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What Are the Differences Between Being a Doctor and Being a Nurse in Healthcare?

Which is the best choice for you?
February 8, 2022
9 mins read

When feeling the pull of a career in healthcare, students may have to decide on the exact path they want to follow.

Considering that the healthcare industry is predicted to grow in size by 16% between 2020 and 2030, pursuing either one of these pathways may be favorable when looking for a job in the future. With long education journey and different job expectations, prospective students have a dilemma on hand — which career path is more suited for you?

To make your decision between nursing and medical school as easy as possible, this article will break down the difference between these two careers. This article will cover:

  • Differences in their daily job roles
  • The education process
  • Salary differences
  • Top reasons to become a doctor
  • Top reasons to become a nurse

Let’s get right into it!

What are the differences between a nurse and a doctor?

When it comes to defining the differences between these two career paths, there are several factors to take into account. This article will look at:

  • Job Roles
  • Education Process
  • Salary

Let’s break these down further.

What are the differences in job roles between a nurse and a doctor?

The day-to-day operations of these careers vary incredibly, meaning that you should definitely consider which you see yourself thriving in more before taking the plunge into one of these two pathways.

Top Daily Tasks of a Doctor:

  • Diagnose patients based on assessing symptoms
  • Authorize nurses to carry out certain tasks
  • Prescribe medication
  • Stay up to date with current medical research and technology

As you can see, a doctor leads the medical treatment, discerns what’s wrong with a patient and then collaborates with nurses to ensure they get the medicine they need.

Top Daily Tasks of a Nurse:

  • Furnish physical treatment to patients
  • Manual tasks like operating medical equipment and machinery
  • Patient care and relationship building
  • Administer medicine and follow doctor-given treatment plans

On the other hand, nurses respond to the plans that doctors create. They play a vital role in carrying out prescribed plans of treatment and provide a web of support for doctors.

Whether you’re a person that likes to be in charge or someone who prefers to work under others, one of these two pathways may stand out to you more than the other.

What is the process of becoming a nurse versus a doctor?

After noting the differences in daily tasks, one can see that there is much more responsibility placed on doctors. That considered, it’ll be no surprise to find out that training to be a doctor takes significantly longer than becoming a nurse.

Process of becoming a doctor

The road to becoming a doctor is arduous and should not be considered if you’re not going to stick it out for the long run. It requires an enormous amount of time, totaling around 11 years once everything has been added up. You’ll have to move through:

  • Four years of undergraduate pre-med studies
  • Four years of medical school
  • Between three to seven years of residency in a hospital

However, many doctors also opt to take their education further, moving into a fellowship program to further specialize in a branch of medicine. Depending on the specific branch of medicine, a fellowship could last an additional 1-3 years.

In total, that’s 11 years at the minimum, and potentially many more.

Process of becoming a nurse

One of the biggest advantages to deciding to become a nurse over a doctor is that you may spend significantly less time in school. If you want to become a nurse, the process can look like this:

  • Four years of undergraduate studies to get a bachelor of science in nursing degree
  • Take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to get your license
  • Your score on this exam may be able to help you access better nursing programs and positions.

At this point, you’re officially qualified as a registered nurse, which will allow you to work in the state you passed your exam in. Additionally, you can work in other states if you apply for a license there. Luckily, you won’t have to take the NCLEX again; you only have to send your documents to be validated in the state you want to work in.

In total, the minimum amount of time is four years, with a potential to add another four to reach a higher qualification.

What’s the difference in salary between a nurse and a doctor?

Of course, considering the difference in required education for these two positions, there is also a fairly large salary disparity.

On average, taking the upper education levels of both of these career paths, a surgeon or physician will earn on average $208,000 a year, while a nurse practitioner will make $117,670 a year.

With additional specialization, the potential earnings for anyone pursuing the doctor path can also be significantly higher. If you’re particularly motivated by money, the difference in salaries is definitely something to take into account when choosing between nursing school and medical school.

Why Should I Become a Doctor Instead of a Nurse?

The main reasons to become a doctor instead of a nurse come down to salary and authority. If you’d prefer to lead on a diagnosis rather than follow, then this career may be more appropriate for you.

Additionally, if you are pursuing healthcare for the salary, then medical school is for you.

Why Should I Become a Nurse Instead of a Doctor?

Nurses spend significantly less time in further education than doctors, meaning that if you go into nursing school, you’ll only have to spend between four to eight years studying. Those years can be reduced even further if you were to pursue an associate degree in a nursing field, which can be completed in as little as 18 months. After you pass the NCLEX, you’ll be able to start in the field of medicine. This factor is one of the main draws of nursing, meaning you save yourself years of work when compared to medical school.

Additionally, you should consider nursing if you’re pulled to healthcare for more social reasons. Nurses often establish a greater connection with their patients, providing a personal form of care that is often not found within doctor-patient relationships.

Final Thoughts

While both nursing school and medical school can lead to fantastic career options, the best path for you can depend on your final objectives. If you’re looking to move into healthcare for a certain reason, then double-check which of these careers may be more appropriate for you.

Additionally, if you’re still not sure, take a look at some of the daily tasks a nurse is likely to perform versus the duties of a doctor. Remember that these tasks could form a part of your daily life. If one set is more appealing to you, then perhaps you should look into pursuing that career.

Whichever path you choose when deciding on nursing school or medical school, you’ll be making a direct impact on the lives of those you come into contact with and pursuing a truly noble profession.

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