It’s the age old question for any student considering a career in healthcare: Nursing school or medical school?
Both have pros, and both have cons. There are great things about being a nurse, and there are terrible things about being a nurse. Likewise, there are wonderful things about being a doctor, and there are terrible things about being a doctor.
And while we may be a little biased towards nursing (after all, this IS a nursing website…), we will lay out some of the considerations of both becoming a doctor or a nurse.
Before we get started, let’s also make the brief point that even if you decide to become a doctor after becoming a nurse, you can still do so, although you may have to take a few more prerequisites before you begin medical school. Also, this article doesn’t consider the idea of becoming a Nurse Practitioner, which is a really good compromise between being a nurse and a doctor–so you may want to keep that in mind as well.
Nursing School or Medical School
Costs and Length of Time in School
To become a doctor, you will have to get an undergraduate degree (4 years). Then go to medical school for 4 more years (and graduate school gets very expensive).
So for school, you get 8 years to be a doctor vs 2 years to be a nurse. That’s a pretty big difference both with costs and time. If you went nursing, you could have worked for 6 more years than a new doctor grad, making a salary and having no fees in medical school. So let’s assume you earned the median RN salary of $64,690 times 6 years =$388,140 you would have earned.
In contrast, the new graduate doctor will have likely earned little to no income, plus would have accrued 6 years of very expensive schooling. They may graduate with $100,000 of debt or more. Therefore, in the same period of time, a nurse will have approximately $488,140 more ($388,140 less the $100k expense of medical school). In fact, the median debt of graduating medical students in 2010 was $150,000. Ouch. So yes, the costs and length of time in school can really add up!
Career Outlook and Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for both nursing and physicians/surgeons are bright. Nursing is expected to grow 26% between 2010 and 2020, while physicians/surgeons are expected to grow 24%. So there is a higher demand for nurses, but both have a very bright outlook.
And while nurses earn a very good median salary ($64,690), doctors win on the salary, bringing in an impressive median salary of $166,400 per year. So even though nurses get a great jump on the salary and save a bundle on medical school, doctors can pull in such an impressive amount that they may be able to catch up in just a few years time, or perhaps a decade at most depending on their spending habits.
Job Overview and Comparison
Here’s where nurses probably have it easier. Nurses are not usually as busy as doctors. Doctors will likely log in more hours, be on call more often, and have far more paperwork and responsibilities than a nurse. In fact, most doctors I work with are eternally busy.
Nurses, on the other hand, tend to have a little more flexibility on the job. They can work 12 hour shifts and get full-time work done in 3 days. They usually aren’t on call nearly as often on their off days, and they deal with a lot less bureaucracy on the job. Plus, some doctors have to pay very hefty malpractice/liability insurance, whereas nurses usually don’t have as much liability exposure.
Yes, nursing can be very stressful or tiring at times. You may have rude patients, you may have to clean up various bodily fluids, and so forth. But at the end of the day you can clock out and forget about it. No pagers or texts will be sending you back to the job (in most cases).
Doctors on the other hand, don’t deal with actual patients as often as nurses do. Unless they are a surgeon, they are a little more “hands off” with many types of specialties.
Conclusion: Nursing vs Medical School
So which is the best solution: The answer is…it depends.
Fortunately, both are wonderful careers, and we live in a world where both are needed desperately. We can’t imagine a world with no doctors and all nurses, or all nurses and no doctors.
You can become a nurse much faster, earn a great salary, enjoy a wide range of specialties, high demand in your career, and deal with a lot less liability and frustrations that a doctor will face. And since we love nurses, we’d strongly encourage you to become a nurse. After all, you can always go back for your nurse practitioner and earn even more, or even go to medical school if you decide to go that route. Nursing is almost fool-proof.
On the other hand, nurses won’t make as much money as doctors over their entire career, doctors are held in higher esteem in our society. And being a doctor is certainly a wonderful career achievement as well.
So the better question is: What is most appealing to you? Do you want less responsibility, less schooling, and still earn a competitive salary with opportunities to advance your career or go back to school to become a Nurse Practitioner? Then go to nursing school.
Or do you want to reach for the stars, be prepared to be in school for 8 years, take on potential debt for schooling, but get the high salary and more prestigious career? Then shoot for an M.D. degree.
And if you do go against our logic and become an MD, just remember to be kind to us nurses =).