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Advice regarding transition to medicine

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GreenDuck12

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I have a few questions that I would appreciate guidance on:

1) Would a transition to post-bacc immediately from law school look bad? I've done public interest law, policy consulting, and corporate law during my time in law school. I am still interested in medicine. I think it's unfair to take my interest in medicine less seriously as compared to a 20 something who has had no real jobs and experiences to "rule out" things like law and other careers. However, it seems like other law -> med posters here get the "You're going to get asked about your interest in medicine. Why not practice law for a few years?" comment a lot.

No need to project that medical schools are going to take you less seriously because you will have JD. However, as an older applicant who is making a substantial career change after a significant investment of time and money earning a JD, you are going to need to have a clear and coherent story for why you want to pursue medicine that goes beyond the classic "I want to help people" message that younger applicants can get away with. You will be asked why you are changing careers, as was I, and as long as you have an answer you'll be fine. The reality is there isn't one right or wrong answer for pursuing a new career. This is a good space to really flesh out what your goals are for your career and what are the types of problems that you want to address in your professional life. Just be aware that you need to ensure that your answers relate to the practice of medicine as schools are primarily trying to produce physicians. Also keep in mind that medical schools just want to make sure you aren't going to bail when things get tough or change your mind midway through your education. As each seat represents a significant source of revenue to conduct medical education, and schools rarely admit transfer applicants, they want to make sure that each person they admit will be in it for the long haul.

2) How do people finance post-bacc programs? I come from a low-income family (hence the rush to attend law school and start making money) and I will have to fund the program by myself. I have about 20K in undergrad loans and will have $60K in grad loans.

If you are enrolled as an official degree/certificate students you can access federal loans. That being said, many nontraditional students work and take classes part time if loans aren't an option or are unpalatable. For postbac programs, you can pursue a formal program at places such as Goucher and Bryn Mawr that will get you through most prereqs in one year, but will pay a significant premium (40k+). You can also do an informal postbac at most colleges and universities by simply enrolling in premed courses. I opted for the second route because I wanted to continue working so I enrolled at an extension program that offered classes at night. Depending on what your timeline is, you could opt for a formal program and pay a higher rate of tuition now but possibly begin practicing as a physician (and earning an attending's salary that much sooner) or opt for a longer DIY route that allows you to work while you get ready for an application cycle.
 
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GreenDuck12

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Thank you for your thorough reply! I am unsure what a "convincing" answer to "why medicine" is. If you're interested in science, you can do research or a PhD. If you're interested in policy, then do an MPP. If you're interested in "helping people," do social work or nonprofit work. I can't imagine how "nontraditional students" are questioned about how convincing their "why medicine" answer is because the reality is, the answer most often is "I care about sick people and want to treat them." I always see this nontraditional students, especially students switching from other professional careers like law, get grilled almost unfairly more but it seems to me that someone who is older, has developed time and experience in another field and has more skills, would be a great candidate. Also, the fact that I stuck it through applying to law school and going to law school is in and of itself a better prediction of my ability to withstand a doctorate program, vs. a 22 year old who has spent all their life just trying to get into med school and has had no exposure to anything else.

Where have you seen nontraditional students get grilled if you haven't been through interviews yet? I didn't have that experience during this last cycle after spending 7 years as a professional in my former field. You are correct that many programs do value to skills and experiences older applicants bring to the table but you have to keep in mind that admissions is incredibly competitive. Over 60k people apply to MD programs each year for only 20k seats.

A convincing answer to why medicine is simply that, an answer that is well thought out and grounded in experience instead of hyperbole. Take your thought about the "I care about sick people and want to treat them" and take it a step farther to answer: why you should be the one to treat them, what experiences have you had that leads you to believe you would be more effective as a physician, what are you goals within the practice of medicine, what drives you to do this, etc? Most of the personal statements that I review aren't strong statements because they end with wanting to help people instead of delving deeper. Delving deeper is what helps fend off the questions that may be asked about why you should consider an MPP or becoming a social worker or teacher. Keeping your answers specific as it relates to the practice of medicine really goes a long way in crafting a strong and coherent personal statement. It gets easier to write about this as you spend more time in a medical setting.
 
