Prioritize effective means of creating change

Doing good has become something of an obsession for me. Ever since I was a young child, I have hoped that I would someday be a person who did good for the world. I imagined that I would become a lawyer who fights to get justice for people who have been wronged, or maybe I could be a politician who implements policies that make my community into the best place it can be. More recently, I’ve dreamed about being a doctor who goes to work every day and saves lives.

It never occurred to me as a child that having a job like that may not be the best way for me to do good. 

Being a medical doctor, for example, is the classic example you might think of when imagining an impactful career. Every day, a doctor might go to their place of work and try to heal patients. What more useful profession could there be? As it turns out, though, if your goal is to do the very most good you can do, then you might not choose to become a doctor. 

There is an organization called 80,000 Hours that is committed to helping people find the most impactful way to spend the 80,000 hours they will dedicate to their career in their lives. According to studies that 80,000 Hours analyzes and conducts, people who are skilled enough to succeed in such a competitive field as medicine are likely able to make a much larger impact doing something else. 80,000 Hours finds that an extra doctor (meaning an additional doctor who joins the already saturated profession) in a developed nation like America might expect to create an extra four years of healthy life for their patients for every year they work. However, there are other, much easier ways to save four years of life in a year of your career.

How? How can a person who isn’t a doctor heal as many people as a doctor in America? One of the easiest ways is through donating to an effective charity. The Against Malaria Foundation, for example, gives bednets to families in malaria-stricken regions of Africa, at a cost of about $4 per bednet. GiveWell, an organization which conducts extensive and rigorous research into the effectiveness of charities, estimates that it takes about $3,446 to save one life if you donate that money to the AMF.  If you assume that one life is 80 years long, then a donation-minded individual could save as many healthy years of life as an average American doctor for $172.30 per year donated to the AMF.

There is a growing movement of people who are actively trying to do the most good they can possibly do with their lives, and these people are effective altruists. Effective altruism investigates the ways that people can use their time and resources to make the largest positive impact they can. There is even a new effective altruism club on campus, Effective Altruism – Wooster, which focuses on the good we can do for the world as students. It is my hope that the worldwide community of effective altruists will continue to grow and find increasingly impactful ways to make the world a better place.

Rebecca Hopkins, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at