Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who have the ability to diagnose and treat patients with basic sicknesses or injuries. They do not have all the same capabilities of physicians who are licensed to provide more advanced levels of care. Practitioners generally have about six years of college education under their belts. Whether a nurse practitioner can become a doctor depends upon a number of factors.
The only way for a nurse practitioner to become a doctor is to complete medical school as other doctors have done. Medical school is a four-year process that includes two years of medical science coursework followed by two years of clinical rotations where medical students learn through hands-on experience. Nurse practitioners may have a competitive advantage over other applicants in the field because of their experience working in medicine, but the change in careers could also be a bit of a detriment, as some might see it as showing a lack of commitment. Admission to medical school ultimately depends upon what criteria each individual medical school establishes. Schools generally look for candidates with proven academic aptitude, leadership capabilities and high scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
A residency is also required of the nurse practitioner who wants to make the transition to become a doctor. The residency is a period of training, following medical school, where the medical school graduate continues to gain education through hands-on experience. It is also the period in which the physician gets the necessary experience in her field of intended specialization. Many residencies take about three years to complete, but some can take as many as five years, depending upon the specialty.
Although the potential increase in pay resulting from becoming a physician may be attractive to the nurse practitioner, other considerations should be made when deciding to make the transition. The first consideration is the additional seven years of education that it will require. Beyond the time factor, nurse practitioners should recognize that much of what they are able to do is similar to what physicians do already. The prestige that comes along with being a doctor may also be attractive, but the level of responsibility can be much greater
Nurse practitioners considering the jump from nursing practice to being a doctor can also consider other options. For instance, beyond the master's degree in nursing, the nurse can pursue the doctor of nursing practice, or DNP degree. The position comes with the prestigious title but not necessarily the same level of pay. The Ph.D. in nursing science also provides the same type of benefit and will provide you with the opportunity to pursue a career in research. If you want to get paid more and not make the transition to medical school, becoming a nurse anesthetist is another option. Nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia care to patients in the same way that many anesthesiologists do. According to PayScale Inc., the annual salary range for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists was $76,224 to $183,446, as of May 2011.
- Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images