Advice For Older, Nontraditional Students

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If you're approaching 30, and definitely if you're past that benchmark, you may find some of the points I've leaned instructive, and you may want to read on. (I'm never going to apply to medical school again. I've been interviewed and waitlisted to the extreme. I'm too old for this anymore. For the curious: my stats are 26 MCAT, (7P 9V 10B) 0 Writing, 3.3 Science, 3.0 Nonscience, 3.7 in 100+ postbaccalaureate credits. Good extracurriculars, health care work and volunteer., etc. And I've been told I interview well too.)

1. If you're already out of school, and will have to return to school to take the premed courses you need to apply to medical school, REALIZE THAT GETTING INTO MEDICAL SCHOOL IS A BIG GAMBLE THAT YOU MAY NEVER WIN! I am in my early forties, and have been applying, off and on, for almost seven years. Do you want to turn out like me? Don't think it can't happen. I would never have thought it would happen to me either 11 years ago when I returned to school as a postbaccalaureate. I'm not trying to discourage anyone about trying to fulfill their dream of becoming a doctor. I JUST WANT YOU TO BE FULLY INFORMED OF WHAT YOU'RE POTENTIALLY GETTING YOURSELF INTO.

2. YOUR PREMED ADVISOR PROBABLY DOES NOT KNOW AS MUCH AS YOU THINK. YOUR PREMED ADVISOR PROBABLY KNOWS MUCH LESS THAN EVEN HE OR SHE THINKS. A better source of info. are credible websites, credible premeds, reference books, and the med. school admission offices themselves.

3. If you have to return to school as an older student, TRY TO GO TO SCHOOL FULL-TIME AND GET THE DAMNED THING OVER WITH, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Take out student loans, whatever you have to do, I would say, and try not to work so that you can get good grades. Since, I wasn't lucky enough to have any financial support through school, and was paranoid about taking out student loans and worked a lot, my g.p.a. suffered when I was an undergraduate. Some people are smart enough, or can get by without much sleep I guess, so that they can do it. I could not, at least not in my early twenties. If only someone had explained to me, as a young man, that my g.p.a. would be an albatross around my neck that would eventually sink me! I should have taken out a bunch of student loans and concentrated on school. What you say? And graduate with a huge debt? Yes, didn't I tell you trying to get into medical school is a gamble? Remember, every year you spend doing premed stuff is time essentially wasted in preparation to your goal. You'd be surprised how quickly time goes by if you're only going to school part-time. You're saving money by going to school part-time, yes. But you're also wasting your life away.

4. IF YOU HAVE GOTTEN POOR GRADES IN PREMED COURSES AT SOME POINT IN THE PAST, BUT ESPECIALLY IF IT IS RECENT, TAKE IT AS A SIGN THAT YOU MAY BE CUT OUT FOR SOMETHING ELSE EQUALLY VALUABLE IN LIFE. Sometimes people mature later in life and overcome problems with science courses they had as younger students. But you've got to ask yourself if it's a horrible struggle for you to get good grades, is it really worth it?

5. THE MCAT SUCKS THE BIG ONE AND THERE IS NOT NECESSARILY A CORRELATION BETWEEN HOW MUCH TIME YOU STUDY FOR IT AND THE SCORE YOU GET. I prepared for the MCAT for six months, full-time, (yes, you read that correctly) and I took the Kaplan MCAT course, practically living in their office. This is ridiculous. I only got a 24. The second time I took it, about five years later, being rusty on my premed knowledge and not preparing as much as I had the first time, I got a 26. Of course you need to study for the MCAT if you're going to take it. Just realize the MCAT, as life, is not fair.

6. DO NOT INFLICT THE CHINESE WATER-TORTURE ON YOURSELF. IF YOU DO NOT GET INTO MEDICAL SCHOOL IN ONE OR TWO TRYS. DO SOMETHING ELSE. I would recommend that once you're finished with your premed courses, MCAT, and you've applied to medical schools, that you IMMEDIATELY START PURSUING AN ALTERNATIVE PLAN. DO NOT JUST SIT THERE AND WAIT TO SEE IF YOU GET ACCEPTED INTO MEDICAL SCHOOL. PURSUE ALTERNATIVE PLANS AS THOUGH YOU HAVE BEEN REJECTED FROM MEDICAL SCHOOL AND WILL NEVER GET IN. If you do get accepted, that's great! You can cancel the alternate plans. But it you are rejected, you will not waste time the way I did. Life can be wonderful, but expect life to bite you at the most unexpected times! It does!

