Can A Registered Nurse Become A Doctor?

"I am a registered nurse. I finished a four-year bachelor of science in nursing course recently and am now working in a hospital. As I do my work, I realize that I would like to become a doctor instead, specifically to children. Is it possible for a registered nurse to become a doctor? How is this done?"

asked by Amy B. from Renton, Washington

Nurses and doctors are integral components of a patient’s healthcare team. They each have different responsibilities and tasks. This is why a nurse cannot automatically become a medical doctor without additional education and training.

If you took a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree, you’ve already taken the first step towards becoming a physician. The next thing that you need to do is to apply to a medical school. Here’s the good news: Nurses are often looked highly among medical school applicants because they already have experience in the healthcare setting.

You still need to do well in the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) which you must take within three years of your application. Your grades as an undergraduate will also be evaluated to determine if you will qualify to the medical school you are applying to.

Registered nurses who only took an associate degree in nursing or got a nursing diploma, both of which take less than four years to complete, may be required to go back to nursing school to earn their BSN degree before they can be admitted to medical school.

Medical school often takes four years to complete. The first couple of years are usually devoted to lessons in anatomy, biochemistry, medical laws, pharmacology and others. Students are taught how to obtain medical histories and diagnose ailments. These are usually spent in the classroom and in laboratories. The last two years are spent in hospitals and clinics where students are supervised by seasoned doctors as they rotate in various medical departments.

After hurdling formal medical school, students still need to go into a residency program on the field they want to specialize in. This can take anywhere from three to eight years depending on the specialization. After residency, they must pass the US Medical Licensing Examination in order to get their license and be able to practice their profession. Doctors need not be certified in their specialty but getting certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties could increase chances for employment.

For registered nurses who aspire to be called “doctors” but don’t really want to become physicians, the best way to go about accomplishing this task is to enroll in a doctorate program. Of course, this is only possible if you already have a master’s degree. You can enroll in a PhD program in Philosophy, Nursing Science, Nursing Practice or Education and can be called “doctor” after graduation.

Keep in mind that you will not be able to diagnose diseases or treat patients as a medical doctor with a PhD. You will still be a nurse but the advanced degree will help you get promoted to senior level administrative roles.

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