What does it take to go from nurse to doctor? As a practicing nurse, you might have asked yourself this question more than once and wondered if you could help your patients in a different way. But is medical school right for you? If you have always dreamed of becoming a physician but life took you in a slightly different direction, keep reading! This article will walk you through the A to Z of making this transition: advantages and disadvantages, steps to follow, alternative options, and more!


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Why Do You Want to Go from Nurse to Doctor?

It is not rare for nurses to have once dreamed of becoming doctors. Sometimes, factors like money, time, and simply life circumstances made potential physicians pursue their second-choice career, such as nursing. In other cases, after working in a medical environment for quite a while, nurses start looking for career advancements, or different ways to help patients and interact with them. They feel like they are ready to take on new responsibilities and a whole different role in a hospital or a clinic.

Nurses can also be driven to make a career switch by intellectual curiosity. At some point in their careers, they might realize they feel a genuine inclination towards making diagnoses, and figuring out how to detect and cure pathologies.

Others are motivated by career advancement opportunities. Even though nursing can be an extremely gratifying profession, becoming a doctor implies developing further skills and competencies, aspiring to a higher salary and gaining prestige, which can be very attractive to certain healthcare professionals.

In other cases, nurses who want to become doctors think that the combination of their nursing experience and the knowledge they would gain in medical school would make them ideal physicians, because they would have the patient-experience and the scientific knowledge. This kind of professionals bring a comprehensive approach to healthcare. Nurses and doctors have very different perspectives and ways of thinking. The job of a doctor is more science-oriented, focusing on diagnosing and treating an illness, while nursing is more task-oriented, helping patients along the journey of recovery. Simply put, doctors with nursing experience can combine both aspects of patient care in a way that no other health professional can.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Going from Nurse to Doctor 

Pro: Quality Clinical Experience 

Substantial clinical experience would be one of the main advantages nurses have when applying to medical school. Nurses know how a hospital works, have spent a lot of time around patients, and have also worked hand in hand with doctors, so they know what to expect from the job. They are also fully aware of the implications of being a doctor, such as communicating bad news to the patients and working long shifts. What’s more, they are already trained to perform many procedures involved in patient care and are familiar with the medical jargon. 

Pro: Appropriate Educational Background 

Another important advantage nurses have in applying to medical school is that they have already completed a Bachelor’s degree that likely included many of the medical school prerequisites required for MD or DO. Going from nurse to doctor is much faster than going from high school to medical school. Nurses can skip ahead a few steps and move straight to the MCAT and the application process.

If you're debating between pursuing an MD degree or a DO degree, this infographic may help you decide which is better suited for you:

Pro: You Are Certain of Your Choice

The truth is that being a mature candidate and having a background in healthcare makes you more certain whether medical school is the right choice for you, compared to younger and more inexperienced applicants. So, if you know how to make a strong case for yourself, highlighting your nursing experience when facing an admissions committee, you will succeed in making your medical school application stand out

Con: Completing Med School Requirements While Working as a Nurse 

That brings us to one of the most significant disadvantage nurses have to face before entering medical school: facing the challenge of preparing and sitting for the MCAT, among other requirements that they might have to complete in order to apply, such as additional science courses. The truth is that medical school application process can be really challenging and discouraging for some aspirants, so having to go through it when you already have an ongoing career is something that can impact your decision to embark in this journey.

Con: Applying to Medical School as a Non-Traditional Applicant 

Nurses are non-traditional medical school applicants, meaning that they are not following the most direct path into medical school. Students who apply to medical school after a career change can feel out of place and face obstacles that traditional students usually don’t, such as having to retake courses that they have already completed too many years before applying, or lacking academic references to provide, since it has been too long since their last time in a classroom.

If you want to learn more about how to get into medical school as a non-traditional applicant, take a look at this video:

To overcome these obstacles, most nurses choose to enroll in a post-bacc program for medical school, which allows them to take the courses required for medical school admission in one to two years.

