Physician Lifestyle (especially primary care) vs Nurse (NOT NP)

Aug 15, 2015
Pre-Health (Field Undecided)
Hey guys, I do apologize because I realize that I just posted a thread on Friday, but this weekend I've been doing more reading into medical careers (school keeps me from doing much of any research during the week), and some things came up that are really bothering me, so I'm looking for advice.
So here's my situation: I am a fairly traditional female. I want to get married and start a family early-ish: sometime between 26-30 (like, at least one baby before thirty if that's possible). It's very important to me that I have time for my family, especially the kids; in fact, I would really like to have the option to homeschool them if the situation 15-20 years in the future calls for that. Also, as a Catholic, I'm fine with natural family planning, but I've basically come to peace with the fact that, unless there's fertility issues, I will probably end up having quite a few children.
With all that in mind, I'm also very inspired by the idea of becoming a Family Medicine Physician. I don't care how much or how little they make; the way I grew up, McDonalds was a luxury treat, and I don't care if we live in a small house where all my kids share a bedroom, there's one bathroom for 6 people, we only eat out twice a year for Christmas and Easter, we only travel to visit family, there's no cable TV, the AC only comes on if it's over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the kids only have one or two nice outfits for church and all that goodness (granted, I doubt any US physician makes so little that they would have to live like this once debts are paid off). I do care about paying off debt and if that would be an obstacle to getting married and starting a family when I want to. Would the lifestyle of a physician in general (particularly a PCP like Family Practice) be an obstacle to a nice married life for a girl? Oh, and did I mention missing Mass? I don't want my job or training to ever require me to miss Mass on Holy Days of Obligation (so every Sunday and a few other holidays that could fall on any day of the week depending on the year); is that going to be a big issue as a physician?
Would becoming a physician or nurse ruin my innocence/purity? I've already seen a naked man because I shadowed a surgery...
I do believe in traditional gender roles, and I don't want to undermine my husband's place as provider. I feel like if I had such a busy job and I made a doctor's salary, it would fall on him to stay home and take care of the kids if needed. Of course, since I don't know who I'll be marrying yet, I can't say how okay or not okay he would be with it, but I have some experiences that have left an impression on me. My dad is currently in a stay-at-home situation because he went back to school, so my mom is the primary breadwinner and has been for at least three years now. It seems awful for both of them: I can tell my dad feels emasculated because his wife is the household provider (even though in our case it's only temporary), and I can tell that she's upset because her husband isn't financially providing for her or the family, so she doesn't feel taken care of, and she's clearly over-stressed. I've seen similar cases in a family member whose husband leaves it to her to cover household expenses, and I have a friend whose mom wasn't able to be there for her kids and works herself to death because her husband doesn't properly care for family finances (the family is extremely dysfunctional). It just doesn't seem healthy for the wife to try and "wear the pants" in the family when it comes to these matters.
So, basically I'm worried about not being able to be a good mom or wife because being a physician seems like it would kind of require me to be manly in a way. If I did want to transition to being a housewife (which I would do in a heartbeat if my husband wanted that and/or the situation called for it), it seems like it would be very difficult to justify after going through over a decade of training(not to mention student loans debt) for my job.
On the other hand, nursing is big in my family, so I've got to see and hear quite about it more or less first hand. It seems, at the very least, to have a more predictable schedule (nurses almost always work shifts and don't have call), and since the training period is much shorter, I wouldn't feel as bad for leaving it to focus on family. Also, nurses seem to do a lot of the direct patient care and relationship building that attracts me to family medicine. The nurses in my family mostly just urge me to become a doctor because they say I'm young, smart, interested in medicine, and determined, so why not? They also try to encourage me with the larger income doctors bring in, but like I said, that's not a huge deal to me, and in a way it even turns me off. My reason for not wanting to be a Nurse Practitioner is because I feel like if I go that route, I should just become a doctor because I'd have a bigger knowledge base and be free from the restrictions of an NP. Similarly, I'm not really interested in being a Physician's Assistant because I feel like that's another thing where if I go to that level I'd rather go all the way, and if I don't the restrictions and reduced knowledge base would really frustrate me.
Finally, the lack of financial security and free-time in your 20s that medicine calls for is pretty discouraging. Would it prevent me from enjoying my younger years and "finding myself" or whatever that is grown-ups always say about your 20s? I'm an extremely driven person with a level of focus that's probably borderline unhealthy. Right now, school is the center of my life, and everything else is secondary; I probably don't enjoy myself half as much as a majority of people my age because I'm so ridiculously rigorous with perfecting studies and the extracurricular activities I do. I guess part of that is because I'm sort of uptight, too (stereotypical Catholic I guess). Anyways, I'm worried that my personality would lead me to be one of those physicians who lives for their job. I was actually interested in surgery and tossed the idea out the window because I know I'm at very high risk to be one of those surgeons who never gets married or has babies or any kind of life outside of my career because I will always want to be in the OR or teach classes or do research. But it's not just surgeons who are at risk, right? I feel like nursing won't be as all-consuming (and I won't be as tempted to make it so), and it can be more of a job that's just an aspect of my life, not the center or purpose of it.
I know I'm only seventeen and things are going to change a whole lot when I get out into the world, go to college, and continue growing up. My psychology professor told us the other day about how our brains and personalities aren't done shaping until we're around 26. I'm aware of all this, but I'm going to college in 2016, which is just next year! If I'm going for nursing, I need to go ahead and apply for that major. I know of people who go into nursing and then become doctors later on, so I know I wouldn't be slamming the door shut on becoming a doctor someday, but if anybody has any advice, please let me know. I could really use as much as possible (and no, I am not going to decide what to do with my life based off this forum, I know how silly that is! It's just nice to hear lots of different opinions, helps me weigh stuff out). Right now, I'm thinking I'll just major in nursing, and if nursing's super unsatisfying and/or I really really want to, I'll give medschool a shot maybe.