7. BE AWARE THAT THE ALLIED HEALTH PROFESSIONS THAT YOUR HELPFUL PREMED ADVISOR MAY STEER YOU TOWARDS MAY NOT BE YOUR CUP OF TEA. Think hard if you would really be happy in some of these positions. There are many wonderful allied health professions, and I commend those who aspire to pursue them, but are you going to be happy in these second choice fields after all of your hard work trying to get into medical school? Perhaps, but perhaps not. I explored the following professions (These are my biased, subjective, potentially offensive, yet honest opinions. They might save you some research.): Podiatry: Sounds okay, if you go by the pretty, glossy school admission pamphlets, with the happy students in the white coats on the cover, but I've interviewed at a few schools, and I had to practically go on the Witness Protection Program to get away from them. I met their admission requirement of being alive, and for a while, I felt like a hot NFL quarterback being pursued by the talent scouts. Podiatry schools are desperate for students and will take just about anybody. Recent podiatry graduates are having a devil of a time paying back their student loans. Don't do it unless you have connections (dad's an established podiatrist, etc.) Physician Assistant: When my mom was sick, and I was taking her to the doctor all of the time, I felt kind of sad for the P.A.'s whose judgment was often condescendingly overriden by the doctors, right in front of the patients. I know there are exceptions, but the P.A.'s I have encountered seemed to have even less autonomy than the nurses. I can't see myself or many of my classmates being happy as P.A.'s. Dentistry: great, but it can be as hard to get into as is medical school. Foreign medical school: If you can get into a school in the United Kingdom or Australia, it might be hard to come back to the U.S.A., but it's probably worth a try. Grenada is the best of the others, relatively speaking, (don't think about going to any other foreign schools) but the residencies are drying up, through the intentional legislation of the congress in Washington DC, and you may not be able to return to the U.S.A. to get a residency, even if you are able to surmount all of the hardships of going to a foreign school. Naturopathic and Chiropractic School: No, no, no! Unless you are willing to forget scientific method, not to mention logic and rational thinking, don't pursue these fields. What to do then? That's up to you, but I would encourage you, if you don't think you'd be happy in an allied health profession, to THINK OUTSIDE OF THE HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONS BOX WHEN IT COMES TO ALTERNATIVE PLANS. Yes, it looks good on your application, if you reapply to medical school, if you get your M.P.H. and work as an epidemiologist or you become an E.M.T., but do you want to pursue that path the rest of your life if you never get into medical school? What about pursuing more school or a job that coincides more with your interests, just in case you don't get into medical school, rather that just what looks good to a medical school admission committee when you reapply?

8. Finally, the last point I wish to make before I bid you a fond farewell is that WHEN IT COMES TO TRYING TO GET INTO MEDICAL SCHOOL, THERE IS A FINE LINE BETWEEN PERSEVERANCE AND OBSESSION. You will have to decide where you stand on this one. I finally realized, too late, that it had become an obsession with me, and by that time it had ruined a good part of my life. You see, some people's lives are damaged, sometimes beyond repair, by serving a long prison sentence, or chronic alcoholism or drug use, and so on. It is also possible to damage a life with a seemingly noble pursuit ? such as trying to become a doctor. Why do we find this societal phenomenon of people striving so hard to become doctors? We see it in other professions too: aspiring actors, fledging writers, striving musicians, big-talking entrepreneurs with dreams of becoming millionaires. These are just a few examples, and all may be worthy professions. But to be sure, certain vocations speak to our hopes and dreams about what our lives would be like -- could be like, if we could just.... Well, dreams are great, they keep us all going in what can be, at times, a very unfair world, but you've got to keep it in perspective and not let your dream take control of your life if your dream is not working out. I'm sure that many of us have stories of friends or relatives who never made it, for example, as rock stars, or as the next Bill Gates, etc., and whose lives were ruined by such a dream pursued too far, for too long. The key thing, I think, is to let go of dream, after you've done your best, before it wrecks you. I say, change your dream if bashing your head against that brick wall, that keeps you from your dream, never even cracks the wall but gives you a horrible headache! You must make this call, not your premed advisor, your parents, your friends, or your family. But, be true to yourself!

Now it is time for me to go. I will pull my name from this website, never to return. I will never apply to medical school again. I hope that some of you will benefit from my experiences. But for me, I have grown up. I have put away my toys. My dream has ended, and I must get on with life. There will be happy and rewarding times in another career, I am sure. But it will never be the same. You see, to steal a line from General Macarthur, old premeds never die, they just fade away....

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Dude, thats the most depressing thing ive ever heard. You pre meds applying, don't give up if this is what you want to do, even if its the 20th time you have to apply. You don't want to be 50 and always feel like you didn't give it your best shot. Also, naturopathic and chiropractic, and podiatry, if thats what your're interested in, then do it. Don't listen to anyone. This person must not interview well, because lots of people with similar numbers got in, me included with almost identical numbers. So this is a worst case scenario situation, don't let it scare you guys away. Sometimes its discouraging but the end result is worth it.
Originally posted by conmantlc
Dude, thats the most depressing thing ive ever heard. You pre meds applying, don't give up if this is what you want to do, even if its the 20th time you have to apply. You don't want to be 50 and always feel like you didn't give it your best shot. Also, naturopathic and chiropractic, and podiatry, if thats what your're interested in, then do it. Don't listen to anyone. This person must not interview well, because lots of people with similar numbers got in, me included with almost identical numbers. So this is a worst case scenario situation, don't let it scare you guys away. Sometimes its discouraging but the end result is worth it.