You might also have asked yourself “am I too old for medical school?”, and although there are no age requirements to enter medical school, pursuing a medical career at an older age is not an easy decision to make. It can easily take a decade for a nurse to finally start working as an independent doctor, meaning that you will be starting your second career much later than your colleagues, not to mention the debt you will be paying off for years, as medical school costs continue to grow.

Con: Stigma Surrounding the Transition from Nurse to Doctor 

It is not rare for nurses who aspire to become doctors to be discouraged by their mentors and colleagues. Nurses and doctors have different ways of interacting with patients. They have different responsibilities and deal with different aspects of patient care. Some people believe that having too much experience as a nurse means that you’ve been too indoctrinated and would feel out of place assuming a different role in healthcare.

Another concern some aspirants have is whether or not your nursing experience will represent an advantage when it comes to applying to medical school. Although this might have been a controversial point in the past, more and more nurses are starting to successfully pursue other medical careers.

How to Go from Nurse to Doctor

The journey to go from nurse to physician will depend on your level of education, experience, and aspirations, but it will definitely take 7 years at the very least. Being fully aware of the investments that you will have to make in terms of time and money is essential to make this decision.

1.   Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

All medical school aspirants need to take this test unless you are planning to apply to one of the rare medical schools that do not require the MCAT. Make sure to develop a good MCAT study schedule and stick to it as much as possible. If you feel like being a non-traditional applicant can put you at a disadvantage, having an impressive MCAT score will definitely make your application stand out.

2.   Meet Medical School Requirements and Apply

In order to start sending your applications to medical schools, you must first make sure you meet all the medical school requirements.

As a nurse, you will probably have undertaken most of the medical school prerequisites, but it might have been a long time ago, or you might not have achieved an impressive GPA at the time. Getting into medical school with a low GPA is much harder, so it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to retake some of those courses. Refreshing some concepts will come in handy when it comes to resuming your studies after years without setting foot in a classroom. Keep in mind that some schools don’t accept prerequisites from more than 5 years before your application, so you want to make sure your requirements are up to date.

Once you send your application you might be lucky enough to land an interview. It is normal for medical school applicants to apply to several medical schools and attend many interviews before getting accepted. After your interviews, there isn’t really much to do except wait to hear back from them. If accepted, you have until mid-May to accept one offer and turn down all others.

3.   Complete Medical School

Once you get into medical school, it is time to start working on obtaining your MD or DO. While it is true that your healthcare background will be useful, being a registered nurse won’t mean you will be able to complete your studies faster. It will be as long and arduous as for any other student, but if you are truly passionate about medicine, it will all be worth it!

This will also be the period then you will have to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) if you are based in the US, or the Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Examination (MCCQE) if you are in Canada. These examinations will determine your readiness to enter supervised practice.

4.   Complete your residency

You should start applying for residency during your last year of medical school. Ideally, you should be graduating medical school with a clear career path in mind. If you have already spent a few years working in a healthcare environment, chances are you’ve already decided which specialty you would like to pursue. You should, however, keep your options open, since you might develop an interest for other specialties during your time in medical school. Completing your residency can take anywhere from 3 to 7 years depending on your specialty and the journey is going to be challenging and stressful, but also incredibly rewarding!

Depending on your goals and willingness to continue your training, you can also become a specialist by pursuing a medical fellowship after finishing your residency. But even if you decide to start your practice right after residency, you will keep learning during your entire medical career.

Is Becoming a Doctor the Right Choice for You?

Having a burning desire to make this career shift is a strong indicator that it might be the right course of action for you, as long as you understand the sacrifices involved in the process. Medical school is expensive, long, and challenging. It demands a great degree of motivation and determination. To answer the question “Is medical school right for you?” start by asking yourself what your professional goals are, and what resources you have to accomplish them. If after your reflections you conclude that you can reach your career aspirations via other career advancement options, perhaps you can save time and money by pursuing them instead. 

Alternative Career Advancements for Nurses

If your motivation to embark on the journey of medical school had to do with finding better job opportunities, but you don’t think you are ready for such a drastic career change, you might want to pursue other opportunities within nursing.