P.S. Silly question for the end, but how does changing your name work if you already have a medical degree? I definitely want to change my name when I marry; is that insanely complicated for someone with a doctorate's, especially in medicine?


10+ Year Member
Aug 25, 2008
Midwest, USA
It doesn't seem like being a physician would fit what you are looking for (and thats totally ok!). I would look into physician assistant, seems to be a better option for you. I know there are a few schools where it's a 5 year program (marquette comes to mind off the top of my head). So you'd be a PA at 23ish and making good money ($80-100k). Also potentially look into other health professions such as pharmacy, dentistry, optometry, speech pathology, etc. that offer a shorter path than becoming a physician.


not actually a dog
Staff member
7+ Year Member
Mar 22, 2012
Resident [Any Field]

Based on what you've said here, I do not think that medicine is the right path for you. I think you would be much happier in a variety of other positions in the healthcare field. I think that being a nurse might actually fit your situation very well. As you said, it's mostly shift work, so the schedule is predictable, they make decent money, and you'll be able to place your family first. Additionally, if you do decide that you want more responsibility, you can always become an NP or CRNA or something like that (I know you said you might as well just become a doctor, but consider that you'll have a lot more flexibility schedule and family wise as an NP or CRNA than you would as a doctor). Going to medical school requires a lot of sacrifice. You essentially "lose" your 20s. The youngest 99%+ of the medical school population will not become an attending physician before the age of 28 (and that's the absolute earliest, assuming 4 years medical school and 3 years residency), and even then, you're still going to be working a lot. The absolute least you would be working is 50 hours a week, and during residency that can go as high as 80 (though sometimes that goes higher, though it isn't reported).

Now, that being said, even as a nurse, it might be difficult. Nurses typically work 3-4 12 hour shifts each week, but during those 12 hours, you're not going to be available for your kids or your husband, because you're going to be needed on the floor or in the OR or wherever, so if your kids need to be picked up or something while you're working, you'll have to figure that out separately.

The poster above mentioned optometry. This is another midlevel position and will also often be fairly stable. You'll probably be working 8-4 or 8-5 on weekdays and then that's it (though don't quote me on this, as I'm not super knowledgable about midlevel practices). That means that you can pick your kids up from their after school activity on time and be home for dinner. Salary is also decent.

The poster above also mentioned dentistry. This is a good alternative to medicine, though you still do have 4 years of undergrad + 4 years of dental school, though you aren't required to complete a residency, so you're done by 25-26. You also will mostly be working 40 hour weeks from 9-5 or 8-4, and you're making probably around 150k pre-tax (obviously this is variable).

The final suggestion I will make here is that you are 17. You have a long way to go. If you really want to consider medicine, you should try to talk to a family physician who may hold the same values as you or be going along a similar life path. You can ask them how medical school, residency, and practice affected their home life, their faith, their relationships, and stuff like that, and then you can make a more educated decision about whether or not to pursue medicine.

