A nurse can be a doctor and still be a nurse, or a nurse can be a doctor and be a doctor. Although that may make your head spin, it’s really pretty simple. A nurse can continue her nursing education to the doctorate level or she can go to medical school to be a doctor of medicine. Neither career is for the faint of heart, as both take many years, hard work, dedication and money.
Nurses can be registered nurses or licensed practical nurses. RNs have three options for entry level education: an associate degree, a nursing diploma from a hospital-based school of nursing or a baccalaureate. LPNs spend one year in a community college or technical-vocational school. An LPN has to become an RN before she can go on for a nursing doctorate. The baccalaureate nurse is best prepared to head for medical school or a nursing doctorate. Nurses with other kinds of degrees may have to repeat classes or take a slew of prerequisites to get into medical school or a baccalaureate program.
Once a nurse has earned a baccalaureate, she spends another three to five years attaining a master’s in nursing and a similar amount of time getting her doctorate. If you go to school part-time while working as an RN, it will take longer. Many graduate and post-graduate programs are designed for the working nurse, and you may be able to complete much of your education online. You can aim for a nursing doctorate with a focus on administration, clinical practice, education or research.
A nurse who wants to be a medical doctor has to get a bachelor’s degree in nursing or another science, if you don’t already have one. Then it’s off to medical school for four years, residency for three or more years and in some cases, a fellowship, which is an extended training program that can last three or more years. Although it might be possible for you to continue working while in medical school, once you reach your residency, it will be difficult if not impossible. There just aren’t enough hours in the day and you have to sleep sometime.
Money is a big issue for a nurse wanting to move up the educational ladder. In 2011, the average educational debt for medical students was $161,290, according to the American Medical Association. Seventy-eight percent of medical school graduates had debts of at least $100,000 and 86 percent had outstanding loans. A nursing doctorate is less expensive, but nothing to sneeze at. For example, a four-year doctorate in nursing from Azusa Pacific University in California cost $925 per unit in 2012, for an average base cost of $59,200.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.