Quantcast

SOS: Post-Bacc Advice Needed!

This forum made possible through the generous support of SDN members, donors, and sponsors. Thank you.

sparklepuff97

New Member
Joined
Dec 16, 2019
Messages
10
Reaction score
0

Members don't see this ad.
Hi guys!
First off, let me just say what an incredible resource this community is. I'm continuously struck by the drive and insight of individuals captured in these threads.
I'm writing because I am currently feeling incredibly lost as to how I should proceed with respect to pursuing a career in medicine, and don't currently have mentors I can confide in.

My story, in short: I am currently a part-time fifth-year student at a competitive university, finishing up the last few courses for my minor and language requirements. My major is cognitive science, and I have a minor in computer science (specifically web development). Throughout my adolescence, I always had an interest in becoming a doctor or veterinarian. But after seeing my mother through treatment for stage IV glioblastoma and ultimately losing her at 16, this interest was swiftly put to rest, as I experienced a sort of crisis of faith surrounding the medical field. Entering college, I had originally aspired to be an engineer and/or work in the area of UX research (I'm a Bay Area native, and have been steeped in tech culture from an early age, to say the least). But after completing a research internship in a medical school laboratory and taking an incredibly-taught human physiology course, my interest in medicine was revitalized. Currently, I am trying to navigate the turbulent waters of post-bacc programs and building a robust resume. Imposter syndrome has set in strongly, and I am absolutely petrified of the process of becoming a physician. Nonetheless, for the first time in my life, I cannot imagine aspiring to anything else. Additionally, my own diagnosis and experience of alopecia and other complex skin conditions in recent years has sparked a special interest in dermatology, but obviously this is a highly competitive specialty, and I have open mind. I do not have a particularly supportive family, and am relying heavily on the advice of others throughout this journey so far.

My stats: I have a 4.0 major GPA, and ~3.7 overall GPA due to some health issues during my freshman year that led to some poor grades on general requirements. Back in high school, I took quite a few AP courses, and scored a 2140 on my SATs. (Though I doubt this is correlated with anything concerning one's ultimate success on the path to medical school...).

My current resume: I have been an RA in a medical laboratory (no publications), as well as an interdisciplinary computer science/psychology laboratory (where I earned authorship on a couple of poster presentations/papers primarily in the area of computational linguistics). I am a member of a number of student organizations, a club sports team and two honors societies. My clinic experience is nil, as I have not yet completed any shadowing or volunteer hours.

My questions and concerns: My university's pre-health advisement office was able to give me a list of volunteer programs to apply to, but beyond that were not very helpful with respect to actually vetting post-bacc programs. I have been requesting information from a number of structured programs (USC, Scripps, UPenn, UVM, etc.) as well as exploring the possibility of doing an unstructured post-bacc through either UC Berkeley or UCLA extension. I am currently leaning towards the structured options, as, while I do have a science background, I want to be sure I have adequate support navigating difficult subjects, such as chem/orgo, that I have had minimal exposure to. I also have mild ADD, which has never impacted my academic performance due to my diligent study habits and passion for learning, but nonetheless requires me to actively organize my life across domains. I personally feel I would benefit from the extra resources/structure, especially concerning networking, the sequencing of courses and MCAT preparation. All of that said:

What post-bacc programs have the best reputations amongst students (versus simply possessing a "big name")? Amongst medical schools? (I can only assume not all schools view non-trads as favorably)
I'm currently especially interested in USC, Cal State SF/SFSU/UCSF or Scripps as I would love to remain in California, where I currently reside, but have heard mixed remarks about USC's program in particular on, albeit older, forums. But I am amenable to applying/going anywhere if accepted, if the academic structure and culture is worthwhile enough. I have recently added UPenn, Columbia, UVM and GWU to my list...but frankly don't know if its worthwhile to make the trek back east.

Does the degree of difficulty amongst basic science pre-med courses tend to vary across institutions, or am I looking at the same level of academic rigor no matter where I go? I work hard, but, again, imposter syndrome has set in! I feel like being in a highly competitive, "weed-out" type of environment would completely psych me out, as the material in many premed courses I feel will be bewildering for me in and of itself, coming from a predominantly brain/behavioral science-based background.

