Non-traditional seeking advice

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2+ Year Member
Sep 20, 2019
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Hello all,
I have been lurking here on the forums for a little while now and was hoping to get some feedback and advice. I’m sure my story is repetitive, and I apologize, and while I have gained significant insight from this site and continue to do so, I wanted to see what the community thought as I start down this road.

A little about myself, I am a 26-year-old non-traditional student. Throughout high school and into my year at community college, while I was in many AP, honors and college classes and believe I had the capacity to excel academically, I did not apply myself, had no interest in school and of course sank my GPA. If I had only known how detrimental that would have been a few years down the road, things may have been different. But history is just that.

After failing out of community college I moved into a volunteer firehouse in Maryland where I went to another community college and finished my paramedic certificate. At the time I was only interested in becoming a firefighter, but medicine had always interested me. After becoming a paramedic and beginning to work as one, I truly came to love medicine. I have worked and still do currently, as a firefighter/paramedic in a very busy city.

I have recently gone back to school to complete my undergraduate degree. I am majoring in emergency management and expect to graduate at the end of the fall semester in 2020. However, having gone back to school with a few years of significant improvement in maturity and academic success, I have found myself wanting to do more in the medical field than I do in the fire department. I originally had started to set my focus on PA school, however, after paying close attention to their role in the ER when I am there and speaking to the PAs that I am friends with, I have found much more interest in the physician route. I did not think that would be possible considering the stats that I am starting out with, but the med students, residents, and physicians that I have spoken to have encouraged me to pursue this, specifically noting my upward trend (although currently brief) in grades thus far and mostly my significant clinical experience. I know that is very brief and not very thorough but that would be the basis for the Why medicine? Why now? that non-traditional students are posed with.

Although it is yet to be done, I am fully committed and anticipate continuing to maintain a 4.0 throughout my undergraduate and I hope to graduate with a cGPA of 3.2 in the fall. My plan from there is to apply to formal post – back programs, as I will not have completed any of the prerequisites. Also, up until this point, I have not really taken many science or math classes. My sGPA below is only a reflection of 4 classes I have taken, two of which are basic sociology and psychology and I was not sure if they would count towards my sGPA or not. Of course, I plan on increasing that GPA significantly.

My overall question is am I on the right track and should I be doing anything else? Outside of all this, I am working on gaining shadowing hours and have applied to volunteer a few hours in a large major hospital near my home. Also, although I did have 94 credits prior to starting this semester, only 21 actually transferred into my program. I am going to receive another 38 credits through the university for work experience as a paramedic. These credits will be Pass/Fail and, as I understand, will not count towards my cGPA. Would it be more beneficial to my cGPA to forgo the 38 credits and actually take graded classes, in a program, I am confident I can maintain a 4.0 or close to in, to help improve my cGPA. From what I have calculated, this will add about 3 semesters on and I would hope to graduate with closer to a 3.4. I have also considered that this will increase the number of semesters I have with strong grades from 5 to hopefully 8. After my undergraduate, I am looking to apply to post-bacc programs such as BM, JHU, Goucher, NYU, Columbia and Stony Brook. New York is where I grew up and that is my preference, however, I certainly would not turn down any acceptance. Another side note, all clinical and volunteer work has been, in what I believe, are underserved communities. Am I on the right track? Is this doable? I appreciate your feedback, advice and most of all your time.

2.74 – College classes taken during high school (2010 -2011)
1.11 – Community College (2011)
1.25 – Community College (2012)
3.07 – Paramedic certificate (2012)
2.67 – Paramedic certificate (2013)
3.57 – Paramedic certificate (2013)
4.00 – Continuing Paramedic Education (2017)
(94 credits total) 2.63 cGPA

4.00 – 1st Semester undergraduate starting with 59 credits (2019)
2.79 cGPA (current)

2.38 sGPA @ 13 credits. (2.29 without Sociology and Psychology) Includes College Sociology? and Psychology? taken in High School, an F in statistics in community college and an A in quantitative mathematics this semester.

3.2 anticipated cGPA graduating fall of 2020 if 4.0 is maintained Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall Semesters.

Clinical Experience: 7 years total as a paid fulltime Paramedic and Firefighter/Paramedic (Current Employment) both in very busy urban settings.

