Should You Shift from Nurse to Doctor?

Written by: Alex Brown
Published on: Oct 21, 2021

Nurse to Doctor

Sometimes nurses dream of becoming medical doctors. Those who accomplish that achievement often express feelings of pride, self-affirmation, and confidence. One reason they do is there can be resentment from the nursing community, with nurse mentors and others claiming you are turning your back on nursing by considering medical school.

However, if you’re committed to providing patient healthcare in a different way, switching from nurse to doctor can be rewarding, but there are several considerations if you want to take this big step.


Training required for a medical career is much lengthier and more science-related than the education necessary for nursing. You must have already completed an undergraduate bachelor’s degree.

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) will likely be sufficient as a prerequisite for medical school. However, BSN programs do not always cover the entire subject matter necessary to prepare for the Medical College Admission Test, required by all med school applicants.

If you’ve earned a different nursing undergraduate degree, you may need to attend a premedical post-baccalaureate program before applying to medical school. And if your degree is in a non-science field, you will probably have prerequisite coursework to complete.

Your medical school experience begins with two years completing basic science courses. Your third and fourth years will be spent completing clinical rotations while learning from experienced physicians and developing practical skills.

Application & Testing

The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) is a centralized system enabling you to submit multiple applications. Once schools receive your application, they may send you a secondary one with additional questions or essay prompts. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) provides guidance for the medical school application components you’ll need to complete.

One of those components is passing the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The MCAT takes about seven and a half hours to complete and includes some 230 questions across multiple topics.

Once you’re in medical school, you’ll need to complete the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1. Until recently, med students were also required to complete USMLE Step 2 as well but that section was recently cancelled.

Nurse and Doctor


Between the education requirements and medical training, your journey to becoming a doctor will be extremely time-consuming. This can impact you professionally and personally. For more experienced nurses who can work independently, the idea of restarting clinical training can seem daunting.

Some experts claim it can take ten years or more until a nurse will be practicing as a physician independently. Medical school lasts for four years. Once completed, the next step is a residency that can take two to four years.

After medical school, new physicians attend a residency program that is between two and four years. If you want to specialize in a specific field, you must complete a fellowship, which can last up to five years. The more specialized the field, the longer the post-graduate training.


According to the AAMC, the average cost of attendance for one year at a public medical school (including tuition, fees, and health insurance) was $41,438 for the 2020-2021 school year. This figure is much higher for private universities. Out-of-state students at a public should expect to pay around $250K for their medical degree.


A doctor's approach to patients isn't exactly the same as a nurse's approach. Therefore, the role of a physician requires a different way of thinking. Medicine is very disease-focused whereas nursing involves a high degree of patient care. Doctors concentrate on figuring out what the issue is and deciding how to manage that problem. It’s their scientific expertise that leads.

Nurses, on the other hand, are concerned with patient management and assisting with treatment, requiring less science and more teamwork, conflict resolution, creative problem solving, and other care delivery skills. For those who possess a dual mindset, the path toward becoming a doctor will be easier.