From Scrubs to Red Carpets: Surprising Stars with Medical Degrees

By Edene SoffrinLast Updated May 7, 2020 7:52:05 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images

Many celebrities with successful careers in entertainment, sports, music, writing and even politics have a surprising background in another field of expertise: medicine. From medical degrees to credentials in fields as diverse as nursing, psychology and neuroscience, these celebrities could switch back to scrubs and lab coats at any time — or already have.

Some of these stars even offered to use their skills to help those affected by COVID-19. It's admirable how they used both their fame and their knowledge to help others when it matters.

Ken Jeong, M.D. — Internal Medicine

Believe it or not, Ken Jeong's hilarious performances in the Hangover series, Community and more were prefaced by a career in internal medicine. That's right: The actor known for playing Mr. Chow in The Hangover is a licensed doctor in California.

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Photo Courtesy: Conan,IMBD

In an interview with NPR, Jeong shared, "I was perfectly trained to be a physician. You know, it wasn't a fluke. I worked hard at it. Once I started to appear on television … that coincided with me leaving medicine. It was kind of time to — time to go … it's time to pursue this full-time."

Jenny Thompson, M.D. — Pediatric Anesthesiology

While her main claim to fame is her incredible 12 Olympic medals, Jenny Thompson also completed training as an anesthesiologist, one of the most essential (and difficult) jobs in any hospital.

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Photo Courtesy: Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

After a successful career as an Olympic star, Thompson decided to shift her career path towards medicine and successfully finished a residency as a pediatric anesthesiologist. She showed the same world-class grit she used in her Olympic competitions to fight Covid-19 with others on the front lines in South Carolina.

Mayim Bialik, Ph.D. — Neuroscience

Mayim Bialik played a genius on The Big Bang Theory, the longest-running sitcom ever. Her role wasn't entirely removed from reality, either: Bialik is not only a skilled actress. but also trained in neuroscience with a Ph.D. from UCLA.

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Photo Courtesy: CBS/IMDB

Bialik grew up in the spotlight while working as a child actor on Blossom. When she reached adulthood, she refocused her lens on something less fame-driven: medicine. However, after studying for years, Bialik found that the medical industry was too chaotic. She returned to acting and scored one of the biggest roles on television.

Tina Turner — Nurse's Aid

It's nearly impossible to imagine the legendary Tina Turner pursuing a career outside of music! However, before her musical breakout, Turner was on her way to becoming a nurse. After graduating high school, she even scored a job as a nurse's aid at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

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Photo Courtesy: Greetsia Tent/WireImage/Getty Images

However, with a voice like hers, Turner couldn't evade stardom for long. After showing off her stellar pipes for Ike Turner at a club, she joined his music group, the Kings of Rhythm Band. After that experience, her nursing aspirations were in the rearview mirror.

Kate Gosselin, R.N. — Labor and Delivery Nurse

Kate Gosselin's income didn't always come from reality television. Before she was broadcasting her quirky family to the world in Jon & Kate Plus 8, Gosselin spent much of her young adult life working as a nurse. As a healthcare worker, her focus was on labor and delivery.

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What made her depart her previous position? Nursing in Pennsylvania didn't bring in enough to be raising eight children, while reality television helped boost her income enough to make motherhood more manageable. However, Gosselin supposedly renewed her nursing license just in case her media career ever ends.

Bonnie Hunt, R.N. — Oncology Nurse

Bonnie Hunt is known for over 40 film and television appearances, yet before she was an actor, she was a nurse. Although she had her sights on Hollywood from a young age, her father insisted that she seek out a stable career in medicine.

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Photo Courtesy: TriStar Pictures/IMDB

After attending nursing school, Hunt worked as an oncology nurse for half a decade. However, her thoughts remained on comedy, acting and entertainment. After five years with the Second City improv troupe, she quit her job and threw herself into the acting scene, and it paid off. She became famous enough to earn her special, The Bonnie Hunt Show.

Adrian Holmes, R.N. — Spinal Nurse

Adrian Holmes is a friendly face on Smallville and Arrow, yet he also used to bring smiles to spinal patients as a nurse. Holmes' mother is the one who encouraged him to pursue nursing as a practical fallback career in case his acting pursuits came up short.

