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Can A Nurse Become A Doctor? (Switching To Medicine)

Can A Nurse Become A Doctor? (Switching To Medicine)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

There may come a time in your nursing career when you start to wonder if becoming a doctor is the right path for you.

As a registered nurse, you possess many skills and qualifications that can serve as a stepping stone to pursuing a medical degree and advancing your career.

A nurse can become a doctor by applying to university and completing a medical degree. Although there is no fast-track transfer program for nurses to become doctors, nurses will typically have many of the prerequisites for medical school and so can accelerate their admissions process.

In fact, many nurses have successfully made the transition to becoming doctors.

One of my very good friends at Leicester Medical School had done exactly that- she’d qualified as a nurse, worked in the NHS for a year and then decided to study medicine.

Choosing to become a doctor after being a nurse can be a well-informed decision that is tailored to your specific career goals, and in this article, I’m going to show you exactly how you can do it.

How To Go From Nurse To Doctor

The journey from nurse to doctor involves completing additional education, training, and examinations.

The good news is that your nursing background can actually accelerate the medical school admissions process.

This is because registered nurses (RNs) often hold many of the prerequisites that medical schools require, which can give you a significant advantage in the competitive medical education landscape.

Evaluate Your GCSEs And A-Levels

Before embarking on the journey of becoming a doctor, I’d recommend you start by evaluating your GCSEs and A-Levels.

Although you’ve already got a background in healthcare, you’ll generally still need a strong foundation in subjects such as Maths, English, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology.

If your current qualifications are lacking, consider enrolling in supplementary courses or retaking exams to improve your grades.

You won’t require the sky-high grades often needed to secure a spot on an undergraduate medicine course, but you will still need some evidence of academic achievement at both GCSE and A-level.

Take The UCAT

To apply for most medical schools in the UK, you’ll need to take the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT).

This is a standardised exam assessing your cognitive abilities, decision-making skills and understanding of basic medical ethics.

It’s the most popular entrance exam used by medical schools in the UK, but it isn’t the only one.

The GAMSAT is a graduate-entry medicine specific exam that you might also end up needing to take.

Which exams you have to sit all depends on which universities you choose to apply to.

Whichever you sign up for, don’t underestimate them and start preparing early. Utilise resources such as practice exams and study guides to ensure you get a competitive score.

Apply To Medical School

Once you have achieved the required GCSEs, A-Levels, and UCAT score, begin researching and applying to medical schools.

Make a list of the universities that interest you, and thoroughly research their admission requirements, curriculum, and any special programmes they offer for nurses transitioning to doctors.

Researching medical schools

Prepare a strong application, highlighting your nursing experience and desire to advance in the medical field.

Complete Medical School

After being accepted to a medical school, you’ll need to complete your medical degree, which typically takes 4-6 years depending on the programme.

During this time, you’ll study various aspects of medicine, engage in practical training, and complete clinical rotations.

Your nursing background will likely provide you with valuable insight and experience throughout your medical education, helping you excel in your new career as a doctor.

Benefits Of Transitioning From Nurse to Doctor

While nursing can offer an incredibly varied and rewarding career, I think there are some distinct advantages of transitioning to becoming a doctor.

Career Advancement

By transitioning from a nurse to a doctor, you open up numerous opportunities for career advancement that just aren’t that easily accessible from a nursing standpoint.

This includes anything from becoming a surgeon to an interventional radiologist.

As a doctor, you will have the chance to further specialise in a specific medical field, allowing you to gain more expertise in your chosen area.

This not only increases your professional standing but also offers you increased potential for growth in terms of salary, job responsibilities, and personal fulfilment.

Increased Autonomy And Clinical Practice Scope

As a doctor, you’ll almost certainly enjoy increased autonomy in your clinical practice.

Compared to the role of a nurse, doctors are generally more independent in making decisions related to patient care and treatment plans.

Instead of physically being the person who gives a patient their antibiotics, for example, as a doctor you get to decide which antibiotics would be best for the patient.

This increased authority allows you to take greater ownership of your patients’ well-being and ensure they receive the best care possible.

Additionally, the scope of your clinical practice will expand significantly as a doctor, enabling you to diagnose, treat, and manage a wider range of medical conditions.

Greater Impact On Patient Care

Becoming a doctor can also have a profound impact on your ability to influence patient care.

As a medical professional with an advanced level of knowledge and training, you will be better equipped to make decisions that directly affect patient outcomes.

This increased expertise will enable you to advocate for the best interest of your patients, ensuring they receive the most appropriate care for their specific needs.

In doing so, not only will you contribute more significantly to the overall quality of healthcare provided, but you will also gain greater personal satisfaction from knowing you are making a real difference in people’s lives.