Are the basic pre-med requirements adequate for med school acceptance (assuming you have stellar grades and an excellent MCAT score)? What elective courses would really prime me for success?

Is attempting to complete a program in a year worthwhile?
My impression is no, given how stressed my highly intelligent, traditional pre-med friends were with a normal workload.

What advice do you have with respect to finding shadowing/volunteer opportunities? As a non-traditional student, what types of opportunities ultimately make the best impressions on applications? And if I'm struggling to find them, who/what would be good resources to consult?
Is my ADD/technical disability status something I should keep private in this process and (if applicable) moving forward into medical school?
It has never impacted my academic performance, as mentioned above, and especially when coupled with my academic background in cognitive psychology, has arguably made me an overall more mindful student. People with ADD can and do thrive especially in areas they are passionate about (we'll take all of the dopamine we can get). But even functioning on the seemingly high level that I do, the stigma surrounding ADD is palpable sometimes, and it is something that I can hide if circumstances demand it.

Finally, what general advice do you have for a "career-changer" such as myself? What kinds of strategies do you recommend for crushing pre-med courses and, ultimately, the MCAT? How do you maintain your "academic stamina" and combat imposter syndrome/feeling like a certifiable idiot when surrounded by dozens of bright and capable scientific minds?
I'm so, so worried about simply not being good enough. But I feel ignited by my desire to become a doctor, and hope that it is possible for me. I figure I won't know unless I try, right?

Thank you so much in advance.
(Sorry for such a lengthy post, I am quite lost as you can probably tell.)
 

Bonne Nuit

...zZzzZZz...😴
Staff member
Volunteer Staff
2+ Year Member
Joined
Jun 18, 2018
Messages
1,013
Reaction score
2,326
My advice to you: do not even think about committing money to a postbac until you’ve gotten some clinical experience. I suggest shadowing a family medicine or internal medicine physician for at least 40 hours and see where you stand after you see the day-to-day experience of primary care. I believe roughly a third of physicians end up in IM, FM, or peds - could you envision yourself in one of these roles?

Shadowing is basically a requirement for medical school admissions anyway, so you’ll be making progress on your future application in the process. After you’ve done some solid shadowing, you’ll want to compare costs between formal postbac programs and DIY options (which are often cheaper if you just need the prerequisites). Also, is staying at your current institution and taking the classes as a post bac/fifth year student a cost effective option? Something to think about.
 
  • Love
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users

GreenDuck12

Full Member
7+ Year Member
Joined
Mar 30, 2014
Messages
2,142
Reaction score
2,315
I agree with the poster above but I'll add some additional thoughts to the questions you posed in your post.


What post-bacc programs have the best reputations amongst students (versus simply possessing a "big name")? Amongst medical schools? (I can only assume not all schools view non-trads as favorably)
I think this depends on what you're looking for. If you're looking for programs that have high completion/matriculation rates, then Goucher and Bryn Mawr in my mind stand out due to the high number of students who matriculate to medical/veterinary/dental programs. Now, the question is: were the students who attended those programs successful because of the program or could they have been successful taking classes else where? My gut (basing this off of several of my friends who attended those programs) me its the later. That being said, some structured post-bac programs have linkages with schools which could help with an admissions committee knowing more about the preparation of students from the program.

Does the degree of difficulty amongst basic science pre-med courses tend to vary across institutions, or am I looking at the same level of academic rigor no matter where I go?
I think it only makes sense that the rigor will vary across institutions because classes are taught by different professors. The core content in your classes will be largely the same but how grading is set up, what types of assignments/projects/exams would all affect the rigor of the class as well as the grading. That being said, I don't think one can make a truly convincing argument that a program is easier or more difficult to an admissions committee. Just learn the material as best you can and think about it as preparation for the MCAT.

Are the basic pre-med requirements adequate for med school acceptance (assuming you have stellar grades and an excellent MCAT score)? What elective courses would really prime me for success?
You should check the requirements for medical schools you are interested in attending (and get a copy of MSAR to explore requirements for med schools) because it can vary. For many programs I looked at, the basic courses were sufficient. However, some programs required or recommended additional classes in statistics, anatomy and physiology, genetics, etc.

Stellar grades would be great, but I had a couple of B+ classes in my post-bac and did just fine. So don't freak if everything isn't an A.


