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Family Practice Nurse or MD: Which Career Path Is Right for You?

If you ask a kid, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the answer might be roles like doctor, teacher, veterinarian or police officer. Those dreams aren’t ubiquitous among all children, but young people do not always realize the breadth of career opportunities the healthcare field offers.

However, there are other career paths for those individuals interested in the medical field beyond just “doctor.” A family nurse practitioner (FNP) is one alternative to becoming a “traditional” family medicine physician. Of course, there are several factors to consider when considering a career as a doctor or an FNP.

Time Investment

One of the biggest differences between becoming an FNP compared to a physician is the number of years required to earn the degrees. Physicians typically spend four years in undergraduate training, another four years in medical school and a minimum of three more years undergoing specialty training (for example: family medicine or surgery).

If a registered nurse has already completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, they may be able to earn their Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) degree in much less time. The Registered Nurse (RN) to MSN-FNP program at The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) allows nurses to complete the program in just three and a half years (42 months).

Another benefit UTA’s RN to FNP program in particular is that students can complete it online — an impossible option for medical school students. This flexibility offers great convenience to FNP students, especially if RNs are already employed in the medical field or are working parents.

Financial Investment

Many MSN-FNP programs are affordable, and UTA’s program is not only affordable but also structured with multiple start dates a year to provide students with value and flexibility.

Earning an doctor of medicine (MD) is much more costly than an FNP degree. According to an Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) report, the median cost of four years of medical school — based on 2019-2020 data — was $250,222 at public institutions and $330,180 at private colleges. That does not include undergraduate tuition.

Financial Output

While any financial investment in advanced education will likely prove beneficial to your career and skills, the financial commitment to an FNP degree is more manageable when compared to that of an MD degree, impacting the return on investment (ROI) for the jobs.

An MD degree costs more and has a more length average ROI period than an FNP degree, but professionals should consider the salary projections for each degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median salary for physicians and surgeons as equal to or greater than $208,000 per year. On the other hand, nurse practitioners’ average annual salary is $117,670.

Career Outlook

While the demand for healthcare services is growing in the U.S., that demand encompasses more than just physicians. BLS reports that the overall employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners should grow approximately 45% from 2020 to 2030. This rate is much faster than the average for all occupations. Much of the growth can be attributed to an increasing emphasis on preventative and geriatric care.

Alternatively, the job outlook for physicians is expected to grow three percent by 2030, according to BLS.

Patient Interaction

Studies reveal that most doctors spend approximately 13 to 24 minutes with patients. With a nursing mindset, NPs often desire more time with their patients than that. But, in their current roles, time may not allow.

One survey conducted by Florence Health found that NPs spend about 54% of their day with patients. Ideally, they’d prefer to spend nearly 70% on patient interactions. Instead, tasks like updating medical records, ordering prescriptions and conferring with other members of the medical team diminish valuable NP-to-patient minutes.

One or the Other?

One’s journey to becoming either an FNP or an MD isn’t always straight and narrow. As a result, some nurses or nurse practitioners yearn for the MD role.

Such was the case for Dr. Kathryn A. Boling, a family medicine physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore who previously worked as an NP. Even though many discouraged Boling from pivoting away from her NP career, she considered it a “labor of love” and pushed forward towards her dream.

Boling acknowledges that making this transition can be extremely difficult. “Honestly, if you don’t have a burning desire to be a doctor, it’s going to be really hard,” she noted in a U.S. News & World Report article.

Deciding between the an FNP or MD degree involves a consideration of all factors: time, financial investment, career outlook and patient interactions.  

Learn more about The University of Texas at Arlington’s RN to MSN-FNP online program.

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