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Advancing from RN to MD: How To Do It and… Should You?

Advancing from RN to MD: How To Do It and… Should You?

You have worked as a Registered Nurse for a while and now you know, beyond any shadow of a doubt that helping people and saving lives is your calling. The desire to improve healthcare simply runs through your veins. Being by the patients’ side when they need you most is why you became a nurse in the first place – and what makes you so good at your job. 

But at the same time, you always strive for more. So, naturally, a question starts making its way into your brain, more and more poignantly: Should I become a doctor? 

Chances are you’ve thought about this before. Maybe becoming a physician was always top of your priorities list but nursing was the more advantageous option in terms of financial investment, length of study, ease in entering the workforce and starting to make money. Maybe you kept advancing your nursing education, and now, while a proud possessor of an MSN degree, you are still craving more. Or probably you just want to advance your career and step into a more independent type of practice. There’s a myriad of reasons why you might find yourself yearning to climb the healthcare ladder and step from RN to MD. But can you do it? Is it worth it? Is becoming a Medical Doctor the best career path for you? While we cannot make the decision for you, we can give you all the facts. 

Let’s delve into what it takes to advance from RN to MD.  

Should You Consider Making This Career Switch?

Making a career switch from a Registered Nurse to a Medical Doctor is, by all means, a complicated and slightly intimidating process. And to top it off, there’s still some stigma around RNs who want to conquer the other side of healthcare practice. 

Although during the last few years more nurses are choosing to transition into a medical career, over a decade ago, the healthcare field was less accepting of RNs leaving bedside care becoming physicians. It may be because the approaches to offering care for doctors and nurses are almost inherently different. Some would argue that the MDs have a different approach to healthcare, a separate set of objectives and that the clear delineation between the responsibilities of doctors and nurses is what saves lives.

Fortunately, the stigma is fading away and more nurses can end up pursuing medical degrees, should they decide that’s the path for them. After all, the clinical training gained as RNs, their bedside manner, compassion, and empathy can go a long way and make them better professionals in the healthcare field, regardless if the abbreviation on their resume reads RN or MD. 

bsn to md

How to go from RN to MD?

We have already mentioned that going from Registered Nurse to Medical Doctor is no walk in the park. But what actually is the process? How does one start and what educational requirements need to be fulfilled? In this section we will tackle the A to Z of transitioning from RN to MD. 

Educational requirements

As an RN, the very first step towards becoming a Medical Doctor is having a Bachelor’s Degree. You cannot start your MD journey without having first completed an undergraduate Bachelor’s Degree. If you have a BSN (Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing) chances are that most of the courses you took while getting your degree might count as prerequisites for your medical studies. If your previous degree is in a non-science field, pay closer attention to the prerequisites you may have to complete. 

Are you considering advancing your education and finally pursuing that BSN degree? Our RN-to-BSN program is the best option for you. 

With this initial educational requirement in mind, let’s see what the next steps are:

Meet Medical School Admissions Requirements

One of the most important admission requirements you will have to tackle is taking the Medical College Admission Test – MCAT. The MCAT is a comprehensive standardized computer-based exam focused rather on textbook learning and assessing one’s problem-solving abilities, critical thinking skills, and knowledge of scientific material, concepts, and principles. While the NCLEX-RN is stressful on its own, the MCAT is even more complex and nerve-wrecking. 

The average MCAT score accepted by most medical schools is around 500, but many programs will require higher average scores, with some Ivy Leagues not accepting candidates with scores lower than 518. 

However, getting an average, or even above-average MCAT score, may not be enough on its own. In addition to that, the medical school you’re applying to is likely to ask for letters of recommendation and a personal statement. Completing certain prerequisites may also be a condition. 

Apply to Medical School

A very possible scenario is that you’ll end up applying to medical school through the American Medical College Application Service. So, once you have your MCAT results, the score you obtained will automatically be sent to the medical programs you applied to. Through this centralized system, you can apply to several medical programs that interest you. They will generally look at things such as your Bachelor’s Degree grades, GPA, the classes you took, what programs you pursued, and your MCAT scores. Should any particular schools require more information from you that wasn’t present on the initial application, you may be asked to answer specific questions, write an essay on a certain topic, or fulfill some other task. The next step after the online application will be the interviews, which are another important step of the admissions process. As a Registered Nurse, you can expect to be asked what prompted you to leave the field of nursing for a career as an MD, especially since not all schools have the same attitude towards nurses pursuing medical careers. 