Becoming a physician involves a lot of sacrifice and is something you have to invest yourself completely in. Ask yourself whether you would be okay with dropping everything on a night out with your family at a restaurant and taking a cab to the hospital as a second year resident because your intern is in trouble and you're on backup, because there is absolutely a chance this will happen many times over. If you're on call, you're on call, and you can't just say "sorry, I'm at dinner, I'll come in a couple hours". There are many examples like this that I'm sure more experienced people can add, but if that's not something you are okay with, then I would recommend against medicine.

I'm also not entirely sure what you mean by purity, but you're going to be seeing all sorts of people with or without clothing, you're going to be cutting into deceased bodies and going through every artery, vein, muscle, bone, nerve, and organ, you're going to be touching all parts of many different people, and you unfortunately have a very good chance of seeing someone die in front of you. I would wager that you can't call yourself innocent after that, but then again, I might not have a good understanding of your conception of the word.

Best of luck, and I'm happy to answer other questions.


10+ Year Member
Jul 10, 2005
Right here.
Attending Physician
A few things:
1) There are many Catholic physicians, try to get in touch with them and ask them questions.
2) I put that first because a lot of the things you are concerned about are going to seem incompatible with the medical field, but they are able to make it work (i.e., working on holy days, being in uncomfortable situations, etc). Medicine can either break down your faith or strengthen it, it will be up to you to determine which.
3) A lot (most?) physicians are married; you can make it work.
4) Shadow family medicine physicians and nurses and ask them questions. The two fields are very different and you need to try to figure out which one fits you best. Realize that you will probably not have a clear answer and you're just going to have to choose one and commit based on your research and gut feeling. It's not the end of the world if you decide you made the wrong choice, it's just longer and more expensive...
5) While you're figuring this out, enjoy the rest of high school and college.

Best of luck!


5K+ Member
Moderator Emeritus
10+ Year Member
Dec 20, 2004
Attending Physician
1. You can't have a bunch of kids and home school them and be primary caregiver while practicing medicine. Medicine involves big trade-offs, usually fewer kids and using daycare, nannies and the like.
2. You likely won't have every Sunday, mass and religious holiday off during your training. You'll be able to finagle trades for some, but this too will involve trade offs.
3. Many men won't feel emasculated by a professional spouse. But some will. You would have to tailor your dating accordingly.

In short, you can be somewhat observantly religious, married and a parent on top of being a doctor but you'll have to make big concessions and have a lot of flexibility. Some things, like home schooling, having tons of kids and being the primary care giver, just won't be realistic options. A kid or two, with family help and/or extensive use of daycare/nannies is probably realistic.
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5+ Year Member
Jul 2, 2014
Western PA
Medical Student
That is a lot of text!

There are many physicians who make their career fit their lifestyle. If it is what you really want to do, then you can make it work. You may as well work toward that goal for now. If, over time, your desires change, you will be well suited to shift to a different track. If you've been taking the steps toward becoming a physician, it is a lot easier to shift gears if you change your mind than if you plan for something else and discover a burning passion for medicine.

As for nurse lifestyle vs physician lifestyle... there is a lot of variation in both of those. As a nurse, I was a workhorse, working 6-7 days a week, and usually at least 60 hours per week, if not more. Because of that, and because of the kind of nursing that I chose to specialize in, even with only a 2 year degree I had similar income potential to many primary care physicians. Though, that would mean traveling a lot, being on call most of the time, and working lots of overtime. On the other extreme, there are doctors like Pamela Wible who see patients 20 hours a week (using that part-time status to lower their malpractice insurance premiums, btw), and have ample free time for other pursuits. For more info on this check out .

In between, there is every variation. Quite a few nurses I knew worked 3 twelve hour days a week to give them time for their families, or only weekends, or just a few shifts a month as needed. It is possible to earn a very respectable income, to live as simply as you'd like, on a fairly minimal schedule... particularly if your spouse has an income, too. And there are doctors who really like to work as much as possible.

So, I'd say aim for medicine, because there is no harm at all in getting a good education in the sciences and humanities, while engaging in a bit of volunteerism. That is a foundation that will serve you well not matter what you ultimately decide to pursue.
Mar 1, 2015
Manhattan, New York
I hate to say this, but medicine is probably not for you.
During your residency, there may be times you have to wake up at 5am on a Sunday on a hard work week.
If you want to be a doctor, your religion cannot govern your entire lifestyle.
Nursing may be an option, but emergencies can always happen, and you still will have to work a lot.

Best of luck.