This Nurse Practitioner is on His Way to Medical School

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Session 268

Matt has been accepted to multiple medical schools after realizing that he wanted to do more with and for patients. After working as an NP, he’s starting med school.

In this episode, Matt talks about his journey, why he chose to be an NP, and why now he’s choosing to go to medical school. If you’re in a similar situation—maybe you’re a nurse, a PA, an NP, whatever you’re doing, and you’re contemplating a career switch to doctor—be sure to listen to this episode to get some insights.

[02:40] Why Matt Decided to Be a Nurse Practitioner

At 17, Matt had no idea what he wanted to do. One of his best friends was finishing nursing school and going to nurse practitioner school, and he got sold on the idea of job security if he chose the NP route. He’d be able to write prescriptions and make money.

His uncle owned an ambulance company, and his brother was a firefighter and a paramedic. So basically, he was around the field of health care and would hear people talking about it. But it wasn’t anything he took too seriously.

Initially, he wanted to study international business, but he felt there was a lot of uncertainty in the field and considering job security is important. On the other hand, if he became a nurse, he would be able to pay the bills while figuring out his real passion, which eventually came to be medicine.

If he became a nurse, he would be able to pay the bills while figuring out his real passion (which eventually came to be medicine).Click To Tweet

Matt’s Experience in Nursing School

As a nursing student, he found the courses to be generally easier, but he admits not being too focused, not setting himself up for success. He ended up finishing with a GPA of 3.01. He was doing just enough to pass the classes and to get into NP school. So he got into nursing with the intention of becoming a nurse practitioner.

'I got into nursing with the intention of becoming a nurse practitioner, and I actually didn't do much research to figure out what would be expected of me.'Click To Tweet

Not having done research as to what was expected of him to be able to get into NP school, he found out in junior year that he wasn’t actually making the cut. So he realized he had to focus, and he ended up going above the 3.0 threshold most schools were looking for.

[06:22] The Desire to Switch from Nurse Practitioner to Doctor

Matt was enjoying what he was learning as a nurse, although he wasn’t necessarily doing well. So he reached out to a couple of his professors.

The nurses in the faculty responded that he could actually do what most physicians do as an NP, unless he wanted to do surgery. They even have CRNAs that can do anesthesia, too. But this is not totally true because there are limitations to what NPs can do. In short, they were questioning why he would want to commit himself to being a physician.

Ultimately, what really triggered Matt to want to apply to medical school was when he started working as an NP at a cardiac surgery ICU. He describes the attending physicians as very inspirational in how they can interact with and help the patients.

I felt like if I'm trained as a physician, I can offer even more to people.Click To Tweet

Why He Wanted to Switch from Nurse Practitioner to Doctor

Matt started as an NP when he was 23 and made the decision to pursue medical school when he was 25. His thought process was that, if he imagined his next ten years as a nurse practitioner, he saw himself still doing the same thing day in and day out with the same skills. At some point, he’d be working with younger physicians, and he figured he’d get frustrated later on in his career. And he doesn’t see himself doing administrative stuff, either.

Matt imagined his next ten years as a nurse practitioner, and he saw himself still doing the same thing day in and day out with the same skills.Click To Tweet

[Related episode: Why She Left the Premed Track, Became an NP, and Is Now an MS1]

Switching from NP to MD for More Autonomy

Students need to understand that when you go to work at a hospital, you get credentialed by an office. They list everything based on your training that you can or can’t do. And based on one’s training as an NP or PA or physician, everybody is credentialed and privileged at different levels. This alone limits you based on your training.

On one hand, you can self-study and learn all you want. You can just go online and buy all these books. But from the standpoint of what you can legally do, there’s still going to be limitations as an NP.

Matt adds that they have a great setup for the PAs and NPs. They have a lot of autonomy—but the degree of autonomy at their facility was more than at most facilities. So if he wanted to switch, he’d be taking some steps back as far as his privilege is.

[12:40] Letting People Know You’re Applying to Medical School

Matt actually kept it a big secret that he was going to apply to medical school. But he had to set up his schedule in a certain way so he could take classes. Eventually, he told people and they were happy for him.

[Related episode: When and How Should I Tell My Family and Friends I’m Premed?]

He started asking his attending physicians for letters of recommendations, and they were all happy for him. He thought he was going to get grilled, but they were just very excited for him.

Lifestyle Balance as an NP vs doctor

Matt stresses that in choosing your career, you have to consider lifestyle balance. And for him, as an NP, it wasn’t enough. And although physicians are very busy, they’re still happy and making money. They’re able to travel and do all those things. That being said, you have to go through the rigorous process of being a resident first.

A lot of the people I work with, the PAs and NPs, they couldn't understand why I wanted to do it.Click To Tweet

Now that Matt has gotten three acceptances to medical school, he believes the letters of recommendation played a big role in getting accepted. Matt feels lucky to have had people who understand the process and could write letters for him. They’ve watched him and observed him at the bedside interacting with patients.

Nontraditional students have the opportunity to showcase what sets them apart from the more traditional students.Click To Tweet

[16:20] Crushing His Postbac

Matt did a do-it-yourself postbac and finished nursing school. And although he got a 3.01 GPA in nursing school, he crushed his postbac. And this was because he already had an end goal in mind. He knew what he needed to do to get there, and he would have had himself to blame if he didn’t get it. He says having that sense of accountability really helped him.

