: Health eCareers

Occupational choices matter for each earnings, but where you work matters as well. Some occupations’ employment opportunities and wages vary substantially from state to state, county to county, and city to city. The same holds true for specializations. An engineer working for the city government can expect to earn a fractional of what a senior software engineer makes, whereas the same holds true for a pediatrician and a neurosurgeon.

Engineering vs. Medicine: Work-Life Balance

In general, engineering offers a better work-life balance vs. medicine. Of course, there are deadlines and urgent projects. However, I know many engineers and a handful of doctors. The engineers simply don’t have the day-to-day and month-to-month time pressure that most doctors have.

Plus, engineers don’t get quizzed at dinner parties, “What’s wrong with my foot?”

Here’s a breakdown of their responsibilities that affect that work-life balance.

Doctor’s Responsibility

Doctors, often known as physicians, examine patients to diagnose their ailments. Physicians inquire about patients’ prior medical history and illnesses or conditions that patients’ family members may have experienced. Patients are asked to explain their symptoms, including the length and severity. Physicians may issue instructions for lab tests on the patient if necessary. They may write medicines or make lifestyle recommendations.

While doctors in private practice may work regular business hours, they may also be on call for emergencies on holidays, nights, or weekends. Doctors who work in hospitals may be required to work shifts that are not standard.

Engineer’s Responsibility

Engineers assess problems, processes, or products to develop rational solutions. The endeavor could necessitate the design of a completely new method or modify existing processes and materials. Engineers may be called on to perform completely new designs or optimize existing ones.

An animated engineer with hard hat holding a plan
Courtesy: Vecteezy

Most engineers work standard business hours and days; however, they may be asked to work extra to meet deadlines or deal with urgent situations. Engineers may work alone or supervise other engineers, engineering techs, lab assistants, administrative staff, and other engineers.

Is Engineering Better Than Medicine?

This is, without a doubt, the most prominent academic and professional rivalry in history. Medicine and engineering have consistently ranked high among science-inclined students around the world. There’s no right answer – but there’s a right answer for YOU.

Let’s examine further.

Passion and Interest

A natural affinity for people tilts the needle toward medicine. An affinity for tinkering should tilt the needle toward engineering. Less obvious is how much you care about working on the same problems versus unique challenges.

Medical doctors routinely encounter complex challenges, but their scope typically winnows to a minutiae level as time goes on. By contrast, engineers often go on to be executives, project managers, sales folks, or work in completely unrelated industries. Thus, if you value flexibility, engineering might provide a better choice.

Ease of Admission

The average acceptance rate of the top 10 Engineering schools is 29.75%, but trends closer to 50% for mid-tier universities. In 2018–2019, 21,622 applicants were accepted to medical schools out of the 52,777 who applied, for an overall acceptance rate of 41%.

Thus, Engineering provides a slightly easier acceptance path. Couple this with the fact that the average Engineering applicant is 18 years old versus an accomplished 22-year-old student and it’s easy to conclude that it is more difficult to obtain admission to medical school.

Cost of Study

Either path is crazy-expensive. The average four-year engineering degree costs around $56,000 in tuition alone. Medical school weighs in near the same number for undergrad plus $220,000 for four years of medical school.

medicine and education concept. young female and male doctor. Flat modern vector of online education and medical students.
Courtesy: iStock

Job Prospects

In the case of engineering, that depends on the field. While petroleum, software engineers, and robotics are the most lucrative branches of engineering, agricultural engineers generally see fewer job opportunities. Furthermore, engineering ties heavily to the energy sector which is notoriously fickle.

On the other hand, doctors perhaps have the most secure jobs in the world. People always need medical care, ensuring a perpetual demand for doctors.

What’s the Right Field of Study?

You remember you are reading this on an engineering blog, right? So color us biased. Engineering offers great opportunities, excellent money, and doesn’t lock you into a set career for years. Sure, average lifetime earnings track lower than medicine, but the sacrifice is much lower as well.

Yet, medicine provides greater career certainty and intangible altruistic benefits that can’t be measured. If either of these points resonates with you, then medicine may be the best choice.