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After earning a nursing degree from Langara College, he spent time working in a spinal unit. He witnessed many young people come through with injuries that made him grateful for his able body, and he remained humbled as his acting career took off.

Lisa Kudrow — Psychobiology Student

While Friends wouldn't be the same without Lisa Kudrow in the role of Phoebe, acting wasn't always in the cards for her. Coming from a medicine-focused family, Kudrow went to college to study psychobiology. She hoped to join her neurologist father, Lee Kudrow, in his medical research.

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However, despite securing her degree, her plans of entering the medical field fell apart. Why? She was introduced to the wonders of the entertainment industry. After joining a drama group, getting into theater and befriending Conan O' Brien, her future in acting was sealed.

Julie Walters, R.N. — Coronary and Ophthalmic Nurse

Julie Walters is best known for her motherly role as Mrs. Weasley in the Harry Potter series. Still, the films aren't the only place where her caretaking abilities shine. Before she became an award-winning actress, Walters pursued a life in nursing, earning her qualifications at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

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Photo Courtesy: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

"Oh, I loved being with the patients so much," she shared with The Telegram. "I loved washing them, feeding them, telling them jokes … I was very good at making them laugh, but unfortunately terrified of everything else the job involved. And that's not ideal … "

Adrienne Bailon — Studied Medicine at the High School for Health Professions

Adrienne Bailon has had a remarkable career in entertainment. The singer has performed with groups such as The Cheeta Girls, hosted a talk show, and appeared in multiple films. Still, when she was a kid, she had a different dream: going into medicine.

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Photo Courtesy: @adriennebailon/Instagram

Bailon was so dedicated to becoming a medical professional that she she attended the High School for Health Professions and Human Services in New York. However, she decided not to pursue the career in college and instead turned her mind toward music.

Kim Zolciak, LPN — Nurse

Kim Zolciak, one of the better-known stars of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, has spent years establishing herself a public figure, entertainer and beauty guru. However, before her glamorous days as a celebrity housewife, Zolciak earned her living working as a licensed nurse.

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Photo Courtesy: @kimzolciakbiermann/Instagram

Zolciak attended the University of Connecticut, where she earned her degree in nursing before becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Still, the medical occupation couldn’t keep her interest. She tried her hand at several other job positions before getting her big break on television.

Dexter Holland, Ph.D. — Molecular Medicine

In addition to being a core member of The Offspring, one of the most popular pop-punk bands of the mid-1980s, Bryan Keith "Dexter" Holland also has a background in molecular biology. He earned bachelor’s and master's degrees in the fields of biology and molecular biology even as The Offspring found success.

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Unlike some of the celebrities on this list, he never fully gave up on molecular biology, either. In 2017, he successfully completed his Ph.D. in the subject at the USC Keck School of Medicine.

Jenny McCarthy — Studied Nursing at Southern Illinois University

Before her runway and high-fashion days, Jenny McCarthy dreamed of becoming a registered nurse. While she never actually made it into the medical field, McCarthy was dedicated to joining it in her college days.

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Unfortunately, after studying nursing diligently for two years in college, the future entertainer was financially and emotionally drained. She realized that she couldn't afford another semester of school and dropped out. While she was initially crushed, she became a quick success in modeling and acting, and today, she is one of the most recognizable faces around.

Jennifer Stone, R.N. - Registered Nurse

After a successful run on Wizards of Waverly Place, one of Disney's most popular shows, Jennifer Stone (Harper Winkle) stepped into medicine. After studying as a nurse, she entered a registered nurse (R.N) residency program.

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Photo Courtesy: @jenniferstone/Instagram

Stone announced her decision to work on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic in April, 2020. "I just hope to live up to all of the amazing healthcare providers on the front lines now as I get ready to join them," she told her Instagram fans.

Robin Quivers, ANC — United States Air Force Nurse

The Howard Stern Show wouldn't be complete without Robin Quivers, Stern's witty on-air partner. While she seems to be a natural radio personality, Quivers was once a nurse for the United States Air Force. This career route wasn’t entirely intentional; the recruiter got her on the phone and wouldn't take no for an answer.