Volunteer Experience: 8 years (Current) with a volunteer fire department as a Firefighter/EMT. 5 of those years I lived at the firehouse through a live-in program and averaged, approximately, 100 hours a week. Currently and the last 3 years, I have averaged about 24 hours a month. I have also held multiple leadership positions.

Big Brothers Big Sisters: just starting out with less than a year of experience but averaging about 4 hours a week.

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Full Member
2+ Year Member
Jul 10, 2019
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It seems like you are doing the right things. I will elaborate on a few things to cover all bases.

The best thing you can do right now is to obtain formal shadowing experience because of 3 main reasons: 1) it's a strict requirement for medical schools, 2) it allows you to learn the positives and negatives of medicine, 3) it provides a good chance for you to obtain a physician letter which is required by most med schools.
  • A DO letter is highly recommended for DO schools.
  • Some DO schools can take an MD letter in lieu of a DO letter.
I recommend shadowing a primary care physician, and a specialist.
  • For DO: bonus points for shadowing a PCP, and extra bonus points if you witness OMM.
Competitive applicants have 100-150 hours, although in your case I suspect you can get away with less hours.


The next step would be to get into a formal post-bacc and ace the prerequisites. It is absolutely critical that you do not achieve anything less than a B+. You must prove to adcoms that you are capable of handling the rigors of medical school. Keep in mind that most of the prereqs are weed-out classes designed to discourage the weak-minded. You will must slug your way through these classes as best you can. The classes are not difficult due to complex content, but because of volume, so it is crucial that you form good studying habits and time management skills.

I also suggest mixing in upper-level (undergrad) science courses if time permits. Recommended coursework is similar to what if offered in medical schools: immunology, anatomy, physiology, developmental biology, endocrinology, cell biology, cancer biology, genetics, neurobiology, microbiology, etc.
  • MD schools: competitive applicants have GPA > 3.7
  • DO schools: competitive applicants have GPA > 3.4
By the way, psychology and sociology doesn't count towards your sGPA. Adcoms will heavily weigh your most recent grades, thus maintaining an upward trend is essential.

Along the way, obtain at least 2 science letters of recommendation. Towards the end of class, set up an appointment with your professor and be clear about your intentions. Don't be afraid to ask for a STRONG LoR. The last thing you need is cookie-cutter template LoR bringing down your entire application. Some schools may require a non-science letter.

The MCAT is a beast of an exam, therefore I suggest browsing through the MCAT forums to gather tips from those who were in a similar situation as you. Most students clear their schedule and study for 3-4 months--treating it like a full-time job. However I suspect your schedule won't allow for this. Perhaps a structured study schedule through MCAT courses can benefit you.
  • MD schools: competitive applicants have 512 or greater.
  • DO schools: competitive applicants have 505 or greater.
You have stellar ECs and work experience, thus you don't have to worry about this.

I applaud your decision to switch to medicine. It is do-able, but I'm not going to lie and say it's a cake-walk. For you, it is an uphill battle from here on out, however the victories along the path is absolutely worth it.
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Membership Revoked
5+ Year Member
Dec 11, 2017
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Similar background and story here. Don’t underestimate the MCAT if you want MD (or DO really). Continue knocking out all the prerequisites, make A’s in everything, tailor your application/essays to your clinical experiences, apply early in the cycle (whatever year that may be), and make it happen. You have tons of experiences that a typical premed won’t have. Assessing/laying hands on patients and deciding treatment based on your findings is foundational in medicine.

Also, I didn’t formally shadow at all and have still received a couple interview invites (only applied to 11 programs and my app was super late by Texas standards). I don’t think this component is as important as other areas of your application with your experiences as a medic. You want to demonstrate you can handle the rigor of med school and I feel the best way to do that is to get a solid score on the MCAT and making the grades in the prerequisite classes.
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Full Member
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Feb 8, 2018
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You, specifically, do not need shadowing hours, but it won't hurt you if you do get them. You do NOT need 100-150 hours of shadowing should you choose to do it. You need at most 50 hours. Even 30 will do considering your extensive clinical experience.

Why do a formal post-bacc if you're still in undergrad? There's no point in spending the extra money on a post-bacc (most of them are more expensive than undergrad) if you can just delay your graduation until you boost your grades a bit. You could delay graduation until spring 2021 in order to get all your prereqs and get enough classes to increase your GPA.

The rest of your app seems like you're on the right track.