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Hello,

As the title suggests, I’m a non-trad very interested in becoming a surgeon, but I’m worried about my age. I’ve been accepted to a top 10 MD school, have no debt or SO/kids, and I’ll work hard to become a competitive surgical applicant, but I won’t be starting until next year when I’m 30, which is worrying.
I’ll be 34 when I finish if I don’t take a research year, so I’m wondering:

1. Will PDs find someone in their mid-thirties risky to take on, even if I do well on boards, have good recs, research, etc?
2. When do you think surgical skills start deteriorating, especially now that things are moving more towards MIS/laparoscopic/endovascular, etc? If I hypothetically finish residency at 40/41 and have 25 years of being a technically sound/safe surgeon I think it’s worth it. But if it’s only going to be 10 years or so before my skills start to go, then I’m a lot more hesitant.
3. Can anyone weigh in on their experience doing residency at that age? I know it owns your life for 5-7 years, and is taxing, but I’m pretty active/healthy, used to unpredictable schedules, and working a lot with little sleep. I’m hoping that will help, but still I know few things can prepare me for the brutality that is surgical training and part of me is worried about my stamina taking a nose-dive in the next few years; so would appreciate anyone’s input who did it.

Thanks for the help!
 

SpliceOfLife

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Hello,

As the title suggests, I’m a non-trad very interested in becoming a surgeon, but I’m worried about my age. I’ve been accepted to a top 10 MD school, have no debt or SO/kids, and I’ll work hard to become a competitive surgical applicant, but I won’t be starting until next year when I’m 30, which is worrying.
I’ll be 34 when I finish if I don’t take a research year, so I’m wondering:

1. Will PDs find someone in their mid-thirties risky to take on, even if I do well on boards, have good recs, research, etc?
2. When do you think surgical skills start deteriorating, especially now that things are moving more towards MIS/laparoscopic/endovascular, etc? If I hypothetically finish residency at 40/41 and have 25 years of being a technically sound/safe surgeon I think it’s worth it. But if it’s only going to be 10 years or so before my skills start to go, then I’m a lot more hesitant.
3. Can anyone weigh in on their experience doing residency at that age? I know it owns your life for 5-7 years, and is taxing, but I’m pretty active/healthy, used to unpredictable schedules, and working a lot with little sleep. I’m hoping that will help, but still I know few things can prepare me for the brutality that is surgical training and part of me is worried about my stamina taking a nose-dive in the next few years; so would appreciate anyone’s input who did it.

Thanks for the help!
I'm in my mid-thirties in the middle of surgical residency. As an intern, I was in my early 30s.

The biggest factor in your situation is that you have no SO and/or kids. This is huge. Kids and spouses take up a lot of time and put a lot of constraints/pressure on your hours and geographic location.

The second biggest factor is that you have no debt. This almost just as huge. Whether we believe it or not, whether we mean to or not, specialty choice is at least in part driven by the ridiculous amount of debt people now unfortunately find themselves in after college and medical school. Without that burden, you are free to pick many different types of surgical specialties, some of which earn a lot less than others but also have more flexibility and fewer work hours.

IMHO, and some will disagree, being in your 30s without a spouse or kids or debt means you are very similar to most people who go straight through in the sense that some of the biggest constraints/hindrances that disrupt the success of otherwise intelligent, hard-working people who want to pursue medicine will not factor into your life.

That being said, there are still people with a spouse, kids, and debt who make it through surgical residency just fine and even excel in some cases.

There is no reason I see, that you have written, that should prevent you from having a successful surgical career.

It is true that your overall working life years will be fewer than someone who went to medical school straight from college. However, be thankful that in the United States there are no age limit restrictions on practice licenses for surgeons. I have met surgeons who are working in their 70s. So if you take care of yourself and stay healthy that may be possible for you.
 
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ACSurgeon

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Plenty of people starting surgery residency at or over age 30. Also plenty of people adding 2+ years of research and the doing a 2 year fellowship for a total of 10 years of training after med school.

starting residency at 34 is older. It is doable.

Personally, I don’t feel as good taking call now at 35 as I did at 26. I don’t recover as easily as I used to. Some of this could be because I had kids and am now more sleep deprived than in residency. I don’t know.

one more thing: you finish residency having seen the most complex of cases, but you need a good 5-10 years as an attending before your skills peak. You should factor this in as you decide on a specialty. My first couple years as an attending I was jealous of the new anesthesia, ER or critical care grads that were good at their jobs only for me to feel “ok” at mine. 4 years later I feel much less jealous and excited for the rest of my career as a surgeon and glad I did it. But, I’m still 35 and by the time I’m 40 I should be close to my peak performance and get to enjoy that for 20-25 years.

