RN to MD: How To Go From Nurse to Doctor

October 16, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 10/16/23

Becoming a doctor after being a nurse is more common than you may think! Follow along to find out how to go from RN to MD.

Have you considered transitioning from RN to MD? Nursing is an excellent career option which many people find to be fulfilling, and it is a critically essential role in the healthcare system. However, if you decide to switch careers, becoming a doctor is full of new areas and opportunities to explore. 

Here, we’ll take an in-depth look at the path from registered nurse (RN) to medical doctor (MD). Our complete, step-by-step guide includes the time it takes to become a doctor as an RN, program options, salary outlook, and more.

Let’s get started!

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How To Go From RN to MD

First, let’s go over the steps. Each of the following steps is an essential part of becoming a doctor after becoming a nurse. Of course, to become an RN, there are separate requirements that you must have already obtained to begin following these steps. 

Step 1: Obtain A BSN Degree

As an RN, you may already have a BSN degree which would include most, if not all, of the necessary prerequisite courses for medical school. If your degree didn’t include the following classes, you should take them before taking the MCAT to ensure you are prepared for the test:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry 
  • Physics
  • Biochemistry
  • Mathematics 
  • English

Sociology, Psychology, Arts and Second Language courses are also recommended prerequisites for medical school. Med schools love to see that you are well-rounded, and educated in many areas. You should also have taken extracurriculars if you do not already have nursing experience.

If you do not already have a BSN degree, there are bridge programs to help you obtain a BSN in a shorter amount of time. 

Step 2: Take the MCAT

Most medical schools require the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) as part of your application. The MCAT is a computer-based, multiple choice, standardized exam that is seven and a half hours in length. You should give yourself plenty of time to take the test and retake it if necessary before applying to medical school. 

Completing all the necessary medical school prerequisite courses will help you to get into medical school while also helping you prepare for the MCAT. If you’re having difficulty studying for the MCAT, consider contacting an experienced MCAT tutor for end-to-end admissions support. 

Step 3: Apply to Medical School

Now you’re ready to begin the medical school application process. Once you’ve gathered all the necessary materials, you can fill out your AMCAS application on the online portal. The materials required at this stage are: 

  • Background Info (schools attended, biographic information, etc.)
  • Pre-med CV
  • MCAT score(s)
  • Transcripts
  • Personal statement
  • Letters of recommendation/evaluation
  • Standardized Test 

Most medical schools send out a secondary application after receiving your primary application, which typically requires essays. Depending on the school, secondaries may only be sent to a select group of applicants. Then, you will likely be invited for an interview if your secondary application was well received. 

You should apply to several medical schools to heighten your chances of admission. Ensure that the medical school you attend is an accredited US or Canadian institution to help you match into a US/Canadian residency program after graduation. 

Step 4: Attend a Residency Program (and a Fellowship Program If Necessary)

One of the most exciting parts of transitioning from an RN to MD is the specialized focus you can now have on one area of medicine. After obtaining your MD degree, you can now apply to residency programs with the ERAS application

If a residency program is interested in your ERAS application, they’ll invite you for an interview or additional application materials. After completing all of your interviews, you can move forward with the matching process.

Using the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) system, you’ll rank programs in order of preference and be matched into the most compatible program possible. Residency can be anywhere between three to seven years in length, depending on the specialty you have chosen.

If you’d like to sub-specialize, you’ll have to attend a fellowship program after completing residency. Fellowships are optional, specialized education opportunities that allow doctors to practice under masters of their field.

During residency, you’ll have to complete all steps of the USMLE exam. Completing these steps will allow you to obtain your medical license following residency. Once you’ve completed your BSN, MD, residency program, fellowship program (optional), and obtained your medical license, you’re ready to start practicing medicine independently!

How Long Does It Take To Go From Nurse to Doctor

Going from an RN to an MD takes the same amount of time as becoming a doctor. Your BSN degree (four years) serves as the regular bachelor’s degree requirement for medical school, after which all steps are the same. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. 

Becoming a doctor can take anywhere from 10 to 17 years of education. You must complete the following educational requirements:

  • A four-year bachelor’s degree (in the case of an RN, a BSN degree)
  • A four-year MD degree
  • Residency (2-7 years)
  • Fellowship program if necessary (1-3 years)

Although it’s a long process, RNs have the advantage of field experience and knowledge of bedside manner. If you’re an RN and you’re considering becoming an MD, it may be worth it to be able to take on medicine from a new perspective.

