What Is the Difference Between a Nursing Degree and a Medical Degree?

Ready to start your journey?

DegreeQuery.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

If you are considering a career in the booming health care industry, you might find yourself torn between enrolling in nursing school and studying to become a doctor. While there is a lot of overlap between the fields of nursing and medicine, there are also some important differences. Understanding what is required in nursing and medical degree programs and what to expect from jobs in these fields can help you make the right choice about your future.

DegreeQuery.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Nursing Degree Studies and Job Opportunities

Students can choose from different pathways into the nursing profession, but they should know that the more time-consuming options also offer the most benefits. You can complete the education required to become a registered nurse (RN) in just two years of study, if you choose to earn a diploma or an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is often essential for working in more advanced roles. In fact, some states, like New York, require nurses to earn a BSN degree within 10 years of attaining their licenses in order to continue practicing.

In nursing school, you would study subjects such as microbiology, anatomy, physiology, psychology, chemistry and nutrition, the BLS reported. Clinical experience is a crucial component of any nursing school education.

Naturally, a nursing degree program would prepare you for a career as a nurse. What you might not know is how varied this career can be. Registered nurses work in many different specialties and work environments. Nurses who go on to earn a master’s degree can move into advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) roles, such as nurse practitioner.

The median wage is $68,450 for registered nurses and $107,460 for nurse practitioners. Both jobs are in demand, with an expected 15 percent growth rate for RNs and 31 percent for APRNs.

Medical Degree Studies and Job Opportunities

Doctors always need to complete an advanced education to attain a license. Aspiring physicians can choose between Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree programs based on differences in philosophy. In any case, though, medical students will need to spend four years studying medicine after they earn a bachelor’s degree. Then they will begin working as residents, typically in a hospital, for three to seven years, according to the BLS. Medical students take classes such as pharmacology, biochemistry, anatomy and medical laws and ethics. They also complete hands-on experience requirements in a variety of specialties, including pediatrics, surgery and internal medicine.

RELATED: How Long Does It Take to Become a Doctor?

Physicians may work in hospitals, clinics and private practices. Their work settings, schedules and salaries depend largely on the type of medicine they practice. Naturally, surgeons and anesthesiologists spend a large chunk of their time, if not all of their time, in hospital settings, while primary care physicians work mostly out of doctor’s offices.

Medicine is among the highest paid careers in the United States. Doctors practicing family medicine earn a median wage of $230,456 while anesthesiologists make $453,687 per year.

Similarities and Differences Between Nursing and Medicine

Both nursing and medicine are career fields that revolve around providing health care to patients. However, the focus of these disciplines is different. When you study nursing, you’re preparing for a career in caring for patients. While providing that care can take many forms, including administering medication and checking vital signs, everything you will do as a nurse works toward that primary goal of providing patient care. Doctors, on the other hand, focus more on diagnosing and treating medical conditions.

There’s a lot of overlap between work settings and schedules for nurses and doctors. Since people get sick and injured at all times of day, doctors and nurses who work in hospitals often work long shifts and overnight or weekend work schedules. On the other hand, doctors and nurses who work in offices are more likely to have a regular schedule.

A number of characteristics are valuable in the field of health care, regardless of which career path you take. Anyone who cares for patients should have the compassion necessary to treat people who are suffering, the communication skills to express complex information to patients and fellow providers and the physical stamina needed to do the hands-on work of caring for patients. Supervisors in either field need to develop strong leadership skills. Surgeons may have a greater need for physical dexterity, while nurses who are often in charge of several patients at a time may need excellent time management and organizational skills.

RELATED: The Best-Paying Jobs in Health Care: Top 15 Highest-Paying Medical Specialties

Doctors make a good deal more money than registered nurses do – and even the lowest paid doctors make more than twice the median salary of a nurse practitioner. However, aspiring doctors must spend significantly more time and money preparing for their career than nurses do.

Whether you study nursing or medicine, science courses and clinical experiences are an essential part of your education. How long that education takes can range from a couple years to 15 years or more.

Choosing Between Studying Nursing and Medicine

Ultimately, deciding whether to be a nurse or a doctor depends on your personal goals and how much time, effort and expense you are willing to invest. If you want to get started in your career sooner rather than later, nursing school may be a better option for you. Even if you earn a BSN, you’re still looking at just four years of study, versus the four years of undergraduate work, four years of medical school and three to seven years of residency needed to become a doctor. On the other hand, if the high salary and prestige of a physician is worth the wait to you, then you may be willing to put in the extra work to become a doctor. Neither career path is easy, but both would allow you to make a difference in the lives of your patients.

Related Resources:

Top 25 Medical Schools