Doctor vs. Nursing: Your Career Decision Guide

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Deciding between doctor vs. nursing can be a challenge, but we’ll break it down for you. There are several factors to consider, including timeline, professional goals, patient care style and schedule flexibility. If you’re looking to make a fast transition into healthcare, nursing may be the best option.

nurse speaking with two doctors in white coats

You have a passion for healthcare, want to make a positive difference in people’s lives and enjoy learning about science. So, what healthcare career path should you choose? Two options stand out: nurse or doctor. Choosing between doctor vs. nursing can be tough, but we’re here to help you decide what’s right for you.

If you’re looking to start your career soon, the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program at CSP Global enables you to earn a nursing degree in as few as 16 months. This will set you up for a fulfilling nursing career with plenty of upward potential.

Read on for a deep dive into the differences between being a doctor vs. nurse and a guide to deciding which path is right for you.


Doctors are healthcare providers who assess patients, formulate diagnoses and determine treatment plans. They manage the care of their patients and often perform procedures that aid healing. Doctors can work in primary care or a subspecialty, such as surgery, anesthesiology, cardiology or psychiatry.

Educational Path for Doctors

The journey to becoming a doctor is a long road. Doctors will follow this sequence to complete their educational path and start practicing:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree (four years)
  2. Earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) (four years)
  3. Complete a residency (minimum three years)
  4. Optional: Complete a specialty fellowship (one or more years)

To become a doctor, you’ll need a lot of time. At a minimum, to become a primary care doctor, you will complete training for seven years—and that’s after the four years it took to earn your bachelor’s degree. If you decide to enter other specialties, residency may be longer. For example, surgery requires a minimum five-year residency, with subspecialties requiring even more time.


Nurses are healthcare providers focused on patient care. Nurses often work at the bedside, providing treatments and helping patients with daily care. Nurses can work in a wide array of healthcare settings, from hospitals to clinics, schools or workplaces.

woman in scrubs and mask holding viles of blood

Unlike doctors, nurses enjoy flexibility and can move to other units or specialties as desired throughout their careers. Great nurses spend a lot of time with patients and their families, nurturing trusting relationships and providing support.

Educational Path for Nurses

The journey to becoming a nurse is much faster than that to becoming a doctor. Thanks to accelerated nursing programs, you can complete your BSN in as few as 16 months. Once you graduate with a BSN and get licensed, you’ll be ready to start working as an RN.

Bear in mind, the timeline varies based on whether you have prior non-nursing college experience. If you do, you could choose an Accelerated BSN program like ours at CSP Global. However, if you do not have prior college experience, you may opt for a traditional four-year BSN program.

Deciding Between Doctor vs. Nursing: 8 Factors to Consider

If you’re passionate about improving the lives of patients through compassionate care, you will likely be an excellent nurse or doctor. So, how do you decide? We’ll help you answer the question, “Should I be a doctor or a nurse?”

While both professions are essential to our healthcare system, nursing is the clear choice if you value a short educational path, enjoy spending quality time with your patients and desire a balanced life with a flexible work schedule. Now we’ll get into the factors to consider as you work through the decision of doctor vs. nursing.

1. Timeline

While the training to become a doctor takes at least seven years of post-graduate work, accelerated nursing programs such as our ABSN program at CSP Global allow you to earn your BSN in as few as 16 months. Nursing is the best option if you want to transition into your career quickly.

CSP nursing student standing outside smiling

Follow these five steps to become an RN fast through an accelerated nursing program.

2. Patient Care Style

Another factor you should consider is the type and number of patient interactions you want. Nurses spend significantly more time inside patient rooms than doctors, focusing more on patient care, while doctors often have more administrative duties that consume their time.

Additionally, the practice style of doctors tends to be narrow and focused on diagnosis and treatment plans. Nurses approach their role in a more holistic way, offering support to the whole patient — body, mind and spirit.

3. Professional Goals and Salary

Another consideration as you think about whether to become a doctor vs. nurse is where you want to go professionally. What are your career aspirations? How much money would you like to earn? The career trajectories for doctors and nurses are a bit different.

Doctors make a higher average salary than nurses, approximately $208,000 yearly, as of May 2021 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Nurses have a competitive average salary of $77,600, with upward growth potential if desired. For example, if you return to school to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), your salary will boost significantly.

4. Schedule Flexibility

Doctors tend to have more rigidity in their schedules than nurses. A doctor’s hours depend on their specialty and whether they work in a hospital or clinic, but most doctors put in well over 40 hours a week (and many more than that during their residency years). Many doctors also have to take call duty, where they may need to come in during off hours.

nurses wearing masks in classroom

On the other hand, nurses tend to have a lot of schedule flexibility. You could choose a role that’s full-time, part-time or as-needed. You could also work daytime, evening or overnight hours and even opt for weekend shifts if desired.

5. Work-Life Balance

Along with schedule flexibility comes work-life balance. Doctors tend to spend more time working and can often find that work is consuming, leaving limited time for family, hobbies and other aspects of a well-rounded life.

Nurses generally have a much easier time balancing work and life. They clock in and out, and their work doesn't come with them when they go home after their shift. They can adjust hours up or down as needed and schedule their shifts at times that are ideal for their families. For example, many full-time nurses work three 12-hour shifts per week, leaving four days off to focus on family or other pursuits.

6. Specialty Mobility

Another great advantage of nursing compared to being a doctor is that nurses have a lot of mobility between specialties and units, whereas doctors focus on one specialty. Doctors attend residency based on their chosen specialty; if they wanted to switch to something else, they would have to redo residency in the other specialty.

However, nurses could choose to work in critical care for a few years and then transition to pediatrics, maternity or orthopedics. Nurses have transferrable skills and can transition between units and specialties if desired, which can help keep a long career interesting.

Unsure what nursing specialty to choose? Here are 10 nursing specialties in demand.

Closeup of nurse looking at an IV drip

7. Liability

Another little-known factor to consider when deciding whether to become a doctor or nurse is liability. Doctors are susceptible to legal suits because they are often the primary decision-makers in diagnosis and treatment strategies. The doctor is often liable if a patient suffers an adverse event because of a healthcare team mistake. As a nurse, you will be responsible for providing skilled and appropriate care to your patients and are accountable for your actions with state nursing boards, but rarely face individual lawsuit claims.

8. Job Outlook

Another factor to consider when deciding between doctor vs. nurse is the job growth and future outlook of your career. An in-demand career is important so you can expect good job stability across the decades. The job outlook for nurses is excellent, with a 6% growth rate expected between 2021 and 2031, according to the BLS. Physicians have a less competitive outlook, with only a 3% growth rate expected in that same timeframe.

Begin Your Nursing Journey at CSP Global!

Now that you know how to decide between doctor vs. nursing, it’s time to take the next step toward your career. If you have at least 54 non-nursing college credits or a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you may be eligible for CSP Global’s accelerated nursing program.

woman sitting at desk with laptop

Looking to increase your chances of getting into nursing school? Here are six tips for applying to nursing school.

In as few as 16 months, you can earn your BSN and be ready to launch a successful nursing career. The ABSN program has locations in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Portland, Oregon, each offering three start dates per year. The program incorporates online learning, skills labs and clinical learning experiences to provide comprehensive nursing education.

Contact our admissions counselors to learn more about the ABSN program.