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Meridian32

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I completely agree with the advice from @GreenDuck12 above and would also add that part of the reason your answer to the question "Why medicine?" will be more critically scrutinized compared to a traditional applicant is that admissions committees want to avoid admitting med students who don't ultimately become doctors and it's not unreasonable to speculate that an applicant who was admitted to law school but didn't ultimately become a lawyer is at higher risk for this outcome compared to a traditional applicant. To mitigate this, admissions committees will want to see that you have done your due diligence in investigating what being a doctor actually involves, in terms of shadowing, volunteering, informational interviews with doctors, etc., in order to confirm that your understanding of the profession is aligned with reality. In your case, it also wouldn't be a bad idea to reach out and do informational interviews with MD/JDs, to learn more about the unique career paths that these people sometimes pursue.
 
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JanetSnakehole

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To mitigate this, admissions committees will want to see that you have done your due diligence in investigating what being a doctor actually involves, in terms of shadowing, volunteering, informational interviews with doctors, etc., in order to confirm that your understanding of the profession is aligned with reality.

Ding ding ding. Cannot agree with this enough.

@law2med_123, what have you done in the way of shadowing to inform your career transition? Before spending a dime on premedical coursework, I strongly encourage you to spend at least 40 hours shadowing a primary care physician. If you’re interested in other fields, you can tack on specialty shadowing hours from there. Shadowing is a requirement for medical school applications anyway, but I think it’s really essential you see the day-to-day life of a PCP prior to transitioning out of your current field.
 
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JanetSnakehole

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I haven't had the opportunity to do much shadowing work. I don't have any sort of network of doctors and I also move around a lot due to being a student and working in different cities every summer. I have reached out and haven't heard much back. I obviously won't be hearing anything for awhile. I was supposed to start volunteering at an ED in a major city hospital but that opportunity was delayed due to COVID. I'm applying to shadow/volunteer in free clinics in my city right now but I don't know how that will work out due to the cities shutting down again.

The irony is that most people start shadowing after they're already on the pre-med track. It's much easier to convince a doctor to let them shadow you when youre a bio major. It's also hard to pursue law because people want you to be REALLY sure before you leave (e.g. I'm working 80 hours a week right now in corporate law) and also pursue shadowing opportunities. It's also hard to get shadowing when you're a law student and have to disclose your background to doctors.

It can be difficult for nontrads, there’s no doubt, but you have to find a way to do it anyway. I had to hustle to find doctors to shadow when I was in my former career (non-medical) but I eventually got it done through a mixture of cold-calling and networking from there (“thanks for letting me shadow you today, Dr. Smith, can you recommend a colleague who might also be open to meeting with me?”) I was not a student, and so I had to use vacation or flex time to make it happen.

I will also point out that biology majors don’t necessarily have it any easier with shadowing - the pre-allo forums are full of traditional premed students running into HIPAA issues, docs ghosting them, COVID-related shutdowns, and so on. It’s not going to spontaneously get easier to find these opportunities when you start your postbac classes. Free clinics/EDs are a great place to start - but, yes, it’s unfortunate that coronavirus is throwing a wrench in the works. That’s an extra hurdle for you that I didn’t face. So plan on pursuing these opportunities in earnest once your city/region opens up again.

The bottom line is that I cannot, in good conscience, recommend you sell your current vehicle and put a down payment on a $350,000 supercar without at least test driving it first.
 
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law2med_123

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It can be difficult for nontrads, there’s no doubt, but you have to find a way to do it anyway. I had to hustle to find doctors to shadow when I was in my former career (non-medical) but I eventually got it done through a mixture of cold-calling and networking from there (“thanks for letting me shadow you today, Dr. Smith, can you recommend a colleague who might also be open to meeting with me?”) I was not a student, and so I had to use vacation or flex time to make it happen.

