Pursuing music/post bacc

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Jun 14, 2023
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I am a freshman studying music at a pretty good music school that is attached to a university with a good medical school. I am trying to pursue music performance and pre-med.

So far, I'm doing pretty well. I got straight As my first semester and have started research in a lab.

The problem is that I don't have much time for music, which I really want to get good at (I want to be able to play at a high professional level, and many of the students in my music school go on to have good careers in orchestras/in jazz etc.). I know that if I had the time that these students had for music, I'd be able to reach the level I wanted to.

Would it be OK for me to drop pre med during undergrad, and pursue a post-bacc after I graduate college?

Would medical schools look down on this?

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More like this is squarely to your advantage. Med schools don't care what your major is, they want a 4.0, and the best way is to take courses that you're passionate about. You still need to do well on the science prereqs and MCAT no matter what.

I am 15 years out of undergrad, 10 from PhD, retired from my first career at this point, and I'm just getting around to applying. I am multiple decades younger than some people who successfully get in. Having more life experience outside the premed monoculture is definitely good. You see people taking increasing numbers of gap years and it's practically an expectation by now.

One thing I would say is ensure you have longitudinal experience in non-clinical service volunteering (food bank/shelter/tax prep, other underserved communities), as well as exposure to the actual healthcare professions (shadowing, some patient-facing role like MA/scribe/EMT). If you're planning the long game, you even get to do ECs at a more sustainable pace, and prove your long term commitment while you're at it.
Completely ok. It will add some time to your career transition later if you so decide, but that’s easy enough to handle.

The bigger question is what you want out of each path. If you want to make a career as a professional musician, then by all means go for it especially if you’ve got the chops to do it. If you have no desire to do that, however, and you plan to go straight through to med school anyhow, maybe not worth adding an extra 1-2 years of post bac work. If you aren’t sure what you want to do, but know you want to practice and compete with the best musicians in your field and see what happens, well, only one way to find out!

Having made a career as a musician med school, I’ve definitely been there. Looking back, the years spent on music and developing those skills have opened up some of my favorite after work endeavors now. I just had a full OR day and am resting up before a solo symphony gig tonight. I’d never be able to get hired for high level stuff if I hadn’t invested in it earlier. It certainly cost me years of attending salary, but so far it’s been worth it for me. But this is what I always wanted though - a thriving surgical practice and a handful of good gigs each season to feed the musical part of my soul.
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Hi Henry123,
Forgive the long reply, but it’s a complicated question.
I did exactly that and I’ll give my perspective ( after an almost forty year career in medicine). I went to music school (jazz studies) at North Texas and played in the highest level ensembles with great players many of whom have gone on to world level success, as well as concerts at festivals, etc.with iconic musicians.
At that point if someone would have told me I was going to go medical school it was such a foreign concept to me I wouldn’t have able to even process the thought.
I live and breathed music 24/7 (as did all the best players). There was no other plan or option. And, I think to reach the top level there can’t be another option. I think when you’re in your late teens and early twenties is when you can fully develop and master skills as a player. And to achieve success it usually happens fairly young. You can study organic chemistry at any age, but becoming a master musician is different.

That said, it comes down to what you see as what will make you happy in life, which ironically is impossible to know in your youth.

Looking back they’re two VERY different lifestyles. My closest friends are musicians ( and I still play) and I’ve seen what their lives are like compared to mine. Being a successful musician involves potentially LOTS of time on the road, stretches of uncertainty regarding your income, career, intense competition ( including from younger upcoming players), good years and bad years, etc. And, you don’t always get positive feedback even if you’re great. That said, there is an incredible feeling playing for appreciative audiences and the high that comes from that creative zone and flow that occurs when you’re performing. There are tremendous rewards if you’re talented and lucky enough to get there.

As a physician (I started premed at a post baccalaureate program in NYC at age 28) I’ve had a very rewarding career, and when I look back I’m happy with my decision, but that’s my perspective. I’m thanked daily by my patients for my service and the help I provide them. The professional environment in medicine is much different than the world of a professional musician. You always have a job, you generally have no financial worries, and you don’t lose a job. It’s a very secure profession. The work environment is very professional. In contrast, work as a musician is a constantly moving target.

I can’t imagine trying to do both premed and achieving the highest of music as a performer simultaneously (unless you’re such a gifted prodigy level person that you almost don’t even need to go to music school). The amount of time it takes to achieve mastery, learn the language of music, etc is all encompassing. There are a few people I suppose who could do well in premed courses simultaneously, but that’s assuming that general chemistry, organic, etc come really easy and you could memorize things on first reading The time it takes is substantial.
Even with having gone to music school, a lot of my musical growth came after I had moved to NYC and the “bar” was at the highest standard. Becoming a great musician in some ways doesn’t even start until after music school.
And, it’s hard to continue to play with the highest level players if you aren’t in the game full time, both from a skill stand point and their acceptance of you as a player. There’s too many great players out there vying for so few opportunities.

As far as medical schools perspective, it was actually a great advantage to me apply with a Bachelor’s of Music. They all wanted to interview me because of that. ( My premed GPA and MCATS were good). Often they just wanted to talk about music, they were probably bored with the usual premed spiel. As an older applicant, it seemed more like two adults talking as opposed to a more formal interview. I was lucky enough to be accepted to multiple medical schools.

Finally I would say as you might know, musicians are kind of born that way, and you’ll always be a musician and love music . It picks you, you almost don’t have a choice. Majoring in music and going all in- this is the time to do it. The future of that career is less predictable, but now is your chance. It’s not that hard ( but does take a lot of work) to go back and do a post baccalaureate program to go to medical school, as long as you can afford the time and money. It won’t hurt your chances for medical school in the future, and you’ll develop skills ( both discipline and focus type skills) and the skills of emotional connection and empathy that are sometimes lacking in physicians. Medical schools loved my non-traditional background. They realize life experiences do matter as far as a physician’s approach to medicine.
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As a younger musician/matriculating med student…. I agree with what’s been said. You don’t really pick music, it picks you. I love that. And yes, you have to decide what you want out of both. One of the questions I was asked in interviews was “if you could go back and change your path to medicine, would you?”

As far as when to take pre-med classes…. One thing to consider is this: If you have already taken pre-med classes and your end goal is ultimately medicine, consider that when you eventually start studying for the MCAT you might need to refresh some basic sciences. Also taking upper level science courses in a post-bacc might be more challenging to you if it has been a while since your basic science courses.

All that said, if you don’t really know what you want (which is totally normal) and you are considering a music career (like I was in undergrad), here is the best advice I was ever given by Steve Wilson, saxophonist for the Maria Schneider Orchestra: “You will never have another four years of dedicated time just to practice. So make the most of it.”
As an amateur musician and nontrad student, I would have loved the opportunity to play at that level and get four years just to live and breathe music. On the medical side, I think (most) schools and adcoms appreciate the breadth of life experience; at least I like many in this thread have found that to be the case. Have fun! It's a beautiful opportunity, and I wish you all the best.