A residency is the post-graduate training doctors are required to complete to practice medicine in the US. However, even after completing four years of medical school, graduates aren’t guaranteed to be placed in a residency program. In fact, thousands of medical school graduates fail to match with a residency each year. What’s a doctor to do with a medical degree while not legally being able to practice? It turns out that some graduates are going back to school to become nurses.

The National Resident Matching Program reports that in March 2016, 29,000 applicants were matched to residencies while 8,640 applicants failed to place with a program through the national matching process. Applicants include a wide pool of students from senior medical school students in the US to foreign nationals and US citizens from international medical schools.

Doctors who don’t complete a residency can’t treat patients or even work as nurses without further training. In the midst of a nationwide shortage of primary care physicians, especially in rural areas, some states are trying to change the rules. Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas have all passed similar laws that allow unmatched medical school graduates to collaborate with physicians in underserved areas for up to three years as an alternative to completing a residency. But some graduates aren’t waiting around while states slowly begin to enact these laws.

After failing to match with a residency, many graduates will complete a year of research or a fifth year of medical school before applying again, while others opt to join the “Dropout Club” and leave their intended profession entirely for another career path. For some this means heading back to school to earn a nursing degree, starting back in general chemistry and anatomy courses even though they hold an MD. Many medical school graduates who find themselves back in nursing school are frustrated that there isn’t a faster or less costly option from an MD to a master’s in nursing, but for now it’s their best option in following their passion for healthcare.

Read the story of Heidi Schmidt, a doctor who’s heading back to nursing school, and others like her on StatNews.

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