Why Nurses Make Great Doctors

I’m yet to meet a nurse who became a doctor that wasn’t subsequently excellent at their job. I think nurses make brilliant doctors and here’s why:

Patient-Centred Approach

As a nurse, you’ve developed a patient-centred approach to care.

You’ve worked closely with patients, their families, and your healthcare team to develop and implement care plans that provide them with the best possible outcomes.

By transitioning to a doctor, you can take your understanding of patients’ individual needs, preferences, and circumstances to a higher level, ensuring their well-being remains the primary focus in medical decision-making.

Although this is of course still taught during medical degrees, I think nurses just have that extra step above and beyond the level of understanding direct-entry doctors have.

Healthcare Experience And Medical Knowledge

Your nursing background provides you with extensive healthcare experience and medical knowledge.

Compared to someone entering medical school straight from school, you have the practical grounding and expertise that comes from working in a variety of clinical settings.

Additionally, you’re already familiar with medical equipment, procedures, and the unique challenges faced daily in healthcare environments.

A nurse taking the temperature from a little boy
A nurse taking a little boy’s temperature

With this experience and knowledge, you can be a valuable asset to medical teams and patients alike.

Seen It From The ‘Other Side’

One advantage of being a nurse before becoming a doctor is your awareness of both sides of healthcare provision.

Your unique perspective allows you to appreciate the roles and responsibilities of each team member, fostering more effective communication and collaboration.

You can draw upon insights gained from your nursing experience to bridge the gap between the two professions, helping to break down any potential barriers or misunderstandings that could impact patient care- for example, doctors’ terrible handwriting!

Remember, you already have many of the skills and experiences that can contribute to your success as a doctor.

Embrace this unique background as you make the transition from nurse to doctor, and you’ll be well-equipped to excel in your new role.

Is Becoming A Doctor Worth It If You’re A Nurse?

As a nurse, you may be considering the possibility of becoming a doctor and might be wondering if it is worth the time, effort, and resources.

First of all, consider that the process of becoming a doctor can be rigorous and lengthy.

You’ll have to spend at least 4 years back at university to get your medical degree and then go on to complete the 2-year foundation program as a newly qualified doctor.

This time investment can be substantial, especially if you are already well-settled in your nursing career.

Next, think about the financial aspect of pursuing a medical degree.

Medical school can be expensive, and tuition fees, living expenses, and other costs can add up quickly.

Keep in mind that you’ll be committing a significant amount of money towards your education, so it’s essential to weigh the potential return on investment.

A final, and possibly most important, factor to consider is your motivation for becoming a doctor.

Are you interested in expanding your medical knowledge and expertise, or do you primarily want to enhance your earning potential?

Remember that being a doctor typically requires more extensive decision-making abilities and increased accountability compared to nursing roles.

I’d suggest becoming a doctor if you’re already a nurse will be worth it if you view it as a long-term investment.

There’s nothing quick or easy about getting a medical degree, so if you view it as a shortcut to a bigger paycheck and easier shifts then you may be disappointed.

However, if you are genuinely interested in a career change that you could see yourself thriving in for years to come, then I couldn’t recommend medicine to you enough.

Alternatives To Becoming A Doctor

If you’re not fully satisfied in your current role as a nurse, but aren’t sure if becoming a doctor is the right option, here are some alternatives open to you.

Advanced Nurse Practitioner

As an alternative to pursuing a career as a doctor, you could consider becoming an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (ANP).

ANPs are highly skilled nurses who have completed additional education and training.

They are capable of providing comprehensive healthcare services, including diagnosing and treating illnesses.

As an ANP, your responsibilities encompass clinical decision-making, and in some cases, you can even prescribe medication.

Physician Associate

Another option is to become a Physician Associate (PA), also known as a Physician Assistant in the US.

PAs are healthcare professionals trained in the medical model and work under the supervision of a doctor.

Physician associates can perform similar duties as a doctor, such as diagnosing and managing patients, ordering and interpreting tests, and even performing minor procedures.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

You may also consider becoming a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), which is another advanced nursing role with a focus on a specific patient population, setting, or medical condition.

A CNS uses their expertise to manage complex patient care situations, provide consultations, and serve as a clinical resource for other healthcare professionals.

By exploring these alternatives to becoming a doctor, you can still advance your career within the healthcare field while utilising your nursing background and skills.

Final Thoughts

As a nurse, you can very much choose to change paths and become a doctor, but it isn’t a decision to be taken lightly.

As they say, the grass always appears greener on the other side, so I’d think carefully before choosing to commit yourself to a minimum of 4 years at university.

However, if you do feel that medicine is right for you, choosing to become a doctor following your nursing career could be the best decision you ever make.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.