How to Choose Between Becoming a Doctor or a More Specialized Nurse

Nursing school is long behind you, and you’ve spent years alongside patients and doctors loving every day of your job. But a part of you is a little unsure if you’ve picked the right path. You see doctors spending less time with patients than you do but enjoying greater pay and job flexibility. If you’re heading back to school in order to advance your career, it makes sense to consider if you want to become a doctor or a more specialized nurse.

How You Handle Stress

Although some doctors are able to work stable hours in a physician’s or specialist’s office, they do visit patients in the hospital and may be on call around the clock. Many nurses, particularly those who work in the emergency room or hospital, are needed around the clock, but earning your master’s will put you in a better position to get a position with stable hours.

If it’s greater responsibility you’re after, recognize thatnurse practitioners enjoy many of the same responsibilities as doctors without as much stress. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners reports Americans see NPs in lieu of doctors over 600 million times per year. NPs can diagnose many ailments and prescribe treatment. NPs are also able to work steady hours at schools and universities as school nurses, which is an opportunity unique to nurses and not doctors.

How Much You’ll Be in Demand

You don’t have to become a doctor to enjoy job security. Being a NP or a nurse with a specialization such as geriatrics or surgery makes you more in demand. Plus, the more skills you have, the better position you’ll be in to negotiate schedule and salary changes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the job outlook for nurses by 2022 is estimated to grow by 19 percent, faster than average. Don’t pursue becoming a doctor based on the idea of job security or greater opportunities alone — nurses enjoy just as much of both.

How Much Time It’ll Take

Earning your RN to bachelor to Master of Science in nursing takes less time and money than the schooling and training required for doctors; plus, you can take most of your courses online at your own convenience.

Even if you’ve earned an associate or bachelor’s in nursing and have a few years of experience, you’ll likely have to start over if you decide to become a doctor. That’s four years at minimum of graduate school, as well as a few years observing. There aren’t many doctor degrees you can earn online, either, so you’ll likely have to juggle working full-time with attending classes at a campus’ schedule.

If it takes you only a year or two to get your advanced nursing degree compared to four to six before you’ll be able to start working as a doctor, you’ll be earning more money and enjoying more responsibility much sooner. Plus, the debt you’ll incur to continue in the nursing field will prove significantly less than you would as a doctor.

If you decide you don’t like working as a doctor and want to go back into nursing, you’ll do so saddled with an enormous amount of debt. Once you commit to the path of becoming a doctor, you have to follow through if you want to have hope of paying down your debt. It’s financially sounder to continue studying nursing, since it’s something you already know you’ll enjoy.

Consider Your Experience

Although employers will see your years as a nurse favorably whether you become a doctor or a more specialized nurse, they’ll carry more weight if you continue in the field of nursing. This is especially true if you’re seeking promotion with your current employer; you’re already familiar with the staff, and they’re comfortable working with you. The only thing holding them back from offering you more responsibility might be your lack of a graduate degree.

When it comes to deciding the best path for your career in the medical field, you have to consider the amount of time and money you’re willing to put into your advancement and the experience you’ll be giving up if you start anew. Nurses certainly can and do become doctors, but many nurses find it more fulfilling to continue down their current career path. With a more advanced degree and specialization, you’ll find plenty of flexibility and chances for promotion as a nurse.