If you’re an experienced nurse who is eager to advance your career, the RN to MD path is a great option. Being an RN is often the easiest way to begin a medical career.
Maybe medical school seemed too hard or expensive in the past. Or raising a family took priority over career achievements. Whatever the reason, if you are feeling the urge to take on medical school, let Incredible Health guide you from becoming a registered nurse to a medical doctor.
- What are some reasons to go from RN to MD?
- What are the steps to becoming an MD?
- How much does medical school cost?
- What are alternatives to an MD?
What are some reasons to go from RN to MD?
Focus on a specialty. One of the greatest benefits in healthcare is experiencing different patient populations and specialties. As a nurse, you may discover you have a passion for pediatrics or crave being in the operating room. You can expand on this as an MD by delivering babies or performing complex surgeries.
Spark change. While all medical professionals can improve the outlook of healthcare, physicians are often given the opportunity and funding for research. MDs are often pioneers in innovative technology and hold roles on medical boards, in prestigious medical schools, and in research facilities.
Better pay. Let’s be honest. Physicians (specifically surgeons) are the highest-paid medical professionals. If your goal is to maximize your income, this is one way to do it. It’s highly recommended this not be your only reason as the increase in pay comes with substantial responsibility.
A desire to advance. If you are experiencing a strong interest and desire to advance your education, credentials, and patient care, this may be the motivation you need to be successful.
The career outlook for RNs vs MDs
The job outlook for registered nurses is expected to increase by .
However, the employment outlook for MDs is projected to grow 3% from 2021 to 2031.
Since MDs tend to be more specialized career paths, there are usually fewer of them. There is still a need for physician services as our population continues to grow and age with an average of 22,700 job openings each year.
Salary differences between RNs and MDs vary depending on experience, location, and specialty. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median annual salary for physicians and surgeons in 2021 is over $208,000, or $100 per hour.
The average RN salary is $82,750 or $39.78 per hour. See how your nursing salary stacks up to nurses in other states.
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Level of responsibility
One area to consider is the degree of responsibility that comes with being a licensed physician. As an RN, you understand the importance of the actions you take each day and the potential consequences they can have on the lives of your patients. The responsibility is increased as a doctor who is diagnosing, prescribing, and making critical decisions.
As an MD, you must be prepared to be a leader. You need to remain confident in your judgment, stay up to date on evidence-based practices, and collaborate with your colleagues when additional expertise is needed.
What are the steps to becoming an MD?
A nurse must first possess a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This is likely to meet prerequisite requirements, though this will depend on the medical school you choose. If you don’t have a BSN, there are bridge programs that can help you achieve an RN to BSN degree.
Take the MCAT
The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is a multiple-choice examination that assesses problem-solving, critical thinking, and knowledge of principles related to medicine. This exam is taken to determine your eligibility before applying to medical schools. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the type of content on the MCAT is learned in prerequisite courses such as chemistry and biology which are covered in nursing school.
Apply to medical school
The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) makes it easy to apply to medical schools. AMCAS collects and verifies your MCAT score, coursework and official transcripts, and letters of evaluation and submits them to the medical schools you designate.
Attend medical school
Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to medical school. Now the real work begins. As a nurse, you’re familiar with the dedication and time commitment a healthcare degree requires. Just like with most nursing programs, the first two years include a mixture of classroom and lab time. You’ll build on your ability to assess patients by adding in the complexities of diagnosis, pharmacology, and pathology.
Attend a residency program or fellowship
Next comes clinical experience. Again, you may feel a sense of deja vu back to the days in nursing school when you were a student learning from your nursing instructor and preceptor. The stakes are higher now as you are not following doctor’s orders, but deciding them. Now is the time to hone your skills and decide on a possible specialty.
Just like nursing school, you’ll experience rotations in hospitals and clinics from surgery to pediatrics. Residency programs last anywhere from 3 to 7 years, with surgical residencies on the longer end.
After residency, you may choose to obtain further specialized training through a fellowship. Fellowships are not required but provide 1-3 additional years of subspecialty training in areas such as anesthesia, neurology, gastroenterology, and more.
How much does medical school cost?
Attending medical school isn’t cheap. The cost will depend on the school you choose and its location. The average total cost of a medical school degree is $218,792 which equals over $54,000 per year. Medical residents do make a small annual salary of around $60,000 which is just enough to cover a year of tuition and not much to live on.
How to pay for it
Paying for medical school is often a huge barrier for students. It’s very common for MDs to begin practicing with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. For RNs transitioning to MD, it’s very likely you’re also supporting a family and have other financial commitments. It’s imperative to consider the cost of medical school and the health of your finances before applying.
While student loans are the most obvious course for paying for medical school, there are other options. Some medical schools may offer financial aid. Scholarships are another possibility and there are numerous loan forgiveness or repayment programs, especially for public service careers.
What are alternatives to an MD?
If you feel a calling to advance your degree, there are several career paths for RNs that can save you years of additional school and thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) are alternatives to medical doctors. They are nurses who specialize in certain areas, such as the following:
Nurse practitioner (NP)
Nurse practitioners often work directly under the supervision of an MD or PA (physician’s assistant). This advanced education provides you with autonomy and opens up opportunities to have your own practice in some settings such as aesthetics. NPs usually work in primary care or family practice offices but may also assist in acute care settings.
CRNAs are the highest-paid APRNs, earning an average of $202,470. Becoming a nurse anesthetist is perfect for you if you like surgical settings and have extreme attention to detail as you will be administering anesthesia.
Certified nurse midwife (CNM)
Nurse midwives often work with OB/GYN providers and take an active role in supporting pregnant patients and delivering babies. The advanced skills and training prepare you for high-risk pregnancies and working in hospitals, birthing centers, or caring for patients in their homes.
If you’re feeling stagnant in your nursing job and are craving a challenge or a new adventure, there are more types of nurses than you can imagine.
Expert advice from nurses like you
Transitioning from RN to MD isn’t an easy feat and requires a time and financial commitment that deserves contemplation and preparation. As a nurse, you possess the tenacity to achieve any goals you set for yourself, and the Incredible Health team is here to support you. You can receive advice from real nurses by asking questions in our nurse community.
Yes. Once you obtain your BSN you can follow the same path as all medical students by taking the MCAT, applying and attending medical school, and completing a residency program.
After receiving your bachelor’s degree, it will take anywhere from 6 to 10 years depending on the specialty you choose.
The main difference is that DOs focus on a more holistic, preventative approach to healing, while MDs use research-based evidence to prescribe medicine and surgery.
Generally, the coursework and residency requirements are the same for both with each designation taking the same board exam and practicing in equivalent roles and settings.
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- “Applying to Medical School.” aamc.org. Accessed June 13, 2022.
- “Average Cost of Medical School.” educationaldata.org. Accessed June 13, 2022.
- “Financial Aid Application Process.” aamc.org. Accessed June 13, 2022.
- “Loan Forgiveness, Loan Repayment Assistance Programs, and Scholarships.” aamc.org. Accessed June 13, 2022.
- “MCAT FAQs.” aamc.org. Accessed June 13, 2022.
- “Physicians and Surgeons Job Outlook.” bls.gov. Accessed June 13, 2022.
- “Physicians and Surgeons Salary.” bls.gov. Accessed June 13, 2022.
- “Registered Nurses Wages.” bls.gov. Accessed June 13, 2022.
- “What is the difference between a DO and an MD?” medicalnewstoday.com. Accessed June 18, 2022.