How to Go From Nurse to Doctor: The Path From RN to MD

8 Min Read Published June 11, 2024
Happy nurse doctor reading over patient notes

Can a Nurse Become a Doctor?

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 additional schooling, training, and exams. Read on to find out how to go from nurse to doctor and everything it takes to get there.

Popular Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Georgetown University
Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 19 months.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY and WA.

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Simmons University

RNs with an associate degree: Advance your nursing career with a supportive online RN to BSN program for women. Simmons University has been empowering nursing leaders for more than 100 years and offering innovative online degree programs since 2013. Up to 96 transfer credits accepted. Request information now.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Why Nurses May Want to Become MDs

There are some nurses who have always dreamed of making a career change and becoming medical doctors, 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. 

>> Show Me DNP Programs

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 

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. 

>> Show Me Online RN-to-BSN Programs

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.

Popular Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Georgetown University
Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 19 months.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY and WA.

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 Educationdata.org, the average cost of medical school is $58,968 per year, and the average total cost is $235,827. 

>> Show Me DNP Programs

Other Career Advancement Options for Nurses

For nurses, there are a plethora of advanced 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 typically last three years and require a doctorate, while NP programs can be completed in two years if done full time. Furthermore, registered nurses can still work while attending these programs, whereas they cannot work while in medical school. Additionally, because NP and CRNA programs are considered career advancements by hospitals, tuition reimbursement may be an option. Medical school would not qualify. 

Becoming an MD has its advantages, and it is understandable why some nurses want to further their careers 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.

Find Nursing Programs

FAQs

  • How long is it to go from RN to MD? 

    • Depending on if you have your Bachelor’s degree already, going from an RN to an MD could take anywhere from six to ten years.
  • Can a nurse become a doctor? 

    • An RN can absolutely become a doctor. They can become an MD or DO by earning a Bachelor’s and applying to medical school just like any other student. Or, an RN could become a doctor of nursing (DNP), which is an educational degree and does not grant any clinical authority. 
  • Can I go to medical school with a nursing degree? 

    • You can apply to medical school with a nursing degree; you will need to fulfill the pre-reqs of medical school and have a Bachelor’s degree. 
  • How do I transfer from RN to MD? 

    • In order to go from an RN to an MD, you will need to earn a Bachelor’s and apply to medical school. 
  • Can you go from NP to MD? 

    • An NP could become an MD by applying to medical school and going through all the requirements. 
  • Can a nurse be a surgeon?

    • A nurse could become a surgeon by going through medical school to become an MD. Some advanced practice RNs can perform some invasive procedures and assist with surgeries. 

Looking to advance your leadership and management skills? Check out some of these masters degrees that can get you there:

Kathleen Gaines
MSN, RN, BA, CBC
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

Read More From Kathleen
Go to the top of page