RN to MD: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Written by Ann Real, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A doctor explains how nurses can go from an RN to MD degree.

Considering a move from scrubs to a white coat? You may have had various reasons for choosing to be a registered nurse (RN) while secretly wishing to become a medical doctor (MD). Maybe your kids were too young or the idea of paying off med school loans felt like climbing a mountain. The good news is you can make a change now. The RN to MD path is there for the taking.

If you are curious about how to go from RN to MD, this article is for you. We’ll cover everything you need to know, including medical school requirements, MCAT preparation, tuition fees, and career outlook.

Benefits of Going from RN to MD

  • Increased autonomy: As an MD, you gain greater autonomy in decision-making. You’ll be leading patient care and determining treatment plans.
  • Expanded scope of practice: You’ll be able to perform tasks you haven’t done before, such as diagnosing patients and performing certain medical procedures.
  • Higher earning potential: The average doctor’s salary in the U.S. is $229,300 per year, while the average nurse’s salary is $89,010 per year.

How to Go from RN to MD: 5 Steps

This transition requires careful planning, dedication, and a clear understanding of the steps involved. The path to becoming an MD for an RN involves the following strategic steps:

Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s Degree

Medical schools require a completed bachelor’s degree. While they don’t usually specify the field, some schools lean towards sciences like microbiology or biology. If you have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), fantastic — you’re all set.

People aiming for medical school often lean towards these majors:

  • Biological sciences
  • Physical sciences
  • Social sciences
  • Humanities
  • Specialized health sciences
  • Math and statistics

Step 2: Pick the Medical Schools You’ll Apply To

Start by picking out several medical programs that interest you and look into their admission requirements. Why choose multiple programs instead of just one? Medical programs are highly competitive, and applying to several increases your chances of admission. Keep in mind that medical schools may have different requirements. However, the most common ones you’ll come across include:

  • Pre-medical coursework. Applicants are typically required to complete certain pre-med courses like biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biochemistry. Some schools may also have additional requirements.
  • GPA. Many med schools set a minimum GPA, and having a competitive GPA is a big factor in the admission process.
  • MCAT. Applicants must take the medical college admission test (MCAT), a standardized exam assessing problem-solving, critical thinking, and knowledge in natural, behavioral, and social sciences. Competitive scores are crucial for admission.
  • Extracurricular activities. Medical schools value well-rounded applicants. Being active in extracurriculars, community service, research, and clinical experiences enhance your application.
  • Letters of recommendation. Applicants usually need letters of recommendation from professors, healthcare professionals, or other individuals who can speak to their character, academic abilities, and suitability for a career in medicine.
  • Personal statement. A well-written personal statement is often required, allowing applicants to explain their motivations for pursuing a career in medicine, their relevant experiences, and what they bring to the medical school community.
  • Interview. The interview assesses communication skills, interpersonal qualities, and the applicant’s understanding of and commitment to the field of medicine.

After checking out the requirements, you may realize there are some prerequisite courses you still have to take. You can either take these courses individually at your local college or university or enroll in a pre-med postbaccalaureate course.

Step 3: Pass the MCAT

Next, the MCAT is essential for medical school admission because it provides a standardized, objective measure of applicants’ knowledge and skills on a national level. This exam consists of four sections:

  • Biological and biochemical foundations of living systems
  • Chemical and physical foundations of biological systems
  • Psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior
  • Critical analysis and reasoning skills

Step 4: Complete Medical School

Submit your applications to accredited medical schools. Write a compelling personal statement that highlights your nursing experience and commitment to the medical profession. After you’re admitted, stay committed to your studies. Successfully complete the medical school curriculum, including classroom learning and clinical rotations.

Step 5: Finish Residency and Licensure

After graduating from medical school, enter a residency program in your chosen specialty. Residencies provide intensive, supervised training in a particular medical field. Once completed, obtain licensure to practice medicine in your state or region. This typically involves passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

Paying for Medical School

The average total cost of medical school is $235,827, or $58,968 per year. It’s important to note that not all medical schools cost the same, and can range from $161,972 for in-state, public schools to $264,704 for out-of-state, private schools.

What Are Alternatives to an MD?

There are alternative paths to advance your medical career, like exploring advanced practice nursing roles. Here are some examples:

MD vs. RN: Salary

When comparing earnings in the healthcare field, registered nurses earn $89,010 annually, while the average medical doctor’s salary is notably higher at $229,300 per year.

Overall employment for MDs is projected to grow 3% in the next decade — in line with the average expected growth for all occupations. The job growth for RNs, however, is expected to grow 6% in the same time frame.

Frequently Asked Questions: Going from Nurse to Doctor

How long would it take for a nurse to become a doctor?

If you want to go from RN to MD, how many years will you need? Let’s explore the average timeline.

  • Completing pre-medical coursework typically takes 2 to 3 semesters.
  • Taking the MCAT requires a few months for preparation.
  • Applying to medical school usually includes a waiting period.
  • Completing medical school takes about 4 years.
  • Completing residency training is generally between 3–7 years, depending on your specialty.
  • Obtaining a medical licensure takes a few months.

The entire process — from earning a BSN to becoming a licensed doctor — often takes around seven to nine years or more. Keep in mind that individual timelines may vary based on a range of factors.

Are there specific RN to MD programs I can apply to?

There are no specific RN to MD bridge programs, and making the transition typically involves a more traditional route of completing pre-medical coursework and attending medical school.

NP vs. MD — what’s the time difference?

The time to complete schooling for NP vs. MD degrees is generally shorter for NPs. NPs typically require around two to four years, while MDs can take approximately four to seven years, including medical school, residency, and licensing.

How hard is medical school compared to nursing school?

Medical school is generally considered more academically rigorous and demanding than nursing school. The intensity of medical school coursework, the depth of medical knowledge, and the duration of education contribute to the perception of greater difficulty.

What is the passing score for the MCAT?

Achieving a good MCAT score generally means hitting 511 or higher, and none of the section scores should drop below 127.

Find Best-Fitting Nursing Jobs

While you are contemplating an RN to MD career change, why not try a new nursing job? We can help you find work you love. Learn how IntelyCare can match you with nursing jobs that would be a great fit.