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Is it better to be a nurse or a doctor ?

I am senior in high school already trying to apply for college but I'm still deciding to be a nurse or doctor. From what I heard from experience volunteering at a hospital right now, one of the nurses told me that being a doctor is better because they get paid more and get treated better while nurses don't get paid well but they work really hard on taking care of their patients. They said that if I can't be a doctor and go to medical school then become a nurse instead. Please let me know what y'all think. Thank you!

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Ryan’s Answer

Dear Hailey,

As you contemplate a career in the vast field of medicine, it's crucial to immerse yourself in the medical world through mentorship and hands-on experiences. Each role in medicine, from physicians to physical therapists, demands a deep commitment to learning, personal sacrifices, and above all, patience. Reflecting on your motivations for choosing a medical career is a vital step. Whether you're drawn to the role of a physician assistant, nurse, respiratory therapist, pharmacist, or occupational therapist, remember that each one plays a pivotal role in the healing process. If your passion lies in guiding others towards healthier, improved versions of themselves, then you're on the right track!

In response to your specific queries, yes, nurses generally earn less than most physicians. However, it's important to remember that the journey to becoming a physician typically takes three to four times longer and incurs a larger financial burden. Even after graduating from medical school, the "physician" level of income will not be immediate.

Nursing offers more direct patient interaction, allowing you to experience the ups and downs of your patients' journeys on a personal level. Physicians, while having less direct interaction, are responsible for a larger number of patients. As you navigate your future career path, focus on finding fulfillment rather than being swayed by status, authority, or material wealth.

By observing and reflecting on the various paths in medicine, you'll discover the career that truly resonates with you. Remember, the journey is as important as the destination. Keep exploring, keep learning, and most importantly, keep believing in yourself!
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Dave’s Answer

Nurses and doctors both provide needed services within a hospital setting, but they don't do exactly the same work. Nursing requires much more engagement with patients as people. Nurses often administer and are therefore left to explain the extended care procedures that doctors might order for a patient.

Doctors make more executive decisions about patient care which also means they carry a greater liability: if something goes wrong, the doctor is liable for malpractice for making the wrong call, but the nurses aren't held accountable if they were following doctor's orders.

Nursing and being a doctor are two different careers within the same career field: both are necessary, but they require different skill sets and different personalities. Nurses aren't simply people who couldn't make it through med school and therefore settled for nursing. Nurses tend to be people who have the social skills and humanitarian compassion needed to care for people throughout their medical challenges. Doctors are often a little more detached, focusing on the disease, injury, or procedure rather than on the patient. You can be a good doctor with a poor bedside manner, but an antisocial nurse won't last long in their job.
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Audrey’s Answer

Hi Hailey,

To answer your question, you really need to ask if it would be better FOR YOU to be a doctor or a nurse, and the only way you can make that decision is by gathering as much information as possible. You already have some experience with nurses and doctors from your volunteering, but I would also recommend trying to shadow as well to see what the daily life is like for those roles.

Yes, senior nurses are paid less than senior doctors. But they also have several benefits financially and academically over doctors.

To become an RN (resident nurse), you really only need to attend a four-year training program in nursing (I always recommend doing the basic requirements at a community college before going to a four-year university unless you have a full scholarship or something similar) and take the N-CLEX which is a standardized test in nursing. If you want to attend a two-year ADN program to become an RN, you can, but in general, ADN nurses start off with lower salaries than BSN nurses. If you want to have more independence, you can pursue graduate studies (so a master's degree or a doctorate degree after your four-year bachelor's degree) and become an NP (nurse practitioner) instead, which gives you slightly more independence. It actually depends on what state you practice in for how much that independence is. As for how much they make, it really depends on where they live and how much experience they have. Starting salaries are low, but the more experience and specialization, the better your salary. Also, the cost of living is a huge factor. In California, where you live, the average salary for a nurse is 133k a year. In a poorer state like Alabama, that's more like 66k, but it's also cheaper to live there.

Basically, being a nurse is a less expensive path, and you don't have to spend as long getting your education, so you can start working with patients sooner. Additionally, nurses are the backbone of patient care in any clinical setting. As someone who is a student doctor, I don't know how medicine would function without the excellent care and hard work that nurses provide. It's a noble profession and definitely not just a backup for people who couldn't handle medical school.

Now, speaking of medical school and what it takes to become a doctor. Okay, first, you have to get a four-year bachelor's degree. What that degree is in can be anything, really, as long as you also take the pre-medicine education requisites (usually a few biology classes, intro chemistry, intro physics, calculus, and intro biochemistry). I have peers who have biology or biochemistry degrees, and I have peers with political science and music theory degrees. Ultimately, though, you want to be well-rounded academically for the MCAT. The MCAT is a test you take, usually in your junior year of college, for medical school admissions. It consists of four subject tests: Biology and Biochemistry, Chemistry and Physics, Psychology and Sociology, and Critical Analysis, Reasoning, and Thinking. It's a seven-hour test but not your first on your path to becoming a doctor. The reason why I suggest a well-rounded undergrad education is while hard science and math classes may be required for medical school admissions, taking classes in social sciences and humanities will help you with other subjects on the MCAT. Once you take and get a competitive MCAT score, you can start applying for medical school admissions. You'll have to interview with the school, probably a few times, and then if you are accepted to a school, you can choose to matriculate.