Finally, wait until rotations and see how you feel. You might find yourself attracted to a specialty with similar excitement and less training.
 
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longhaul3

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It's doable. Call is harder the older you get.

Probably too early to really decide but if you have any interest in eyeballs at all you should consider ophthalmology. Residency is short and much less arduous than other surgical specialties and there is a medical (i.e. nonsurgical) side to it that you can transition to as you get older.
 
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YCAGA

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I obviously can’t comment on what it is like to go through surgery residency at any age, but this post brings up an interest stat I found recently. 29 years old was the 95th percentile age for US MD matriculants in 2018. I had always assumed that plenty of people started medical school in their early 30s, but apparently that isn’t true. I guess the handful of 30-somethings in my class really are just a handful. Goes to show that it’s easy to remember the one 35 year old in your anatomy group and think that age is not a huge outlier, but statistically that person is true outlier.

I don’t say any of this to discourage you. Just don’t feel like you are going insane if you hear that a lot of people do surgery residencies starting in their mid 30s, but then you can’t find too many people actually doing it. Because statistically people as old as you are already quite rare in medical school. And again, rare doesn't equal impossible, just unique 😃
 
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LucidSplash

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It is absolutely doable if you decide that’s what you want to do. A lot of time too, older applicants can be very attractive for some residencies because they can be more mature, more settled than some people who went straight through college and med school. Not always mind you, but I think generally those that are a little older and decide to pursue surgery seem to have a different perspective on life. My Gen surg program back in the day definitely took older applicants. Older applicants tend to have things like an interesting backstory in your first career on why you decided to go change careers, military service, life experience, attitude that makes for someone who is very trainable that can translate well in an interview. Not every program will be interested, but there are a lot that will be.
 
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Banco

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@Spectreman matched gen surgery this year and he is in his mid 30s (sorry to put you on the spot bud, but you have some wisdom in this case).
 
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neriticzone

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I matched into a surgical sub this year as a non trad. Not as old as you would be, but I did think about this kind of stuff. Ultimately during med school I found out I really loved the OR and felt like I had already given up a stable but boring career for medicine so might as well do what I was meant to do. During interviews my work experience was almost universally cited as a positive.
 
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Thank you so much for all of your responses (and always willing to hear more perspectives)!

You’ve given me plenty to consider, but I’m glad it doesn’t seem age will be an outright red flag to PDs, and surgeons are still going at it later in life!
 
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Just Call Me Doc

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I'm 46 years old and an intern in a general surgery residency. You'll be fine.

1. Not necessarily. I can't speak for all PDs, but I went on almost 30 residency interviews and never got that vibe from PDs even as an applicant in my 40's. In fact, I feel like they appreciated non-traditionals with extra life experience and (hopefully) some maturity and wisdom.
2. I feel that laparoscopic, and especially robotics, will actually increase the lifespan of surgeons. Sitting at a robotics console for a 9 hour Whipple will be easier for an older surgeon then standing for an open case (though I actually prefer open cases).
3. No lie, it can be rough but it's been manageable, especially with the 80 hour a week limit. The most important thing, in my opinion, is loving surgery enough to suffer "the brutality that is surgical training". I don't think it's really any harder for me than my much younger colleagues, though.

Good luck!
 
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ScrubsnScalpels

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I matched into a surgical sub this year as a non trad. Not as old as you would be, but I did think about this kind of stuff. Ultimately during med school I found out I really loved the OR and felt like I had already given up a stable but boring career for medicine so might as well do what I was meant to do. During interviews my work experience was almost universally cited as a positive.
This.

I started med school a few months before my 30th birthday, and will begin intern year a few months before my 34th. I thought I'd go into primary care, maybe with fellowship down the line, but fell in love with general surgery and the options I'd have career-wise. I found my prior career to be a point of conversation and interest on nearly every interview, and it contributed to some of the most unique responses to questions interviewers had heard (per their reactions). Ultimately interviewed at 18 places, mostly academic (somewhat to my surprise) and matched at my #1 program. I only got 1 or 2 derisive comments because there wasn't a lot of similarity on the surface between my past career and my interest in medicine, but my responses to them were well received. Obviously in the end I think it only helped and did not hinder.

I don't know how I'll feel on call until I'm there. But I will say I have complete confidence that this is what I'm meant to do, and I'll just have to take it a day at a time.
 
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Spectreman

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I’m 37, married with 4 (might as well be 400) kids. I am pumped to start my GS residency, my age and experience was always a positive on my interview trail. Go after whatever makes you happy.
 