I knew what I needed to do to get into medical school, and if I didn't perform, I had no one to blame but myself. So holding myself accountable really helped.Click To Tweet

What Matt Learned from his Postbac Experience

Matt thinks being older has helped him understand what worked for him as a student. He says balancing school with working has actually helped him develop time management skills. As your patient list is piling up and you still have a hundred other things you need to do, you figure out how to get things done. So he simply made sure to take care of things that need to be taken care of when they needed to be done. This wasn’t something he had during his undergrad.

Matt admits having questioned why he was doing this at some points. Whenever he’d be asked why he’s doing this, he would have to reflect on why he was actually doing it. He had to convince himself that it wasn’t an egotistical thing, that he really wanted to do this for a living. He realized he was investing everything into this, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

He had to convince himself that it wasn't an egotistical thing, that he really wanted to be a doctor for a living.Click To Tweet

[18:35] Public Service Loan Forgiveness

There are different pathways you can take to pay off your medical training debt. And so Matt thought of taking advantage of one of them. If you work for a nonprofit for ten years and you make income-based repayments, then after ten years, whatever is left is forgiven. Matt says this is actually offered in a lot more places than people realize. Nonprofit status is all that’s needed to be eligible for these forgiveness programs; it doesn’t need to be an underserved area.

* Take note: Our current administration is trying to get rid of public service loan forgiveness. So for a lot of students going through this process now, it’s very likely that it will be gone.

[Related episode: Don’t Count on Public Service Loan Forgiveness]

Loan Repayment and Choosing Your Path

This being said, Matt points out that you shouldn’t let these programs influence you to take a path you don’t want to take. The regret is a worth a lot more than whatever you’re paying in student loans. You’ll pay off your debt one way or another. It may not happen quickly, but once you’re there, it just becomes part of your monthly bills and you’re done.

And paying off your loans can happen pretty quickly if you continue living like a student on your attending salary. So it can happen. To add to what Matt said, I want students to understand that if this is what you want, then you should do it. Don’t regret it in ten years that you didn’t pursue this.

If this is what you want, then do it. Don't regret in ten years that you didn't pursue this.Click To Tweet

[21:35] The Medical School Interview Experience

Matt describes the conversations in his medical school interviews as being so fluid and very comfortable for him. They asked more clinical questions of medical students than he was expecting. Being comfortable with his first interview just kind of added to the momentum he had on his subsequent interviews.

Having had multiple interviews and gotten multiple acceptances at this point, Matt says the biggest key to his success was doing well in his postbac and on the MCAT.

Telling Your Story as a Nontraditional Premed

Matt also tried to make his story as compelling as he could in his personal statement. Everybody has a story when they’re approaching this, but he thinks having had the background that he has, his story is interesting. So it’s all about telling a good story and letting them understand that he’s into this.

Medical schools only interview people who are academically capable. So they've already weeded that out. Now they want to know who's actually going to embody their philosophies.Click To Tweet

In framing his story, Matt saw being a physician as an evolution of his career. And having learned from every experience, he critically reflected upon the good and bad decisions he’s made and how he was able to grow from them. So he made this very clear to the people who were interviewing him.

One of the biggest mistakes students make is that they say they know what being a doctor is like and they’re prepared for it. But you don’t really know. And even as an NP, there are probably things you don’t know about it.

[26:07] Working as an NP While in Medical School

Matt is considering working as an NP on the weekends once a month or so, just to have a little extra spending money. He has always worked days and nights, so his body is used to being awake at random hours. Also, whatever he learns in medical school, he could probably apply to the clinical setting early on as an NP, which would help cement what he’s learning. Nevertheless, he intends to make a little bit of money while in medical school.

[Related episode: Can (or Should) I Work During Medical School?]

[27:15] Matt’s Hopes for the Future

Matt foresees himself going into surgery but doesn’t know exactly what specialty. He loves doing procedures. He gets a lot of gratification from seeing things that work and things that don’t, and then finding a solution. For now, though, he is loving cardiac surgery, where he’s been working as an NP for four years now. He finds the specialty fascinating. But he feels it’s still too soon to tell.

[28:40] Dealing with Negative Feedback from Other People

Matt did receive some discouragement about getting into medical school. One attending physician Matt talked to suggested he was just doing it for the money. Matt has never been motivated by the money.

You can't become a doctor for the money. If you try to do it for the money, you'll become exhausted and frustrated about the whole process at some point.Click To Tweet

Finally, Matt says that if you want to maximize what you can do day to day, becoming a physician is the way to go, especially for the more intricate subspecialties, particularly surgical subspecialties.

[31:10] Matt’s Finals Words of Wisdom

For those thinking about switching from nurse practitioner to doctor, or looking at medical school in general and questioning the path they’re on, Matt’s advice is to do a lot of shadowing to see what the different professions do day to day. (Yes, even if you work side by side with physicians, you should still do shadowing.) Just see what’s out there and what’s available.

Then be honest with yourself. Are you willing to commit the time and money it takes, sacrificing your weekends with friends and vacations? It’s going to require a lot of sacrifices for a very long-term investment.

Be honest with yourself. Are you willing to commit the time and money it takes, sacrificing your weekends with friends and vacations?Click To Tweet

The most rewarding thing for Matt so far is when he got accepted to medical school, having waited so long for it. He also loves the way you’re able to grow as a human while you’re helping patients and their families.

Links and Other Resources