Maybe you’ve known that the healthcare profession is for you your whole life. You’ve always been good with people and are fascinated by the miracles of the human body. But now it’s time to decide whether to study and train to become a nurse or a doctor and you’re looking for a bit of direction.
First of all, rest assured that both nursing and medicine are invaluable and rewarding careers. Patients need both professions, job security is extremely high for both tracks, and so there is no bad decision. There may be, however, a best decision for you.
Becoming a Doctor
Medical school is a long and expensive road that starts with the rigorous acceptance process. Medical schools accept students with the highest grades on their high school transcripts and on their entrance exams.
Once in medical school, studying to be a doctor in the U.S. starts with a four-year undergraduate degree, followed by a four-year medical degree. All in all, medical students almost always graduate with a significant amount of debt in student loans.
The final leg in the journey to becoming a doctor is residency, internship and for many, specializing or even sub-specializing in a unique field such as becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon.
Once you’ve completed all of that and you are a trained and licensed doctor, you will be in charge of your own cases. You will be your patients’ main healthcare provider. They will turn to you at a vulnerable time, look to you for guidance and healing, and place their trust in you. It is a big responsibility and a huge reward to be a patient’s doctor: To do your best every day to prescribe the right medications, to register patients for the most promising clinical trials, to participate in ground breaking research, and more.
Becoming a Nurse
Studying to be a nurse also starts with being accepted to school, however, the scores required are generally lower making it a more viable option for far more people. Once accepted to school, you can choose to study towards an associate’s degree which in nursing usually takes about three years, or a bachelor’s degree which takes about four. There is no second degree required, like for doctors, but many nurses find that a two-year Master’s in nursing is helpful in advancing their careers. Many nursing programs are also available part-time, unlike medical school programs which are full-time. This added flexibility is another reason nursing training may be a better fit for many candidates.
Once a registered nurse, your daily interaction with patients is quite different than that of doctors. While you have the technical background to understand every patient’s condition and course of treatment, they will look to you more for comfort and for questions about everyday coping as opposed to the bigger picture of their healing process. You will become an intimate part of their treatment and recovery process in a way that doctors often don’t have the time or aren’t in the position to become.
Both professions are extremely important and rewarding. They are also big commitments and so choosing which is right for you is an important first step. Consider the aspects of each described here, and even consider speaking to your own doctor or a nurse you know about how they got where they are today. The more research you do, the more confident you’ll be in your decision.