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I'm 46 years old and an intern in a general surgery residency. You'll be fine.

1. Not necessarily. I can't speak for all PDs, but I went on almost 30 residency interviews and never got that vibe from PDs even as an applicant in my 40's. In fact, I feel like they appreciated non-traditionals with extra life experience and (hopefully) some maturity and wisdom.
2. I feel that laparoscopic, and especially robotics, will actually increase the lifespan of surgeons. Sitting at a robotics console for a 9 hour Whipple will be easier for an older surgeon then standing for an open case (though I actually prefer open cases).
3. No lie, it can be rough but it's been manageable, especially with the 80 hour a week limit. The most important thing, in my opinion, is loving surgery enough to suffer "the brutality that is surgical training". I don't think it's really any harder for me than my much younger colleagues, though.

Good luck!

This.

I started med school a few months before my 30th birthday, and will begin intern year a few months before my 34th. I thought I'd go into primary care, maybe with fellowship down the line, but fell in love with general surgery and the options I'd have career-wise. I found my prior career to be a point of conversation and interest on nearly every interview, and it contributed to some of the most unique responses to questions interviewers had heard (per their reactions). Ultimately interviewed at 18 places, mostly academic (somewhat to my surprise) and matched at my #1 program. I only got 1 or 2 derisive comments because there wasn't a lot of similarity on the surface between my past career and my interest in medicine, but my responses to them were well received. Obviously in the end I think it only helped and did not hinder.

I don't know how I'll feel on call until I'm there. But I will say I have complete confidence that this is what I'm meant to do, and I'll just have to take it a day at a time.

I’m 37, married with 4 (might as well be 400) kids. I am pumped to start my GS residency, my age and experience was always a positive on my interview trail. Go after whatever makes you happy.
Thank you so much, that’s very encouraging! And a huge relief, especially with my interest in gen surg and hearing so much about how taxing the residency is compared to others.
 
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Lem0nz

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I'm 46 years old and an intern in a general surgery residency. You'll be fine.

1. Not necessarily. I can't speak for all PDs, but I went on almost 30 residency interviews and never got that vibe from PDs even as an applicant in my 40's. In fact, I feel like they appreciated non-traditionals with extra life experience and (hopefully) some maturity and wisdom.
2. I feel that laparoscopic, and especially robotics, will actually increase the lifespan of surgeons. Sitting at a robotics console for a 9 hour Whipple will be easier for an older surgeon then standing for an open case (though I actually prefer open cases).
3. No lie, it can be rough but it's been manageable, especially with the 80 hour a week limit. The most important thing, in my opinion, is loving surgery enough to suffer "the brutality that is surgical training". I don't think it's really any harder for me than my much younger colleagues, though.

Good luck!
Totally unrelated to the OP but just for funsies, can speak from experience that the mental exhaustion from an easy robotic whipple is entirely more painful than the physical exhaustion from a tough open one. The robot is a scary beast and one wrong flick of your retracting hand when you're clutching to move the camera can really mess up your day. Being on point with laser focus for 7-9 hours is really, really hard.

Open is so much easier. Hah. You still need laser focus but it comes in like, 20-30 minute bursts at worst.
 
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Just Call Me Doc

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Totally unrelated to the OP but just for funsies, can speak from experience that the mental exhaustion from an easy robotic whipple is entirely more painful than the physical exhaustion from a tough open one. The robot is a scary beast and one wrong flick of your retracting hand when you're clutching to move the camera can really mess up your day. Being on point with laser focus for 7-9 hours is really, really hard.

Open is so much easier. Hah. You still need laser focus but it comes in like, 20-30 minute bursts at worst.
Should have specified PHYSICALLY easier. This is assuming our brains stay sharp longer than our bodies! Hoping that the mind stays willing (and able) while the body becomes weak.
 

Lem0nz

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I was kind of joking, but since we're there, I think the mental endurance to do that sort of operation actually kicks the bucket faster than the physical endurance. The older attendings definitely could not sit at the console that long doing that operation and would just tough it out on the bedside.

But, you know. A lot of people doing those operations have partners or fellows or residents and can tap out after awhile. In real life after I did one skin to skin with my attending in fellowship about a year ago we never did it that way again and swap every hour to two hours to reduce the pain and keep it moving quickly. You operate faster if your mental acuity is fresh. We can usually get it done in closer to six hours when we do it like that as opposed to about eight hours if one of us tries to go it alone.

Trying to figure out how I'm going to carry that through in my actual practice but, will probably be stuck since I'm flying solo. XD
 
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