Is attempting to complete a program in a year worthwhile?
My impression is no, given how stressed my highly intelligent, traditional pre-med friends were with a normal workload.
Totally depends on you and your goals/commitments. For me, a 1 year program that was going to cost about as much as one year of medical school was not worth it because it would've meant relocating my family and taking out loans. I opted for a DIY post-bac program and completed it over the course of 3 years. This was the right choice for me because I was enjoying what I was doing professionally, was able to support my family, save money for medical school, and be really sure that medical school was what I wanted to do when I finally did apply. This approach did have its drawbacks: 1. it took longer to complete the necessary courses and 2. it meant that while I was studying for the MCAT, I had to relearn material from several years earlier. A friend of mine, who completed his post-bac in one year, didn't have that problem.

If I were in your shoes, I would spend some time shadowing and volunteering, think about a potential timeline of a one year / multi year program, think about when you would want to take the MCAT and apply, and evaluate the financial costs of each option.


What advice do you have with respect to finding shadowing/volunteer opportunities? As a non-traditional student, what types of opportunities ultimately make the best impressions on applications?
In my mind, purpose of volunteering and shadowing is to gain familiarity with the profession and work environment that you want to enter. Having been in positions where I interview folks, I would recommend finding a volunteer position that you are interested / looking forward to completing because it comes across in how one talks about their experiences (tldr if you're just collecting hours it shows). As for finding opportunities to shadow, I called a lot of offices many times.


And if I'm struggling to find them, who/what would be good resources to consult?
Is my ADD/technical disability status something I should keep private in this process and (if applicable) moving forward into medical school? It has never impacted my academic performance, as mentioned above, and especially when coupled with my academic background in cognitive psychology, has arguably made me an overall more mindful student. People with ADD can and do thrive especially in areas they are passionate about (we'll take all of the dopamine we can get). But even functioning on the seemingly high level that I do, the stigma surrounding ADD is palpable sometimes, and it is something that I can hide if circumstances demand it.
I'm not sure.

Finally, what general advice do you have for a "career-changer" such as myself?
I think the first thing I would recommend to anyone starting a post-bac program is to not get caught up in comparing their performance to that of their peers in class or on message boards. I watched my organic chemistry class shrink from 150 to 70 by the end of a semester because folks were afraid of getting a B in a class or had one test go poorly (I had many go poorly). Instead, focus on the process of learning how to more effectively study and learn the material and focus on improvement. Not everyone will complete a post back program with a 4.0 (I didn't). Not everyone will crush the MCAT (I didn't). Ultimately, this is a long process and there may be bumps along the way but if you focus on your goal you can get through.

What kinds of strategies do you recommend for crushing pre-med courses and, ultimately, the MCAT?
People in your classes will be shy and nervous, I highly recommend being the person who stands up on the second day of class announcing an open study group if anyone wants to join. When you can explain a problem to someone else who is making mistakes, you know the material pretty well. Besides that, what worked for me is to do a lot of practice problems. I always felt confident before a test when I did all the practice questions that were available (if your classes have these).

How do you maintain your "academic stamina" and combat imposter syndrome/feeling like a certifiable idiot when surrounded by dozens of bright and capable scientific minds?
Resist the urge to compare yourself to others in your class because ultimately your classmates are not your competition. Your all on this road together. I always felt like an idiot in class and office hours and during my study groups but so did many other people I worked with. There naturally is some competitiveness that comes to play in science classes but try to focus on improving from your previous test or quiz or homework assignment and not on scoring higher than your classmates.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 2 users

sparklepuff97

New Member
Joined
Dec 16, 2019
Messages
10
Reaction score
0
My advice to you: do not even think about committing money to a postbac until you’ve gotten some clinical experience. I suggest shadowing a family medicine or internal medicine physician for at least 40 hours and see where you stand after you see the day-to-day experience of primary care. I believe roughly a third of physicians end up in IM, FM, or peds - could you envision yourself in one of these roles?

