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    June 28, 2021

    How to Go From a Registered Nurse (RN) to a Medical Doctor (MD)

    Kathleen Gaines
    By: Kathleen Gaines MSN, RN, BA, CBC

    Updated 6/28/2021

    Nurses and doctors are both essential parts of the healthcare field and work together closely to ensure that patients receive the best possible care. Both have vastly distinct roles and responsibilities. But a registered nurse (RN) can become a medical doctor (MD), as long as they go through the additional schooling, training, and exams.

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    Reasons Why Nurses May Want to Become Medical Doctors (MDs)

    There are some nurses who have always dreamed of becoming a medical doctor, but college happens, life happens and things change. Nursing sometimes is the next best option. It is only after being in the field and seeing the differences between nurses and doctors do those individuals desire this career path again. 

    Others want to be more helpful to their patients. Some want more responsibilities including more invasive procedures or overseeing the team. There is a milieu of reasons why someone would want to become a doctor; it is a decision that should not be made lightly. It impacts not only the nurse but also their family and friends. Medical training is long and carries a heavy financial burden. 

    Is There a Stigma Around Nurses Becoming MDs?

    There has always been a stigma surrounding doctors and nurses transitioning to this profession. A decade ago very few nurses would leave bedside nursing to enter medical school but now nurses, doctors, and medical schools are more accepting.

    While there is still a slight stigma, it is important for nurses in medical school to remember their training, bedside manner, and compassion towards the patients, but also remember that MDs look at patients with a separate set of objectives and these objectives are what saves lives. 

    How to Go From Registered Nurse to Medical Doctor (MD)

    Step 1.) Earn a Bachelor's Degree

    First and foremost, you must already have an undergraduate bachelor’s degree. If the degree is a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) then most of the coursework will be sufficient as prerequisites for medical school.

    If you have a degree in another non-science field, it is important to take notice of all prerequisite coursework.

    If you don't have a bachelor’s degree - this would be the first step in becoming an MD. 

    Step 2.) Take the MCAT

    The next step is taking the Medical College Admission Test or MCAT. This exam must be taken within three years of applying to medical school. The MCAT is a standardized computer-based exam that assesses problem solving, critical thinking, written analysis and knowledge of scientific concepts and principles.

    Unfortunately, prior healthcare experience as a nurse does not give those individuals an advantage over others. In fact, it’s possible that the longer nurses have been practicing will actually have a disadvantage on the exam.

    Most students take the MCAT in their last semester of undergrad and prepare extensively in classes. Some major universities even offer students review courses. Nurses would be required to find their own study programs. 

    The MCAT exam is like the NCLEX that focuses less on real-world application and more on textbook learning. This could be a disadvantage to some nurses.

    Step 3.) Apply to Medical School

    After sitting for the MCAT, scores are reported to the medical schools that were applied to. Some schools prefer nurses because of their prior experience in the healthcare field while others see it as a hindrance. Medical schools look at undergraduate grades, coursework, the university the individual graduated from and the MCAT scores. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) some medical schools do not look at applicants with MCAT scores under a certain score. 

    Step 4.) Attend Medical School

    Medical school is two years in the classroom setting and two years in the clinical setting. Regardless of prior healthcare experience and training becoming a medical doctor still take four years. Being a nurse does not cut this time down. 

    Step 5.) Attend a Residency Program and Possibly a Fellowship

    After medical school, new physicians attend a residency program that is between two and four years. If an individual wishes to specialize in a specific field, a fellowship is required.

    Fellowships can be up to five years in length. The more specialized the field, the longer the post-graduate training.

    How Long Does it Take to Go From RN to MD?

    Once all is said and done it could be almost ten years (i.e. cardiothoracic surgeons and neurosurgeons) before becoming a full-fledged attending physician.

    How Much Does Medical School Cost for Nurses?

    According to the AAMC, the average cost of attendance for one year at a public medical school (including tuition, fees, and health insurance) was $34,592 for in-state students and $58,668 for out-of-state students for the 2016-2017 school year.

    This figure was much higher for private universities. This means an out-of-state student would pay approximately $234,672 for their medical degree.

    In 2020, U.S. News & World Report released a list of the ten most affordable public medical schools. 6 of the 10 are in Texas. As seen in the table below, these low-cost medical schools are also ranked as some of the lowest, or not ranked at all in medical and osteopathic schools. While this may not seem important - graduating from a well-known and well-respected medical school can make a stark difference in residency placement and future job opportunities. 

    Medical school In-state tuition & fees (2019-2020) U.S. News research rank U.S. News primary care rank
    Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center $31,908 90 73 (tie)
    Texas A&M University $32,824 74 (tie) 94-122
    University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center   $34,390 26 26 (tie)
    University of North Texas Health Science Center $35,174 94-122 72
    SUNY Upstate Medical University $36,196 84 (tie) 94-122
    University of Texas Health Science Center—San Antonio $36,671 55 (tie) 67
    Ohio State University $42,795 34 (tie) 38 (tie)
    University of New Mexico $48,608 81 (tie) 52 (tie)
    University of Florida $49,538 40 (tie) 47 (tie)
    University of Cincinnati $51,133 44 (tie) 43 (tie)

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    Not Ready to Become an MD? Other Career Advancement Options for Nurses

    For nurses there a plethora of advance medical degrees that do not require a four-year medical degree and a lengthy postgraduate residency and fellowship. The most common are Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) and Nurse Practitioner (NP).

    CRNA programs are typically three years, while NP programs can be completed in two years, if done full time. Furthermore, registered nurses are still able to work while attending these programs, whereas they cannot work while in medical school. Additionally, because NP and CRNA programs are seen as career advancements by hospitals, tuition reimbursement may be an option. Medical school would not qualify. 

    Becoming a MD does have its advantages and it is understandable why some nurses want to further their career in this way. The best advice for anyone considering this path is to have a frank, open conversation with others in the medical field and determine if the length of school, associated financial responsibilities, and change in lifestyle will ultimately be worth it.

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