Of course, the choice is yours! There are also plenty of interesting career options for MDs without residency if you’re interested in a shorter educational path.

RN Vs. MD Salary 

One of the main advantages to switching from RN to MD is the increase in salary. The average salary for RNs across the US is $92,494, while the average salary for MDs (family doctors) is $225,001

Family doctors are on the lower end of the physician pay scale. Generally speaking, the more years spent in school and in your field increases your salary. A family medicine residency is typically 3 years in length, while surgeons can spend up to 7 years in residency and make an average salary of $430,159.

RN to MD Programs

If you’re looking for a quick way to become a doctor as a nurse, unfortunately you may be out of luck. Bridge programs exist to help nurses become different kinds of nurses (for example, going from RPN to RN). 

The path to becoming a doctor is the same length for nurses as it is for regular applicants. However, your field experience will likely make medical school and residency a little easier for you.

Tips for RNs Who Want To Become MDs

Here are a few tips and considerations for RNs who want to become MDs. 

No Shortcuts

Becoming a doctor as a nurse takes a long time, unfortunately there are no shortcuts for nurses. However, your field experience will be extremely valuable during medical school and residency. 

Nurses have to learn bedside manner, and they know better than anyone how to emotionally care for patients. For this reason, a nurse-turned-doctor would make an excellent addition to any hospital staff!

Triple Your Salary

School is expensive, but by furthering your education you can triple, or even quadruple your current RN salary. This will help you pay off your student loans more quickly. There are also plenty of scholarships for non-traditional applicants, which is what you would be considered as an RN entering the field. 

A Whole New Field

One of the reasons there are no educational shortcuts between RN to MD is because although they work together, they are two completely separate jobs. As an MD, you’ll have to look at patients and cases from a new perspective. Additionally, diagnosing and treating illnesses is a heightened level of personal responsibility. 

Both professions are essential parts of patient care. Nurses and doctors rely on each other to provide the best end-to-end care possible to their patients, but transitioning from one to the other is truly exposing yourself to an entirely new job.

Use Your Experience To Your Advantage

There are several benefits you may reap as an RN in medical school. Your previous experience in the healthcare field will give you a leg up on your fellow classmates and residents later on. Navigating the hospital ecosystem may be more natural for you, and interacting with patients should be a breeze.

Because there aren’t many nurses who choose to become doctors, you’ll be considered a non-traditional applicant, which could mean that you’ll have access to some interesting scholarship opportunities. Your story will also make for some interesting essay material for any secondary applications you submit during application season.

FAQs: How To Go From RN to MD

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about how to go from an RN to an MD. 

1. How Long Does It Take To Go From RN to Doctor?

Medical school takes the same amount of time for nurses as it does for regular applicants. Your BSN degree counts as a bachelor's degree for going into medical school, although you should make sure you have taken all necessary prerequisite courses required by each medical school you apply to. 

Medical school is four years in length, residency can be three to seven years in length, then you can choose if you’d like to sub-specialize with a fellowship program, which can take one to three years to complete. 

2. Can I Get Into Medical School With A Nursing Degree?

You can get into medical school with a BSN degree. If you are a nurse without a BSN degree, you can apply for a bridging program to obtain a BSN degree in a shorter amount of time. BSN degrees typically include most of the prerequisite courses required for medical school, but you should still make sure you’re prepared before applying.

3. Can A Nurse Become A Doctor?

A nurse can absolutely become a doctor, but there are no educational shortcuts. Going from RN to MD takes the same amount of time as it would for any regular application. A BSN degree will count as a bachelor’s degree in the case of an RN, which is a requirement for medical school.

Final Thoughts: RN to MD

There aren’t many RNs that decide to become MDs, but the few that do bring a new perspective to the field. Nurses are an integral part of the healthcare system. They are our frontline workers, and they are the first point of contact for patients in clinics and hospitals. 

Becoming a doctor also allows you to specialize in a certain area of medicine that interests you, which can increase job satisfaction. Additionally, your salary will increase significantly as a physician - no matter which time of physician you choose to become. 

If you’re an RN and you’re considering applying for medical school, consider contacting an experienced admissions advisor to help you through the process. Admissions advisors provide end-to-end application support, and can help you navigate the new world you’re leaping into.

Good luck!

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