Shadowing is basically a requirement for medical school admissions anyway, so you’ll be making progress on your future application in the process. After you’ve done some solid shadowing, you’ll want to compare costs between formal postbac programs and DIY options (which are often cheaper if you just need the prerequisites). Also, is staying at your current institution and taking the classes as a post bac/fifth year student a cost effective option? Something to think about.
Thank you so much for your response. Specialty-wise, I am definitely not a fan of children, but could envision myself doing anything ultimately (I lack perspective beyond this currently). Fortunately I have a ton of free time next semester and am actively applying to hospital volunteering and shadowing programs at the moment. I am not sure how to go about messaging doctors to shadow independent of a structured program, but I plan on doing that too. Fingers crossed someone will take a chance on me! :)
 

sparklepuff97

New Member
Joined
Dec 16, 2019
Messages
10
Reaction score
0
I agree with the poster above but I'll add some additional thoughts to the questions you posed in your post.


What post-bacc programs have the best reputations amongst students (versus simply possessing a "big name")? Amongst medical schools? (I can only assume not all schools view non-trads as favorably)
I think this depends on what you're looking for. If you're looking for programs that have high completion/matriculation rates, then Goucher and Bryn Mawr in my mind stand out due to the high number of students who matriculate to medical/veterinary/dental programs. Now, the question is: were the students who attended those programs successful because of the program or could they have been successful taking classes else where? My gut (basing this off of several of my friends who attended those programs) me its the later. That being said, some structured post-bac programs have linkages with schools which could help with an admissions committee knowing more about the preparation of students from the program.

Does the degree of difficulty amongst basic science pre-med courses tend to vary across institutions, or am I looking at the same level of academic rigor no matter where I go?
I think it only makes sense that the rigor will vary across institutions because classes are taught by different professors. The core content in your classes will be largely the same but how grading is set up, what types of assignments/projects/exams would all affect the rigor of the class as well as the grading. That being said, I don't think one can make a truly convincing argument that a program is easier or more difficult to an admissions committee. Just learn the material as best you can and think about it as preparation for the MCAT.

Are the basic pre-med requirements adequate for med school acceptance (assuming you have stellar grades and an excellent MCAT score)? What elective courses would really prime me for success?
You should check the requirements for medical schools you are interested in attending (and get a copy of MSAR to explore requirements for med schools) because it can vary. For many programs I looked at, the basic courses were sufficient. However, some programs required or recommended additional classes in statistics, anatomy and physiology, genetics, etc.

Stellar grades would be great, but I had a couple of B+ classes in my post-bac and did just fine. So don't freak if everything isn't an A.


Is attempting to complete a program in a year worthwhile? My impression is no, given how stressed my highly intelligent, traditional pre-med friends were with a normal workload.
Totally depends on you and your goals/commitments. For me, a 1 year program that was going to cost about as much as one year of medical school was not worth it because it would've meant relocating my family and taking out loans. I opted for a DIY post-bac program and completed it over the course of 3 years. This was the right choice for me because I was enjoying what I was doing professionally, was able to support my family, save money for medical school, and be really sure that medical school was what I wanted to do when I finally did apply. This approach did have its drawbacks: 1. it took longer to complete the necessary courses and 2. it meant that while I was studying for the MCAT, I had to relearn material from several years earlier. A friend of mine, who completed his post-bac in one year, didn't have that problem.

If I were in your shoes, I would spend some time shadowing and volunteering, think about a potential timeline of a one year / multi year program, think about when you would want to take the MCAT and apply, and evaluate the financial costs of each option.


What advice do you have with respect to finding shadowing/volunteer opportunities? As a non-traditional student, what types of opportunities ultimately make the best impressions on applications?
In my mind, purpose of volunteering and shadowing is to gain familiarity with the profession and work environment that you want to enter. Having been in positions where I interview folks, I would recommend finding a volunteer position that you are interested / looking forward to completing because it comes across in how one talks about their experiences (tldr if you're just collecting hours it shows). As for finding opportunities to shadow, I called a lot of offices many times.


And if I'm struggling to find them, who/what would be good resources to consult?
Is my ADD/technical disability status something I should keep private in this process and (if applicable) moving forward into medical school? It has never impacted my academic performance, as mentioned above, and especially when coupled with my academic background in cognitive psychology, has arguably made me an overall more mindful student. People with ADD can and do thrive especially in areas they are passionate about (we'll take all of the dopamine we can get). But even functioning on the seemingly high level that I do, the stigma surrounding ADD is palpable sometimes, and it is something that I can hide if circumstances demand it.
I'm not sure.