Wipes brow and says Whew!.. I think I was really worried for a minute there with that post from Buck. :(
And Buck I really wish you well ; but do not quit because you feel defeated. If you know stopping this arduous pricess is what you really want to do and you know you would be happy doing something else, then I wish you the best.
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I would say this post represents what a majority of people outside of medicine believe: You're too old to apply to medical school after a certain age! You shouldn't quit your job to try for something that takes that long! If you haven't been accepted the first few times, or take the MCAT more than x times, you should quit!

But when you talk to residents, and physicians, and hear the things they have been through, you get a different perspective. Also, when you're accepted to medical school, you see more people than you expect in their 30's and 40's.

If you have that strong desire to get through, you find a way. It's not the number of times you apply, but also how many schools you apply to, and what is different from your 7th application than the 6th and 5th application. I agree that pre-med advisors are not always helpful. But then again, other people's opinion are not always helpful either. In the SDN world dominated by posts that ask "Can I get accepted to medical school?," it's important to realize that it's up to you and your drive more than other's opinions. There are remarkable stories out there of rejections turning into acceptances, and attendings at major urban hospitals topping the nation's board scores where they had failed a year of medical school.

If you have hope and faith, you can persevere. Look at Surgeon General-Elect Carmona's questionable background. He may have failed the surgery boards several times, but he responds, "No one has ever questioned my qualifications."
Although I think it's sad that someone feels he/she is forced to give up a dream, I can understand how it could happen. I am only 28 and finishing up my first year of medical school, but I was very fortunate to be accepted with my average numbers the first time I applied. My experience is what got me in.

Those of us who are a little older, or who have responsibilities outside supporting ourselves must think about the costs to our spouses and children. My husband was happy I got into medical school, not only because he was glad for me...but also because I finally had a direction and we could plan the next couple years of our lives. When you are waiting to apply, or taking the prerequisites just to TRY to get in, and there are NO guarantees what-so-ever...that puts a lot of strain on things. You keep yourself and your entire family in limbo.

I can't imagine going thru the interview process more than once, expecting my entire family to sacrifice stability because of my dream for so long. I am not talking one or two tries...but when you go thru several years of it, it may be time to re-assess reality. The original poster said he had tried 7 times to get in and is now in his early 40's. I think his perserverence is great, but I also think he has a point about why he isn't going to apply any more.

Not getting into medical school says absolutely nothing about one's academic/mental abilities. Some people just won't get in, as as sad as it is for those who want this more than anything, that's the fact.

The bright side of this is that those who don't get in after all that work will be great at whatever they decide to do because they have conditioned themselves to work hard.

I applaud this poster for being brutally honest about some things pre-meds don't want to consider. This journey is scary as hell, and it's a big RISK. Traditional students coming straight out of college at the age of 22-24 may not have to seriously think about the things us older students do (serious bills, spouses, home ownership, chldren, etc).

It's difficult to give up a dream after pursuing it for so long, but I think this poster has made good points for all of us, traditional or not...
I TOTALLY understand what this person is saying!

I began my whole pre-med thing back in 1990 (but actally started gearing towards being a doc back in 1984). I had a very similar story in that I worked either full or part time during college, got all kinds of grades and now wear them like an albatross around my neck! I applied in 1993 (similar stats) at age 31 and didn't even get an interview. I was so sick of sacrificing, waiting tables, studying for the MCAT, scrubbing test tubes, etc., that I didn't think I could wait until the next year. Know what I did? I applied to podiatry school in San Francisco and got in (it wasn't too difficult).

Now, I at least have a ton of relevant clinical experience and have taken most of the same medical school classes (physio, biochem, pharm, path, anatomy, etc.) already. I'm WAY over the average age now (40), but I also have experience.

I'm STILL applying to be a physician. And, while I understand the frustration and have tremendous empathy for the poster, I could never say "give up". Hell, I'm 40, already did a one year residency at L.A. County/USC, took a gruntload of brutal classes in podiatry school, have a mortgage, am 170k in debt from podiatry school and have back pain every single day (OK, I added that one to get some sympathy).

Point is, I don't care how long it takes, how circuitous my route is or how much money it costs. I want to die saying that I successfully fulfilled my dream to be a doctor and NOTHING'S GOING TO STOP ME!!!!!
I hate to see someone so unhappy....i also hate to sound like a sappy pollyanna ...but here goes...

All anyone can do is their best. You set goals and do your best to achieve them. Sometimes on the way you find out you can't acheive your goals or that you don't want it anymore.

I firmly believe that everything works out in the end. To throw a little generic spirituality in here (and a few cliches oldies but goodies)...

1.if you trust in the universe, the universe will take care of you
2. when the world closes a door on opens a window
3. when the adcoms give you lemons, make lemonade

I am 30 and it took 4 years and 2 mcats to get in and I had fairly competitive numbers. I am much better prepared and focussed than I was 6 years ago when I started. Being forced to waitreally has worked out better for me.

just a little optimism!