It’s not totally uncommon for nurses to think about making the switch to becoming a physician. But how does it work? You’ve probably figured out some re-training is required, but can you cut any corners with another health degree?
Here’s the short answer…
Can You Go to Medical School with a Nursing Degree?
You can go to medical school with a nursing degree (and in some cases, it may be an advantage). But you’ll have to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) before applying, cover all the necessary course prerequisites and compete with other undergrads at schools/colleges with very low acceptance rates to make it happen.
So having a health associates degree already isn’t a guaranteed ace in your pocket. But the clinical hours and extracurriculars you gain (assuming your degree covered them), could go a long way to helping you look more competitive to med school admissions committees.
Let’s take a look at the process in more depth…
How to Go from Being a Registered Nurse to Becoming a Medical Doctor
If you’re interested in becoming a medical doctor, you need to be aware that several prerequisites must be met before being admitted to medical school. These are the same no matter what degree or background you come from.
Related: What’s The Easiest Pre Med Major? (Read This First!)
This is what the process looks like.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
To be considered for admission to medical school from a nursing background, you must have an undergraduate Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, or ideally a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), where most of the coursework needed for medical school will be covered.
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a four-year program that prepares students to become registered nurses that cover topics like human health and disease, research methods, the fundamentals of nursing care and administration, and professional issues related to nursing careers.
If you can aim to take common med school prereqs while you take this degree, it could really help put you at an advantage.
Most medical schools require the following courses:
- One year of Biology with lab
- One year of General Chemistry with lab
- One year of Organic Chemistry with lab
- One semester of Biochemistry
- One year of Physics with lab
- One year of English
Depending on where/what nursing program you study, some (or none) of these courses will be covered.
If you want to make the switch to medical school taking each of these, and coming out with as high a GPA as you can, is critical in helping ensure your chances of getting accepted.
Step 2: Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is a computer-based test that evaluates your skills in the basic sciences and biological and physical sciences. It is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
The test helps admissions officers evaluate your potential as a medical student, and it enables you to determine if the medical school you are interested in should accept you.
You do not do this test as any part of a nursing degree.
The MCAT includes four sections: Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, Biological Sciences, and Writing. The average score on the test is about 60%.
Studying on a nursing course might help with biological sciences but you’ll still need to make sure you’re good in other sections. This will probably involve a lot of independent study.
Make no mistake; the MCAT is a difficult exam.
Step 3: Apply to Medical School
After writing the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), your grades are sent to the medical schools to which you have applied. There’s nothing preventing you applying for med school with any degree (nursing or otherwise). Almost every application involves a fee however.
Some medical schools prefer to admit nurses because of their prior experience in the healthcare field, while others give no preference to this training. It’s very much case and school-dependent.
We can’t give an exhaustive list of schools that look favorably on nursing degrees for this reason.
As mentioned before, medical schools evaluate applicants’ undergraduate GPA, coursework and MCAT scores when deciding which applicants to admit.
Something that could play in your favor as a nursing student includes:
- Documented clinical hours undertaken as part of a degree
- Letter of recommendation (LOR’s) from clinicians/healthcare professionals
- Research experience
The network you could build as a nursing undergrad could prove very useful when applying to medical school.
Step 4: Attend Medical School
Medical school is divided into two distinct phases. The first comprises classroom instruction and the second involves clinical experience in hospitals and clinics.
Becoming a medical doctor takes four years, regardless of prior education and training.
Being a nurse does not reduce this time in any way.
You’ll need to complete your education at the same start and end point as every other student.
Step 5: Attend a Residency Program
It is recommended that you begin your residency application process during your last year of medical school.
To specialize in a specific field, many physicians seek fellowships. Post-graduate fellowships can be up to five years in length, depending on the field.
Having previous nursing experience could help favorably when it comes to matching (being accepted into a residency program). Especially if you have prior experience in particular specialties.
This is because of the same reasons outlined above (network, LOR’s, clinical hours etc.)
Why a Nurse May Be Interested in Becoming a Medical Doctor
Nursing is a rewarding career choice. However, If you’re considering a career change, here are some of the reasons a nurse may be interested in becoming a medical doctor.
1. Job Security and Salary Potential are Much Higher
Nurses make good money, but they don’t earn anywhere near what doctors do. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for registered nurses was $82,750 in 2021, while the median annual wage for physicians and surgeons was $208,000 during that same period. That’s more than double what nurses made!
The job market for nurses is very competitive, especially for those with advanced degrees. Becoming a medical doctor may help you to find a job that offers greater job security and higher pay.
2. Doctors Have More Control Over their Schedule
Nursing can be extremely demanding on your time and schedule. On work nights, weekends, and holidays; you have to deal with patients who are sick, and sometimes you have no choice but to work overtime or extra shifts when there’s an emergency at work or someone calls out sick unexpectedly.
Medical school doesn’t have quite as much flexibility as nursing does when it comes to scheduling — at least not yet — but it still provides more options than nursing when it comes to working hours and days off.
Being a physician, you’re not as strictly scheduled based on your shift times like nurses usually are.
3. You Want to Help More People
A medical degree allows you to potentially help more people in more direct ways.
You’ll be able to specialize, treat more patients, get them the care they need, and potentially undertake life-changing research.
Although there are potential avenues to do this in nursing, it’s more expected of doctors.
4. Career Advancement
Becoming a medical doctor can be the first step toward becoming an administrator or hospital administrator. You could also become an entrepreneur and open your clinic or private practice. Or even invent medical devices.
Nurses generally work for an employer who will set their schedule and pay them an hourly wage or salary.
5. Flexibility in Career Path and Location
Medical doctors have more flexibility than nurses when choosing their specialty areas.
Doctors may be able to work from home or a hospital if they choose this type of practice.
Nurses (more often than not) have to work in hospitals or other medical facilities on a full-time basis for most shifts – at least 40 hours per week unless they work part-time or as independent contractors.
For a more in-depth discussion on both careers; doctors vs nurse, see our article: Why Become A Doctor Instead Of A Nurse? (6 Reasons)
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.