Should I Become A Doctor Or A Nurse?

"I am interested in going into a medical profession but I have not yet decided which type of medical professional I should become. I’d like to become a doctor, except that I’m not sure I want to spend all that time and money on medical school, and some of the other jobs probably are just as interesting and impactful. I am curious about nursing. I used to think nurses were all women but it seems like things are changing now, and lots of guys are going to nursing school. What’s the real difference between a doctor and a nurse? Obviously it’s no longer gender. How do I decide between them—even factoring out issues like cost and time?"

asked by Frank from Dallas, TX

A lot of women are doctors now and a lot of men are nurses. It’s still a heavily female-dominated profession (nursing, that is), but that is changing. Over the coming years it is likely to change even faster now that nursing is such demand and so many job candidates are struggling to find openings in other fields. So what is the technical difference between a doctor and a nurse?

While the line is somewhat fuzzy, the most basic and immediate distinction in most cases is this: the doctor writes the orders, while the nurses do the legwork. The question comes down to whether you are more willing and interested in doing the day to day work and spending the most time with the patients or whether you are more willing to accept the responsibility for the outcome of the medical care which is provided.

As a doctor, you make far more decisions than a nurse, even though you spend less time with each patient. As such, you are responsible for those treatment decisions and the results.

If you become a nurse, you have to do more actual work with patients, but you do not have to face as many difficult choices, and you are far less likely to become the subject of a malpractice lawsuit. Doctors have more power than nurses, but that does come with its own price.

Another way you can visualize the distinction between the duties of a doctor and nurse is to think about times you have visited a hospital or clinic and received medical care. Who did most of the work, the doctor or the nurse? Who spent the most time with you? Which procedures was the nurse responsible for, and which did the doctor conduct? This can give you some insight into what you could expect.

There is also a difference in scheduling which may be relevant to you as well. Are you interested in a job with relatively regular hours (even if those hours are somewhat unusual), or would you prefer a job where you are on call? Usually doctors are the professionals who are on call in a medical situation, whereas nurses work more regular, reliable hours. Nursing shifts may take place overnight or at other unusual times, and they may be quite long, but they are usually the same every week unless you work out a change in your schedule.

I suggest you talk to an advisor to try and learn more specifics and then make your decision based on that!

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