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Nonetheless, she served honorably until retiring in 1978. Afterward, she decided that nursing might not have been her ideal career after all. Instead of pursuing medicine beyond the military, she joined Howard Stern on his talk show.

David Lee Roth, Emergency Medical Technician

David Lee Roth, the iconic frontman of Van Halen, went in the opposite direction of most of the people on this list by going from musician to medic. He toned down his punk personality to train and work as an emergency medical technician (EMT) in New York in the early 2000s..

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Photo Courtesy: @davidleeroth/Instagram

Throughout his career as an EMT, Roth helped countless strangers get through their most frightening moments. "It has been an eye-opening adventure," he told People. "I am a member of a team again, and that’s what a rock band always was."

Michael Crichton, M.D. — Harvard Medical School Graduate

From Jurassic Park to ER, Michael Crichton's contributions to pop culture were substantial. Prior to his successful career as a director, writer and producer, however, Crichton had his sights set on becoming a doctor. He graduated from Harvard Medical School and worked as a postdoctoral fellow for several years.

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Photo Courtesy: Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images

According to Crichton himself, "I was attracted to medicine partly because I thought I would be doing useful work, helping people — I would never have to wonder if the work was worthwhile." Nonetheless, he moved on to new careers where he put his old knowledge to work.

Jay Sean — Studied Medicine at the University of London

R&B star Jay Sean is one of the best-selling British artists of all-time. However, had he not dropped out of school to pursue his music career, he may have become a stand-out in the medical industry instead.

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Photo Courtesy: @jaysean/Instagram

When his college years rolled around, Sean enrolled in Queen Mary, University of London to study medicine. After two years, however, he decided to withdraw from school to put all of his energy into furthering his creative endeavors.

Pau Gasol — Studied Medicine at University of Barcelona

Pau Gasol of the Chicago Bulls almost avoided pursuing a basketball career to find a cure for one of his idols, Magic Johnson, when he announced that he was HIV positive. He was eleven-years-old at the time when he decided to set aside basketball to become a doctor and help his hero.

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Photo Courtesy: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Gasol attended the University of Barcelona in pursuit of a medical degree. However, as his basketball skills improved, it was clear that he belonged in a uniform rather than scrubs. He ultimately ended up dropping out to resume fostering his athletic talents.

Graham Chapman — Studied Medicine at St. Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School

Graham Chapman, beloved star of Monty Python, had medical aspirations before he was a star. He studied medicine at Cambridge and St. Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School, yet he wasn't inspired by the work.

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While in medical school, he collaborated with John Cleese, another future Monty Python star, in a drama club called Footlights. Eventually, he hung up his scrubs and picked up a script instead.

George Miller, M.D. — Physician

While George Miller may not shine in front of the camera, he has altered the world of film—and medicine—throughout his multiple careers. Before he created the Mad Max series of critically acclaimed action movies, Miller worked as a physician.

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Photo Courtesy: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images for AFI

Eventually, cinema drew him away from medicine. "I always wanted to be a doctor," he told PRI. "But at the same time … I suddenly became interested in cinema … there was a whole cohort of people who were just basically driven by enthusiasm."

Naomi Judd, R.N. — ICU Nurse

Naomi Judd is half of one of the most famous country duo in music history, the Judds. (Her daughter, Wynnona Judd is the other half). However, before that, she worked as a nurse..

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Photo Courtesy: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images

Judd had two children and divorced her husband by 22. While she was also influenced by the early death of her brother, Judd studied nursing to ensure that she could provide for her kids, ultimately leading her to become an ICU nurse. Despite those motivations, the music industry became her life's work.

Luann de Lesseps, LPN — Nurse

This Real Housewives of New York star is an established actress, model author, and television personality—and you can add nursing to her list! Luann de Lesseps, who began to go by the title "countess" after marrying French royalty in the 1990s, was a nurse long before she was an entertainer.