Finally, what general advice do you have for a "career-changer" such as myself?
I think the first thing I would recommend to anyone starting a post-bac program is to not get caught up in comparing their performance to that of their peers in class or on message boards. I watched my organic chemistry class shrink from 150 to 70 by the end of a semester because folks were afraid of getting a B in a class or had one test go poorly (I had many go poorly). Instead, focus on the process of learning how to more effectively study and learn the material and focus on improvement. Not everyone will complete a post-bacc program with a 4.0 (I didn't). Not everyone will crush the MCAT (I didn't). Ultimately, this is a long process and there may be bumps along the way but if you focus on your goal you can get through.

What kinds of strategies do you recommend for crushing pre-med courses and, ultimately, the MCAT?
People in your classes will be shy and nervous, I highly recommend being the person who stands up on the second day of class announcing an open study group if anyone wants to join. When you can explain a problem to someone else who is making mistakes, you know the material pretty well. Besides that, what worked for me is to do a lot of practice problems. I always felt confident before a test when I did all the practice questions that were available (if your classes have these).

How do you maintain your "academic stamina" and combat imposter syndrome/feeling like a certifiable idiot when surrounded by dozens of bright and capable scientific minds?
Resist the urge to compare yourself to others in your class because ultimately your classmates are not your competition. Your all on this road together. I always felt like an idiot in class and office hours and during my study groups but so did many other people I worked with. There naturally is some competitiveness that comes to play in science classes but try to focus on improving from your previous test or quiz or homework assignment and not on scoring higher than your classmates.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful response...I am at a loss. This is all such excellent advice. I have a lot of research concerning programs/courses and volunteering opportunities to do, and definitely need to work on not comparing myself to others. Not developing an inferiority complex in academic contexts (at least for me) is much easier said than done, but it is a message echoed throughout the pre-med content I watch/read. But we can all only do our best, ultimately. :)
 

GreenDuck12

Full Member
7+ Year Member
Joined
Mar 30, 2014
Messages
2,142
Reaction score
2,315
Thank you so much for your response. Specialty-wise, I am definitely not a fan of children, but could envision myself doing anything ultimately (I lack perspective beyond this currently). Fortunately I have a ton of free time next semester and am actively applying to hospital volunteering and shadowing programs at the moment. I am not sure how to go about messaging doctors to shadow independent of a structured program, but I plan on doing that too. Fingers crossed someone will take a chance on me! :)

start with contacting your primary care doctor or specialists you have seen in the area. Then move in to contacting doctors that your family or friends are connected to. Don’t be discouraged if it takes weeks of reaching out (I called an old doctor of mine once a week for four weeks and then twice a week for four weeks before hearing back).
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user

Cornfed101

Full Member
2+ Year Member
Joined
Aug 10, 2017
Messages
2,605
Reaction score
5,167
I am not sure how to go about messaging doctors to shadow independent of a structured program, but I plan on doing that too. Fingers crossed someone will take a chance on me! :)

Every physician that I shadowed was someone I had a connection to. I had a friend in hospital admin that hooked me up with a few, some family friends, etc. Try reaching out to your own PCP. If you don't have one then try to find connections through people you know. It is much easier to get shadowing with someone you have a connection to than someone you just cold called (although that is definitely possible).

My advice for doing well in class and on the MCAT is to learn how to use Anki well. I had a ~3.15 after graduating with with an engineering degree and spent months learning how to learn before doing a post-bacc. It helped tremendously as I got a 3.97 in my post-bacc program. I did a pseudo structured post-bacc, which was perfect for me. It was the cost of a DIY post-bacc, but a little more structured. I also have a family like @GreenDuck12, but I decided that I didn't care about debt so I quit my job and did classes full time. I am having some good success this cycle and I think the extra loans will pay off in the long run. The pace is totally up to you, but you should try to do more than 1 class per semester as that doesn't show you can handle the academic rigor of medical school.

Don't worry about being "smart enough". You have a solid GPA already so I don't think your intelligence is in question. Intelligence helps, but it will only get you so far. You have to be a hard worker, and you have demonstrated that you can work hard with your GPA.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user
Top