Medical school is a four-year graduate program split up into three phases. Phase One is your pre-clinical training. This is going to look like school the way you are familiar with it, with big classrooms full of students, lectures, quizzes, and sometimes homework. The main classes in medical school are your clinical science classes, which teach you about the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of humans and diseases. Depending on your school, you'll also probably have classes in clinical skills like interviewing patients, doing a physical exam, and clinical reasoning like coming to a diagnosis and making a plan of tests to do, etcetera. Phase One is two years long, and at the end of it, you take the Step One US Medical Licensing Exam from the National Board of Medical Examiners - another seven-hour test on everything you learned over the past two years. If and when you pass Step One (it is pass/fail now), you move on to Phase Two, your clinical training. In Phase Two, you'll have several mandatory rotations in the different medical specialties. You'll be assigned to a resident to teach you in that specialty for a few weeks, and you'll be part of the clinical team. At the end of each rotation, you'll take a SHELF subject test, and you'll be evaluated by your resident. At the end of Phase Two, you have the Step Two USMLE from NBME, another seven-hour test on everything you've learned during your rotations. That test does have a numerical score, and that will factor into your residency applications. After you finish Phase Two, you start Phase Three, also known as your Sub-Internship years. Like Phase Two, you rotate through a number of different specialties, but this time you get to choose them, so you can start to get a better idea of what specialty you want to apply for residency in. During this year, you're also working on your residency applications and starting to interview with residency programs. Residency is another training program that a lot of doctors do after medical school so they can specialize. If you want to practice independently as a doctor, you have to have residency training. Unlike medical school, where you apply to schools, and they accept residency is assigned through a matching system where schools and residency candidates rank who they want to work with, and then the matching system decides who trains where.

After you get accepted to a residency program, you'll graduate with your medical degree a few months later. (You'll probably get your degree no matter what, but it's difficult to continue practicing medicine without a residency). Residency programs vary in length depending on the specialty and whether or not you want to do fellowships, which are additional specialized training. In general, they can be anywhere from 3 years for family medicine and primary care to as long as 10 years for some specialized surgeons. At the end of residency, you take USMLE Step Three with NBME and whatever state board exams exist in your state, and then you'll be a fully licensed doctor. As a resident, you do get paid, but the salaries are usually a lot lower as you're still considered to be in training. Think 60-80k. After you finish residency, that's when you get the infamously high salary for doctors (and even that still depends on years of experience, costs of living, and specialty).

Becoming a doctor is obviously a great career path. I've taken this path because I really can't see myself doing everything else. But I also know how difficult it is firsthand, and if something like nursing sounds more appealing to you, then I absolutely encourage you to do whatever sounds the most rewarding and the most feasible path for you. You know yourself, your aspirations, and your abilities better than I do. Hopefully, this lengthy explanation helps give you a better idea of the differences in their training programs and will help you make a decision on what career path is best for you.

Best of luck!
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James Constantine’s Answer

Hi there, Hailey!

Deciding whether to become a nurse or a doctor is quite a significant choice. Both are noble and fulfilling careers, respected by society, and each comes with its own set of benefits and challenges. In making this decision, you'll need to think about job roles, potential earnings, education prerequisites, work-life balance, and personal satisfaction.

Let's start by understanding the unique roles of nurses and doctors. Doctors, or physicians, diagnose and treat health conditions, prescribe medications, perform medical procedures, and manage patient care. They often focus on specific medical fields like cardiology, neurology, pediatrics, or surgery. Nurses, on the other hand, are the backbone of patient care. They assist patients directly, administer medications, monitor vital signs, work hand-in-hand with the healthcare team, and advocate for patients' needs. They partner with doctors to carry out treatment plans, ensuring patients receive top-notch care.

Education-wise, becoming a doctor requires a bachelor's degree, followed by four years in medical school to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. Afterward, doctors complete residency training in their chosen specialty, which can last three to seven years or more. For nursing, there are several educational routes. You can become a registered nurse (RN) by completing an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program. Some nurses may also opt for advanced roles like nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist by earning a master's or doctoral degree in nursing.

In terms of earnings, it's true that physicians generally earn more than registered nurses. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the median annual wage for physicians and surgeons is significantly higher than that of registered nurses. However, nursing also offers competitive salaries and advancement opportunities, especially for those who specialize or take on leadership roles within healthcare organizations.

When it comes to job satisfaction, both nursing and medicine provide the chance to significantly impact patients' lives. Nurses often build close bonds with patients and their families, providing empathetic care during tough times. Their role in promoting patient comfort and well-being is crucial to the healthcare experience. Similarly, doctors have the opportunity to diagnose illnesses, create treatment plans, perform life-saving procedures, and contribute to medical science advancements.

Work environment and work-life balance are also important considerations. Nurses often work shifts, including nights, weekends, and holidays, providing round-the-clock care in various healthcare settings. Physicians, however, may have demanding schedules during residency training and early career stages but can eventually enjoy more flexibility in setting their hours or joining group practices.

Finally, consider the level of autonomy and responsibility in each profession. While doctors bear the responsibility for making medical decisions and overseeing patient care plans, nurses have significant autonomy in providing direct patient care and are valued members of interdisciplinary healthcare teams.

In the end, choosing to become a nurse or a doctor should align with your personal interests, strengths, values, and career goals. Both professions offer opportunities for professional growth, lifelong learning, and meaningful contributions to improving healthcare outcomes.

To sum it up, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to whether it's better to be a nurse or a doctor. It all depends on your individual preferences, career goals, and personal circumstances.

Top 3 Authoritative Reference Publications or Domain Names Used:

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)
American Medical Association (AMA)

Take care,
James Constantine Frangos. May God bless you!
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