The main reason to become a doctor instead of a nurse – although people will often argue money, prestige, and leadership – is to gain an advanced scientific understanding of the principles behind the disease.
For the intellectually curious going into healthcare, that can be a dealbreaker!
But it’s an interesting question. It’s also one used often in medical school interviews to get a better feel for candidates too. Especially when judging how much thought they’ve given to their future career.
A good answer shouldn’t diminish the role of a nurse – they’re just as fundamental to medical care as doctors! – but it shouldn’t be ill-informed either. So here are six ideas that could prove useful when choosing to become a doctor over a nurse.
- Intellectual Hunger
- Prestige and Money
- Research Opportunities
Note: Obviously these won’t apply to everyone – it takes a certain type of person to become a doctor!
Let’s dive into each…
One misconception many people have about nurses is that they are pushed around by doctors. This isn’t the case. There are many nurses in leadership roles, dictating patients’ care, etc, just not as many as doctors!
Where doctors might have another edge is when it comes to “intellectual leadership”. Due to their training, and wider education in core science subjects, doctors tend to have a deeper understanding of why certain decisions in healthcare get made. Because of this, they might get a different type of pleasure leading a healthcare team too.
Of course, there’s also the argument that doctors sit at the top of the totem pole in terms of the healthcare hierarchy. And that they have the final say on a patient’s treatment plan. But this is probably, in the US at least, more down to insurance companies at the end of the day.
Still, doctors are, in the view of the general public at least, seen as the frontline leaders in hospitals and surgeries. They’re also the ones deemed to have the greater responsibility too.
So it’s no surprise this is given as a common reason for choosing to be a doctor over a nurse.
As doctors undergo more rigorous and lengthy training than nurses, being intellectually curious is important. It’s also a solid reason to choose to become a doctor over a nurse given your responsibility to stay up to date with current research.
I’m not saying nurses can’t be intellectually curious – a lot of them are! I’m just maybe suggesting it’s less of an expectation of their role.
Doctors, for the most part, are licensed prescription givers in a healthcare setting. They’re also tasked with working out the puzzle of presenting symptoms and delivering a diagnosis.
Without being too dedicated to monitoring ongoing clinical research or reviewing medical journals, it’s difficult to stay on top of all that. But it’s also a responsibility with a lot of appeal.
Prestige and Money
This is a controversial one given increasing nursing salaries (especially traveling nurses). Where there might be a more concrete case however is with “prestige”. Doctors, at least in most areas of public consciousness, are seen in a more prestigious light than nurses.
Whether or not this is fair or not, is beyond the scope of this article. But, in most countries, possibly due to the responsibility they assume and the training they undergo, the title of doctor does carry a certain kind of gravitas.
Another thing worth mentioning – although it’s probably not a good idea in a medical interview – is money.
According to 2018 data, the average nurse salary is just shy of $80K per year. Compare this to the average primary care physician at $238K though (with specialist pay being even higher), and you can see how this could be a big motivator.
But of course, this doesn’t factor in training time, expenses, and the cost of running your own business. All things doctors usually have to consider more than nurses.
Possibly the best reason on this list, and one that usually sits well with medical school interviewers, is the argument that becoming a doctor requires more intellectual rigor than becoming a nurse.
Now, I’m not saying for that reason people should be turned off about becoming a doctor – I’ve mentioned before how you don’t necessarily need to be smart to be a doctor. I’m just saying becoming a doctor exposes you to further educational training. Training that enables you to understand the reasons for pathologies, the pathways, and mechanisms, etc, more than just associating symptoms with a cause.
The education of a nurse, although a big commitment, isn’t as in-depth here. It’s rare they’ll understand pharmacological modes of action and the surgical aspects of care, for example, more than your average doctor would.
The same goes for understanding lab values, how and why particular pathologies occur, and why the prescription of one drug over another would be the best course of action.
Doctors get more of all that good stuff.
Although nurses do undertake medical research, just check out the American Nurses Association, for example, opportunities are no way as widespread as they are for doctors.
This is also why research (and the teaching that generally comes from it) makes up part of what a lot of medical applicants call “the trinity“.
Used to refer to the opportunities medicine (and becoming a doctor) delivers in terms of patient care, science and teaching, the trinity is another key answer used by medical applicants to respond to the question of nurse vs doctor.
For academics who enjoy diving deep and going further in science, the research projects afforded to doctors are generally a lot higher than they are for nurses. Strikeout and discover something unique in your research too and suddenly the idea becomes even more appealing.
Finally, the last major reason becoming a doctor might appear more appealing than a nurse is flexibility. Especially in terms of the number of specialties and areas of medicine available. Not to mention surgical opportunities too.
Having the chance to channel your studies into a specialist area, and rise to prominence in a niche field, also allows for a lot of autonomy also. Even more so if you decide to open up your own practice, run your own business, and employ other health workers.
That’s something not many nurses get the opportunity to do.
Arguably becoming a doctor might open more opportunities for work overseas or in lifestyle specialties also. But again this is case-dependent.
Deciding to become a doctor over a nurse is a personal decision. The ideas above however might help inspire you if you’re undecided or looking to show you’ve considered all the possible pros and cons.
When it comes to medical interviews and these types of questions, examiners are looking for thoughtful and logical responses over stock stereotypes. Hopefully, these have helped.
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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.