“I’m A Nurse – I Want To Go To Medical School”

From time-to-time, I receive inquiries from registered nurses about going to medical school to obtain more training, more autonomy, and more options in the future very different from what a nursing pathway can offer. Having been on admissions committees during medical school and as a chief resident, I’m asked for advice regarding this transition and whether-or-not it’s discouraged to come from a nursing background.

During my first week of medical school, I got to know my classmates at orientation. They ranged from students right out of college like me (early 20s) to individuals who practically had ever degree EXCEPT for medical training (people in their 40s and even 50s). Some of us were single, others in relationships, and others married with children. Although many came from science backgrounds, quite a few also studied disciplines ranging from music and theater to politics and foreign languages. Some were athletes. Others were entrepreneurs. A handful were even in healthcare before starting medical school paramedics, laboratory technicians, etc. I always admired those who had real insight about healthcare before beginning medical school as they had an implicit understanding of how hospitals function.

When I had the opportunity to serve on the medical school admissions committee, it was this insight I tried to ascertain from the applicants. To receive a medical school interview, one must meet some arbitrary “minimum cutoff” with regards to their MCAT, GPA, and paper application. I wanted to see how one’s shadowing opportunities, clinical research, medical mission trips abroad, or some other experience(s) cultivated their understanding of what healthcare actually entails.

Although I never personally interviewed applicants who were former nurses, I can’t help but think that these people really know healthcare. They know the ins and outs of a hospital system. They have training and insight about clinical care. They have a bedside manner that is refined as part of their job. These applicants have also seen the privileges and capabilities of various disciplines in the hospitals. For them to want to shift to the medical route (with a significant sacrifice of additional time and money), well, it says a lot to me.

Understandably, I’m biased in favor of the physician path, and I will fully support these individuals in their endeavors. I just want them to realize that medical school is not nursing school. Yes, there might be some overlap, but there’s a tremendous depth of knowledge one must learn, an even greater amount of money that must be spent (tuition, countless exams, certifications, etc.). However, going through the med school process provides you with arguably the absolute best training to be a decision maker with all the privileges and responsibilities that come with that.

In short, I think coming from a nursing background will only help your application as a prospective medical school applicant. Use your training and what you’ve learned as the cornerstone for why you want to transition to becoming a physician, and may your current career make you that much more understanding of the importance of patient-centered, team-based care.

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  1. Hi Rishi,

    I was about to log off but MY GOD this comment hit close to home for me. I am a college sophomore who is attempting to internally transfer in to my university’s nursing program (I was a history major previously and found no purpose in that discipline anymore given the lack of career opportunities and my interest in healthcare). Although I have not officially heard back yet, there is a high chance that I will be admitted in to the program due to a surplus of clinical spots in the class of 2023. I am interested in becoming a nurse anesthetist after several years of ICU experience.

    However, there is this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that maybe I should go to medical school and become an anesthesiologist. The unlimited autonomy; plethora of knowledge, and ability to perform complex cases is incredibly appealing to me. However, I am absolutely terrified of the medical school admissions process and how competitive it is. At least with the nursing route, I could enter other nursing specialties if I don’t get in to CRNA school. I also have a history of depression so burning out during medical school or residency is a very real concern for me. And I definitely want the dignity of financial independence sooner rather than later.

    I will give you my stats, if that would be of any help. 3.6 GPA, two semesters of biology completed, no research whatsoever, no volunteer and relatively weak extracurriculars. Going the medical school route at this point would tack on an extra year to my undergrad, not to mention a ton of stress about the uncertainty of the whole thing. My close friends and family advised me to go the nursing route and maybe consider medical school later on.

    What would you advise me to do? From your experience, are CRNA’s/AA’s satisfied with their scope of practice, or do they regret not becoming an MD/DO? Thank you so much for any and all advice that you can muster.

    Adele Hastings

    • My personal bias will always be in favor of the physician pathway for some of the reasons you mentioned but also the unappreciated art of learning how to be a decision maker EARLY ON when practicing an imperfect science. People talk about the autonomy all the time without understanding the considerable responsibilities (and consequences) that can come with it. Only you know yourself and what you’re comfortable pursuing! As for me, I wouldn’t be comfortable pursuing a field when I know an alternative with more training and opportunities exists.

      • Thank you so much for your reply, Rishi! It has given me a lot to think about. As of right now, I am more comfortable pursuing the nursing pathway for a number of personal reasons. The fluidity of switching between nursing specialties is also very appealing to me (I am also interested in NICU, acute care, and pediatrics in addition to nurse anesthesia). I might fall in love with another specialty and not even pursue anesthesia at all. I greatly appreciate the time that you took to reply to my post, especially during this difficult time in the midst of a global pandemic! If anything, the events of COVID-19 have made me want to enter the healthcare field even earlier so that I can help. Stay safe, and keep being awesome!
        All the best,
        Adele Hastings


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