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

6 Min Read Published August 14, 2023
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.

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. 

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. 

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.

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, the average cost of medical school is $57,574 per year and the average total cost is $230,296. 

In 2021, U.S. News & World Report released a list of the most affordable public medical schools. As seen in the table below, these low-cost medical schools are also ranked as some of the lowest, or not ranked at all in medical and osteopathic schools. While this may not seem important - graduating from a well-known and well-respected medical school can make a stark difference in residency placement and future job opportunities. 

Medical school In-state tuition & fees (2020-2021) U.S. News research rank U.S. News primary care rank
University of Texas Health Science Center—Houston (McGovern) $32,997     53 84 (tie)
Texas A&M University $33,820     75 (tie) 84 (tie)
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center $33,986     93-123 69 (tie)
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center $34,933     26 32 (tie)
University of North Texas Health Science Center $35,950      93-123 57

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Other Career Advancement Options for Nurses

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

Becoming a MD does have its advantages and it is understandable why some nurses want to further their career in 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.

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  • 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. 

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Kathleen Gaines
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.

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