Get your MD

If you made it successfully on the either side of the complex admissions process – congratulations! – you are ready to embark on your medical school journey. It can be a lengthy and stressful journey, but nothing compares to the sense of fulfillment you get once you achieve your goal.  Medical school programs routinely start with two years of actual classroom study during which you study the basic sciences and get a comprehensive overview of the medical field. After that, the next two years are spent in a clinical setting doing rotations and learning the job hands-on. It’s important to mention that your previous clinical experience does not excuse you from these four years of mandatory education and training. Being an RN to begin with won’t make the time you spend in medical school shorter. It might give you a slight edge in terms of experience, but it won’t impact getting your medical doctor’s degree in any other way. 

Undergo residency and complete other additional requirements

Even after you finish medical school there is still a long way to go before you get practicing physician status. After completing the medical program, you will have to embark on the next step of your journey – the residency program – that is when you specialize in a certain area of medicine. That can take anywhere from two to seven years – based on what speciality you’re pursuing. The years you work as a resident physician are a test in their own right: the hours will be long, the duties stressful, but every day you show up for your residency practice gets you one day closer to being a full-fledged attending physician. 

Start your Practice

Once your residency period is over, once you gain your medical license and board certification, you have the green light to start your medical career. Of course, the total amount of time you will spend learning will vary greatly from one specialization to the other, but as a general rule, achieving your MD will take at least six or seven years. It’s even more for more specialized areas of medicine. For instance, if you have your mind set on becoming a neurosurgeon, be ready to invest around 10 years of your life for this objective.

Also bear in mind the fact that throughout your medical career, it falls under your responsibility to periodically renew your medical license and continuously educate yourself on the newest developments in your field of practice. 

registered nurse to medical doctor programs

Costs of Medical School

A very important thing you have to consider is how much medical school actually costs. According to data from the American Association of Medical Students (AAMC) on average, the cost of attending one year at a public medical school (including tuition fees, and health insurance) is $42,438 for in-state students and $58,246 for out-of-state students. Unsurprisingly, that figure will be much higher for private universities. So, generally, if you were to attend a public medical school out of state, the mandatory four years of study will cost you around $232,984

Bear in mind that in addition to tuition costs there are many other things you need to consider: application fees, MCAT fees, preparation courses for the MCAT, travel expenses and so on. 

Various studies show that when accounting for the tuition debts as well as the lost potential income during medical school, Medical Doctors generally start their careers over $400,000 on the minus side. 

RN vs. MD: Salary Comparison

We’re not trying to sugarcoat it: medical school is expensive. But what about the salary? Does your wage potential justify the expenses, the time, and the energy you put into getting your medical degree? 

Let’s start off by looking at Registered Nurses salaries. The Bureau of Labour Statistics indicates that, on average, RNs earn $80,010 yearly. BSN Nurses can expect slightly higher salaries, that round up to $93,590. Based on specialty, location, level of education, certifications and other factors RN salaries can vary. Advanced Practice Nurses have a higher income potential, with salaries that can be as high as $189,190 (in the case of Nurse Anesthetists). 

Now, let’s look at MDs’ salaries. According to the BLS, physicians and surgeons are among some of the highest paid professionals from all occupations. On average, Physicians earn about $218,850, and the more specialized the job is, the higher the salary. For instance, Anesthesiologists have a median salary of $271,440, while Obstetricians or Gynecologists have paychecks that go as high as $239,120. 

nurse to doctor

Other options for Registered Nurses

If you are looking for advancement opportunities that do not require the commitment of a four-year medical degree, you’ll be happy to find out you have plenty of room to grow professionally even within the nursing field. The most common avenues for advancement as an RN are APRN roles, like a Certified Nurse Anesthetist or Nurse Practitioner.

CRNA or Nurse Anesthetist Programs take around two years to complete, and the good news is that you can still practice and earn money while studying to become a Nurse Anesthetist. Assuredly, it’s very challenging, but it’s possible, whereas working while attending a medical school program is close to impossible. 

Another common pathway for Registered Nurses who want to climb as high up the nursing professional ladder as possible is becoming a Nurse Practitioner. NPs have a high level of autonomy in their nursing practice and can fulfill many of the duties of a general physician. As a Nurse Practitioner you can also specialize in a specific area of nursing. Family, Adult Gerontology, Pediatric, Mental Health are all prevailing specializations for NPs. 

In some cases, pursuing an NP or CRNA degree can even qualify you for tuition reimbursement, as it may be seen as career advancement (of course, it depends on the employer!). Going after a medical degree will not receive the same treatment. 

The Decision Is In Your Hands: What Will It Be?

Unquestionably, applying to medical school, obtaining your MD license, going through residency – it’s all a long, costly, and stressful process. It will only be worth it if becoming a physician is something you genuinely want to do – with every fiber of your being. 

The path from Registered Nurse to Medical Nurse is indeed less traveled for there are not too many RNs who would change a career in nursing for one in the medical field. But that is, of course, up for you to decide. The healthcare field will appreciate your contribution regardless if it’s as a Registered Nurse or Physician. 

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