I will also point out that biology majors don’t necessarily have it any easier with shadowing - the pre-allo forums are full of traditional premed students running into HIPAA issues, docs ghosting them, COVID-related shutdowns, and so on. It’s not going to spontaneously get easier to find these opportunities when you start your postbac classes. Free clinics/EDs are a great place to start - but, yes, it’s unfortunate that coronavirus is throwing a wrench in the works. That’s an extra hurdle for you that I didn’t face. So plan on pursuing these opportunities in earnest once your city/region opens up again.

The bottom line is that I cannot, in good conscience, recommend you sell your current vehicle and put a down payment on a $350,000 supercar without at least test driving it first.

This is very fair and great advice. I will continue to cold call and try my best to get my foot in the door. Thank you.
 
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GreenDuck12

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If I were in your shoes, I would spend the next year doing the following while finishing L3:
1. Find some volunteer work in a hospital. Look at small community hospitals which tend to have fewer volunteers rather than large academic hospitals that tend to be inundated with premeds. From my experience I got to see and do more in the smaller setting. Hospice, free clinics, etc are also good places to look.
2. I completely agree with @JanetSnakehole about shadowing. Work your primary care provider - if you don’t have one, get one, set an appointment, and ask them if you could shadow. Work your family’s pcp or specialist if they have recurring appointments. If you’re at a T6 law program, work the MD/JD connections or grad student events to find some medical students or residents to see if they can help you out. Finally cold call. I did this for 2+ months twice a week before I got a response. Polite and persistent works.
3. Research your options for postbac. Given your high uGPA and T6 law school attendance, I’m guessing you did well on the lsat. That bodes well for a possible admission to postbac programs for career changers with a history of high academic achievement like Goucher, Bryn Mawr, and Scripps. They’ll provide advising, prereqs, mcat prep and can probably help you find research and volunteering when the time comes. Be prepared to pay a premium, as I mentioned before, but the advantages they provide may be worth it for you, especially if you don’t want to practice law while completing prereqs. If you don’t want to pursue this option, I can pretty much guarantee you will find a postbac near your current location that can meet your needs.

You’re in a good starting place but make sure you take your time and plan things out. Medical schools will still be there whether it takes you two years to be ready to apply or five. Some of my best friends in my postbac were impatient and have run into problems with getting into medical school. I started my postbac at 25 and will be 30 when I start classes in 6 weeks. The slower pace suited me since I wanted to continue working after finishing my masters degree in education.
 
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Meridian32

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Sorry if I sound defensive. I think the heightened standard of scrutiny is unfair (as I mentioned) and based on an extremely flawed argument. If there was data behind it, I could understand but I've never once seen anyone back this "You're a flight risk" argument with facts or data.

No problem. I understand why you feel this is unfair, but, regardless of reasoning, I think it is likely that your answer to "Why medicine?" will be held to a higher standard than a traditional applicant. At least, that was what we did when I was on the admissions committee of my T10 school as a med student.
 
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JanetSnakehole

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This is great advice. I appreciate your help. I've seen a lot of gatekeeping on SDN and a lot of unfair doubt thrown at people who want to transition from law to medicine. Thank you for not dismissing my interest and giving me realistic and helpful advice.

Sorry about the gatekeeping. I don’t want you to feel discouraged at all, but it’s important to be very, very realistic as a nontrad - many of us have been where you are (well, not the T6 law thing, but deciding on major career changes) so I think we tend to be very direct and/or blunt because of our own experiences.

Here’s something I hope is useful for you: that you have the academic/intellectual prowess and the maturity to gain admission to a top law school convinces me that you can get into medical school if you choose. Possibly a very good one. But the path out of law and into that medical school will require tenacity on your part and a willingness to accept delays along the way. Only you can decide if that’s worth it, and since I know what major sacrifices I had to make, I advise a conservative, extremely well-researched approach.

Good luck to you and please stick around - for all its faults, SDN was the single greatest contributor to my success. I started reading off and on about ten years ago, when I was in my former job, and I planned pretty much every step from then until now using SDN advice. It didn’t steer me wrong.
 
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