February 20, 2010, 8:32 am

Why Don’t You Just Become a Doctor?

Ah, the Nursing Olympics!

Here we see the U.S Synchronized Study Team.

The judge, visible at the end of the table, will look for uniform cap placement, the exact angle of the binders, the uniformity of handwriting and the perfect 90 degree angle of the elbows.

Should they meet the stringent criteria, they will receive the coveted Gold Stethoscope.

Which will inadvertently be taken by a physician who asks to borrow it.

(Here’s how long I’ve been a nurse: I was once told by a colleague to get a pink stethoscope because no doctor, being male, would walk off with a pink stethoscope. Yeah, I’m old!)

But in defense of doctors, I recently worked with an ED doc who was frantically searching for his stethoscope. Could not find it anywhere. Finally, one of the nurses found it. Around my neck. Along with my own stethoscope. Truly a red-faced moment.


Change of Shift is now up at the INQRI Blog (The Blog of the Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative). The focus is on education, and was the inspiration behind this post. The next CoS will be hosted by Mamatrauma and submissions can be sent to “clynewarnr at earthlink dot net”.

Leslie at Getting Closer to Myself will be hosting the next Patients for a Moment blog carnival, so send your submissions! Check the link to her blog for the post with all the information!


It was a quiet night in the ED; we were shooting the bull about various topics. I said I would be graduating in May with my BSN and applying to a PhD program next month.

And then came the question.

“Hey Kim, if you are going to go through all that education, why don’t you just become a doctor?”

I explained how nursing is an independent discipline with it’s own body of knowledge and research, that nursing and medicine were separate professions…

I wasn’t getting my point across.

But then I thought of a better question.

“If you are going to go through all that education, why don’t you become a pharmacist?”

Doesn’t make sense, does it?

Neither does the nurse/doctor question.


Do you remember that old television commercial, “If caring were enough, anybody could be a nurse?”

Or this poster, which singlehandedly pulled me out of burnout?

Caring is the heart of nursing. I’d even say it defines nursing (see: Jean Watson).

But, the  foundation of nursing is comprised of anatomy, physiology, psychology, lifespan development, pathophysiology, philosophy, sociology, ethics, multicultural studies, critical thinking, leadership, statistics, research and

Nursing Science!

Why is this so hard for people to understand?

What is the problem?


Oh, I know the usual spiel: nurses used to be “trained” in hospitals, nurses deferred to doctors, nursing did not require a college degree, nurses could not practice independently, nurses just did basic care…yadda, yadda, yadda.

And that was all true.

About 70 years ago.

Well, it’s the 21st century, folks. Let’s drop those excuses once and for all.

There is absolutely no reason for anyone alive today to not understand exactly what nursing is and what nurses do.

We need to talk about it.

Hell, we need to bring it up. At every opportunity.

And please, spare me the nurse recruitment videos with the emotional music and nursing sitting there talking about how they feel they are making a difference. Show me a video with nursing talking about making a difference while discussing what it means to be a nurse. The education involved.  The ability to think critically. The ability to work under pressure. The ability to be flexible. The ability to stand up and advocate for your patient.

For your profession.

And why it is worth pursuing!


Frankly, it takes a good pair of “cohones” to be a nurse. The education is intense and the profession is challenging.

If you want to “help people”, go volunteer at a convalescent home.

If you want to care for people as a professional nurse, you’ll study harder and work harder than you ever imagined.

And when you’ve done that, you’ll “make a difference” in ways you never dreamed of.

So yeah, I’m a little sensitive when someone asks me “Why don’t you just become a doctor?”.

I don’t want to be a doctor.

I’m a Registered Nurse.

Now let me tell you why….


  • Teri Yarbrough
    Teri Yarbrough

    February 20, 2010 at 10:59 am

    You are so right on. I’m so tired of TV shows, movies, and people who don’t understand nursing demeaning our PROFESSION. I too will be getting my BSN in May and the going on to get my MSN and DNP. I,like you, take every opportunity to talk about nursing and all we do. Hopefully one day we will emerge from the “handmaiden” and “sexist” stereotype. Thanks for your post. I chose to be a Registered Nurse not a doctor.

  • Sean

    February 21, 2010 at 7:10 am

    There were just too many great points to this blog post. Thanks for reading my mind!
    I love it!

  • Ckemtp - Life Under the Lights
    Ckemtp - Life Under the Lights

    February 21, 2010 at 11:15 am

    I got this post on a RT and read it with interest. As a paramedic, our profession is right where you said your profession was 70 years ago. I read your post and can imagine it coming out of the mouth of any paramedic or EMT that I’ve ever known.

    While it heartens me to see that Nursing shares some of our struggles, it does not bode well for the journey that my own profession is going to have to take to get our own recognition. I agree that medicine and nursing are seperate disciplines, just as much as paramedicine and nursing are different. Your profession has nuances that I do not understand just as mine has for you. No physician could step in and perform adequtely as a nurse or a paramedic.

    I’m trumpeting this post everywhere I can. Every paramedic and EMT should read it and take it to heart. Nicely done

  • […] A Shoutout to Emergiblog – Every EMS person should read this View commentsComments ShareGo here – http://www.emergiblog.com/2010/02/why-dont-you-just-become-a-doctor.html […]

  • Nurse D
    Nurse D

    February 21, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Loved your post. As an RN who is now in a Nurse Practitioner program, I have heard this more times than I can count, especially by family members. People don’t get it. Nurses are not “mini-doctors”. Advanced practicing nurses are not “mini-doctors”. It’s a different discipline altogether.

  • Jennifer

    February 21, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    I love the picture! I’m finishing up prerequisites, hoping to get into a BSN program for the fall. I’ve studied more in the last five weeks for Pathophysiology and Pharmacology than I did in the five years it took to get a degree in Aerospace Engineering. Now back to the books!

  • storytellerdoc

    February 22, 2010 at 5:13 am

    Great post. The bigger question is, why didn’t I become a nurse? Regardless, we are all a team in the ER where I work and we don’t want any weak links. Thanks for all you do. Well done.

  • […] here. Replace “nurse” with “paramedic.” Enjoy. (Life Under the […]

  • […] Why Don’t You Just Become a Doctor? (emergiblog.com) […]

  • Beverly

    February 24, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    I want to be a registered nurse because I like working with people.
    This articles explains the difference:


  • Jen

    March 3, 2010 at 7:24 am

    I always tell the “Why don’t you become a doctor?” people “If I were a doctor, they wouldn’t let me be a nurse.” I also ask the kid or parent (usually) “How much time does your doctor get to spend with you today? How much time do I get to spend with you today?” Even if they are trying, trying times, I get about 10x more patient contact hours. Then I explain that the MDs’ time is spent with paper and charts and the surgeons’ time is spent with unconscious people (not entirely true considering clinic time, but it gets the point across).

  • […] Why Don’t You Just Become a Doctor? (emergiblog.com) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Anyone thinking of becoming a Nurse Practitioner?Nursing Leaders Reveal Top Trends Impacting Nurses in 2010 – NurseZoneANA Smartbrief: Editor’s ViewpointSubtle Bias Against Nursing Profession In NY Times Piece on Cuban Docs In U… Leave a Comment […]

  • Graham McIntosh
    Graham McIntosh

    March 22, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Great site.. check out my site for information on nursing careers. Great informational site!

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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