What to say when someone says, “You should have gone to medical school”

Stories - Book StoriesFrom the moment I started I.C.U. clinicals in nursing school, I knew the I.C.U. was my passion. To this day, I love the fast paced environment, high acuity patients, and most of all, I admire the brilliant nurses and doctors who teach me something new every shift.

After working for a little under a year in my first I.C.U. job I was finally to the point where I could make it through a shift without having a panic attack. I was gaining some “flow” and confidence and getting to know my fellow nurses, doctors, and residents fairly well. One week, after working my tail off for several consecutive shifts trying to save a particular patient, the resident with whom I had been working suddenly said, “You should have gone to medical school.”

“Uh…thank you?” I said, totally caught off guard.

At first, I was semi-flattered. I hadn’t even been a nurse for a year and this guy was telling me he thought I had the potential to be a doctor. I’m sure he had the best intentions when he said this to me, but something about it felt condescending.

I considered my fellow co-workers and their talents. They were much more experienced than me and surely had been told the same thing by a doctor at some point. In fact, to this day, I am in awe of nurses from every job I’ve had. I can honestly say, I have seen an innumerable amount of them single handedly save patients’ lives. Not only that, but nurses never seek credit, which makes them even more special. They are there solely for the patient and if someone else needs the credit for their own self-worth, nurses let them have it.

The point being, any single one of them could have gone to medical school, including myself, but we chose nursing because we wanted to become nurses. After all, nursing is an honorable profession and career. One can receive a terminal degree in nursing and as irreplaceable pieces of the healthcare community; nurses deserve the same respect physicians receive.

Fast-forward to a year later and I had relocated to a different job in a more rural state. I was working in a smaller university hospital, cardiovascular surgical I.C.U. This job was a major adjustment for me because the nurses were responsible for so many tasks. This was simply because the hospital did not have the same resources as large university centers.

After working in the facility for two years, I had grown very close to all of my co-workers. I had, once again, experienced nurses saving lives, but even to a more extreme example. Witnessing these nurses motivated me to pursue graduate school. I not only wanted to become a nurse practitioner, but I also wanted to advocate and lobby for the profession as a whole.

For my grad school applications, I asked one of our staff physicians to write me a letter of recommendation. We were coworkers, but also friends, and spoke frankly with one another. As I kindly pestered him to finish my letter of recommendation he said, “I should be writing this for a medical school application; you would have made one hell of a doctor.”

You would have made one hell of a nurse. Have you ever thought of going to nursing school?” I said, instantly offended.

He looked at me, shocked and befuddled. I explained to him that my passion was nursing and that I believed I could make an equal, if not more substantial difference in patient’s lives being a nurse practitioner. I also expressed my love of nursing culture and respect for the profession in general. I told him there was no doubt in my mind that nurses were the pilots of the healthcare experience and I wanted to lobby for them and teach baby nurses in the future.

Then, once I relaxed, I told him I knew he meant to give me a great compliment and I was appreciative. After all, I had utter respect for him and many other physicians. I just wanted him to value my unique talents as much as I valued his. At the end of the conversation he said, “You’re right. I never thought of it that way and you’ll be great. I really do not know how this place would operate without nurses.”

To clarify, I know there are many physicians who truly respect nurses, including my friend above. But, while suggesting a nurse become a doctor may seem like a compliment, it really is not, unless perfectly worded. Therefore, a more appropriate compliment would be, “You’re doing a great job and I really respect and value your talents, thank you.” Or, “I really believe you could be a leader in the nursing profession; if you ever need any help advancing your career, I’m here for advice and recommendations.”

So, moral of the story, everyone deserves to be respected for his or her individual talents. And the next time someone suggests you go to medical school, suggest they go to nursing school. It might provide them with some food for thought.

Danielle is the owner of her blog Nurse Abnormalities.


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