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Photo Courtesy: @countessluann/Instagram

"Being a nurse paid on per diem allowed me the flexibility to model … I think the people skills I acquired as a nurse definitely have helped me be a better entertainer, and I never forget to be grateful for good health," she shared with Forbes.

Emeli Sande, DUniv — Studied Neuroscience

Emeli Sande is one of the most successful songwriters of the last decade. She has written hits for the likes of Rhianna, Alicia Keys, Labrinth, Leona Lewis and more. Still, Sande knew that the music industry was tough to succeed in. She wanted to ensure that she covered her financial bases in college by pursuing a medical degree.

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Photo Courtesy: @emelisande/Instagram

Sande attended the University of Glasgow, where she studied medicine for four years. Although she dropped out in her final year, she earned an intercalated bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and later received an honorary Doctorate of the University from the same institution.

Khaled Hosseini, M.D. — Internal Medicine

Author Khaled Hosseini is an acclaimed author famed for novels like The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns as well as movie adaptations of his work. Between moving from Kabul, Afghanistan to Paris to San Jose, California and later becoming a famous author, you’d think he wouldn’t have had time for a medical career. You’d also be wrong.

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Photo Courtesy: Al-Jazeera English/YouTube

Hosseini first earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Santa Clara University followed by a medical degree from University of California, San Diego. He completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. When his first novel was published in 2003, he was still practicing, although he later left the field and said he doesn’t miss it.

Tanya Sam, R.N. — Oncology and Hematology Nurse

While Tanya Sam's charismatic personality shines on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, her abundant energy used to bring joy to hospital patients. Before she became a housewife, businesswoman and fashion guru, Tanya was a registered nurse.

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Photo Courtesy: @itstanyatime/Instagram

She shared a glimpse of her past (along with a picture of her in scrubs) with fans on her Instagram page, @itstanyatime. She wrote, "#TBT to my days as a RN! Are you a day shift nurse or night shift? I loved a night shift! Crazy things happen on the night shift!"

Paul Brandt, R.N. — Pediatric Nurse

This internationally successful Canadian musician is a chart-topping country star. Still, his golden voice hasn't always carried his career. Prior to blowing away opponents in talent competitions and signing on with Reprise Records, Brandt enjoyed a humble career as a pediatric nurse.

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Photo Courtesy: @imalbertabound/Instagram

Brandt's father was a paramedic, so a medical field seemed like a natural choice. Brandt himself worked at Alberta Children's Hospital. "If my career didn’t take the turn it did, I’d still be a nurse," he shared with Media Planet. "I’m blessed to have had two incredible careers that I love."

Kathryn Joosten, PMHN — Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse

With shows like The West Wing and Desperate Housewives under her belt and multiple Emmys to her name, Kathryn Joosten has had a fruitful career in the entertainment industry. Before that, however, she worked as a psychiatric mental health nurse (PMHN).

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Photo Courtesy: Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic for Academy of Television Arts and Sciences/Getty Images

Joosten once worked as a psychiatric nurse at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago and married a fellow psychiatrist. Still, the prospect of acting continued to call to her, and following her divorce, she decided to go all in. Luckily, her decision paid off.

Sonya Eddy, LVN — Licensed Vocational Nurse

Actress Sonya Eddy regularly appeared on General Hospital as nurse Epiphany Johnson. As it turns out, her nursing role was more than just a character; it extended into her everyday life.

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While she also has a bachelor’s degree in theater and dance, she trained to be a licensed vocational nurse (LVN). She worked as one until her acting career took off, and it no doubt helped with landing her big role.

Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, M.D. —Physician

While Ernesto 'Che' Guevara may be best known today for appearing on college students’ T-shirts, he was first and foremost a Latin American revolutionary who helped bring Fidel Castro to power in Cuba. Before he rode a motorcycle across South America and rebelled against the bourgeoisie, however, he worked as a doctor.

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Photo Courtesy: René Burri/Wikimedia Commons

He earned a medical degree from the Universidad de Buenos Aires, which he pursued after the passing of his grandmother. It was only fter traveling across the country and witnessing poverty and inequality firsthand that he knew he wanted to do more than work in a medical office.