One of your options is to become a nurse anesthetist by completing a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) program. This program usually lasts 3 years and allows nurses to work with patients who have received or are to receive anesthesia. CRNAs work with all kinds of patients and in collaboration with all kinds of health professionals.

If anesthesia doesn’t attract you, you can also choose to pursue a Nurse Practitioner (NP) program. NPs are nurses with an advanced practice degree, who are trained to prescribe medications, asses and interpret medical tests, and diagnose diseases, among other things. NPs receive more training than a nurse and less training than a doctor. If you have an RN degree, obtaining an NP degree will take you two more years, so it is quite an attractive option for those who were intimidated by the lengthiness of medical school and residency. 

Want to see how BeMo helped a student gain acceptance to 6 medical schools after deciding to transition from a career in nursing to medicine? Check out this video:

Conclusion 

You should be prepared to discuss your career change in your medical school application components, as well as in the interview., Apart from the most common medical school interview questions as a mature applicant, you will most definitely be asked to explain not only why you want to become a doctor but also why you are looking to transition from your current career. Make sure to discuss this change from a positive perspective, and not as a way of escaping something negative. You will be given the opportunity to demonstrate your enthusiasm and explain how your past experiences have led you to pursue this professional change. If your reasons to make this decision are based on better salary expectations or gaining more professional prestige, going through almost a decade of intensive training will not be worth it.

The first thing you have to keep in mind if you want to go from nurse to doctor is that it is going to be a long journey. Having a background in healthcare will give you some advantages but some disadvantages as well, and you need to be fully convinced that this is what you want. Having the right motivations is the key to making this life-changing career shift. Certain factors such as your age or discouraging colleagues shouldn’t affect your decision. After all, it is you who dreamt about it for so long! Even if you finally decide that becoming a physician might not be your thing, there are other options to move forward in your career as a nurse as well.

FAQs

1. Do medical schools admit nurses as students?

Yes. Depending on your academic background and clinical experience, being a nurse will even represent a major advantage when it comes to gathering medical school prerequisites and explaining your motivations to become a doctor. As a nurse, you already know how a hospital works and how to interact with patients and you have a much clearer picture of what the medical profession consists of than most of the other applicants.

2. How long does it take to go from nurse to doctor?

It will depend on your professional aspirations and your background, but it usually takes a minimum of 7 years. Unfortunately, as a nurse you will not be able to complete medical school faster than traditional applicants.

3. Do nurses need to take the MCAT to apply to medical school?

Yes, all applicants need to take the MCAT for medical school.

4. Is there an age limit to enter medical school?

Even though there is no age restriction to enter medical school, mature applicants might feel at a disadvantage compared to younger applicants. They usually have to retake courses to meet the prerequisites and are often worried about starting their medical careers too late in life. However, mature students tend to be more responsible and committed than younger aspiring physicians, so entering medical school at a more advanced age can even be beneficial.

5. Is it easy to go from nurse to doctor?

Even though your background in nursing will definitely come in handy when it comes to incorporating concepts and understanding the implications of the medical profession, becoming a doctor is never easy, and there are no shortcuts. It will be exhausting and extremely challenging, but if it is really what you want, it will be worth the effort.

6. Will my nursing experience help me enter medical school?

As a nurse you likely have already acquired a significant amount of clinical experience, which will be extremely useful when it comes to explaining your motivations and aptitudes for clinical school.

7. Do I have to retake courses to enter medical school?

Having completed your nursing degree means that you have probably gathered all the prerequisites you need for medical school. However, if you studied too long ago or if you couldn’t achieve a high GPA score, you might have to retake some courses to increase your chances of acceptance.

8. Are there other career advancement possibilities in nursing?

Yes, you can undertake additional training within nursing by completing a CRNA or an NP program.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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1 Comments

Rizwan sultan

I'm a registered nurse . Degree in Bsc Adult nursing. qualified in October 2021 Would like to enter medicine .but know the steps to take from the position I'm in. Need advice.

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BeMo Academic Consulting

Hi Rizwan! Thank you for your comment. Our blog outlines the most important steps you need to take to go from nurse to doctor. If you would like more information about the transition, don't hesitate to reach out to us. 

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