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Waitlisted and Considering Reapplying for MD vs. Applying for Pathologist Assistant

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1993SLE

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I am currently on the "upper one half" of the waitlist at my top choice school (UMSOM). While I'm keeping my fingers crossed, I need to plan for rejection and what my next steps will be if I don't get accepted from the waitlist. I am currently deciding between choosing to re-take the MCAT or taking the GRE in August. If I retake the MCAT (and score at least a 510), I could reapply for med school in 2020 AND have the option of applying to most pathologist assistant (PathA) schools at the same time, since many of them accept MCAT scores. My other option is to take the GRE, in which case I will only apply to PathA programs. Either way, I'll need to take one of those tests before taking A&P1/microbio this fall and A&P2 in the spring to boost my GPA closer to a 3.8 and to be qualified to apply to PathA school.

I want to get an idea of what people's opinions are on pursuing PathA vs becoming a pathologist MD. I have fostered a genuine interest in pathology for about a year now (I work in a dermpath lab and have ~20 hours shadowing a forensic pathologist) and the idea of doing a 2-year program followed by going straight into a well-paying job is VERY appealing to me, hence why I'm considering PathA. However, I realize that PathA school will be very limiting in terms of what I can do in my future, as opposed to med school, where I'll be exposed to many specialties.
For people who chose PathA, are you happy with your choice or do you have regrets about not going to med school? Alternatively, are there med students/pathologists here who wish they would have gone the PathA route instead?

Please let me know what you think!
 
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MedSciHopeful77

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This choice needs to come down to what you want to do with your life and career. As someone who can speak with authority, PathA admissions panels will often reject applicants who demonstrate in their applications or interviews that they are only pursuing this career as a pathologists’ assistant as a backup option to medical school. Also, if an interviewee states bluntly that they plan to apply to medical school or other graduate school after completing a PathA program, most panels will mark you off.

First of all, using PathA training as a route into medical school is extremely ineffective. It is one of the most expensive and time-intensive masters degrees you can get, not to mention board certification and maintenance after graduation. If you want a chance to boost GPA and get hospital experience en route to a medical school application, choose a different masters degree.

That being said, if you love hands-on, challenging, involved and truly fascinating pathology work either in a hospital gross room or at a medical examiner’s office, pursue the PathA field for its own sake and you will not be disappointed. You are only in graduate school for 2 years (albeit full 12-month years, no summers off) and you will graduate with far far less debt than medical school. The job market is excellent, especially in the southern and central US, and the pay is excellent compared to the investment. Most importantly, if you love anatomy and pathology and dissection, the job will be very fulfilling. Many PathAs gross for their entire career and love it, and many others become supervisors or managers later in their career, especially in laboratories because PathAs are directly under the physicians in authority and education level in most labs.

So again, it comes down to what you see yourself doing as a person. If you feel in your heart that you truly want to be a physician, scrap the PathA idea. If your application needs boosting and you believe a graduate program is the key, pursue a masters in physiology or public health or something similar. Many of these can be completed in far less than two years and cost half the tuition of PathA school, and they will not involve the full year of intense hospital rotations. On the other hand, if you have shadowed a PathA or worked in an anatomic pathology department and truly understand what they do, and you know that you would enjoy the work long-term (and also are savvy and realize that you’ll get a quality job and be making great money in only 2 years), then go for it and forget medical school.
 
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1993SLE

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This choice needs to come down to what you want to do with your life and career. As someone who can speak with authority, PathA admissions panels will often reject applicants who demonstrate in their applications or interviews that they are only pursuing this career as a pathologists’ assistant as a backup option to medical school. Also, if an interviewee states bluntly that they plan to apply to medical school or other graduate school after completing a PathA program, most panels will mark you off.

First of all, using PathA training as a route into medical school is extremely ineffective. It is one of the most expensive and time-intensive masters degrees you can get, not to mention board certification and maintenance after graduation. If you want a chance to boost GPA and get hospital experience en route to a medical school application, choose a different masters degree.

That being said, if you love hands-on, challenging, involved and truly fascinating pathology work either in a hospital gross room or at a medical examiner’s office, pursue the PathA field for its own sake and you will not be disappointed. You are only in graduate school for 2 years (albeit full 12-month years, no summers off) and you will graduate with far far less debt than medical school. The job market is excellent, especially in the southern and central US, and the pay is excellent compared to the investment. Most importantly, if you love anatomy and pathology and dissection, the job will be very fulfilling. Many PathAs gross for their entire career and love it, and many others become supervisors or managers later in their career, especially in laboratories because PathAs are directly under the physicians in authority and education level in most labs.

So again, it comes down to what you see yourself doing as a person. If you feel in your heart that you truly want to be a physician, scrap the PathA idea. If your application needs boosting and you believe a graduate program is the key, pursue a masters in physiology or public health or something similar. Many of these can be completed in far less than two years and cost half the tuition of PathA school, and they will not involve the full year of intense hospital rotations. On the other hand, if you have shadowed a PathA or worked in an anatomic pathology department and truly understand what they do, and you know that you would enjoy the work long-term (and also are savvy and realize that you’ll get a quality job and be making great money in only 2 years), then go for it and forget medical school.


Thank you for your thoughtful response! If you don't mind telling me, do you have a background in MD or PathA? Maybe I didn't make it clear enough in my original post, but my intent with PathA school wouldn't be to do PathA THEN MD, but rather PathA OR MD. So I'm choosing between one or the other. It would definitely be a waste of time and money to go to PathA school if I knew 1000% that I want to be an MD. Thankfully I recently got in touch with a surgical pathology PathA at a local hospital who is going to let me shadow her soon.

What I'm currently struggling with is the choice to retake the MCAT or take the GRE. While a good MCAT score would allow me to apply to MD and (most) PathA schools in June 2020, I'm wondering if it's smarter to scrap the MD idea (if UMSOM doesn't take me off their waitlist; if they did, I would matriculate there) and just go for PathA instead. You listed a ton of reasons that PathA could be a great fit for me, namely the hands-on work, fascination with anatomy/pathology, less debt/time, and good pay straight out of school. If I was 1000% sure that I wouldn't regret doing the GRE instead of the MCAT (therefore eliminating the chance of reapplying for MD in June), I would sign up for the GRE this week. Choosing between the GRE vs retaking the MCAT feels like deciding my fate essentially, which is why I appreciate perspectives from others.

Also, if anyone has insight into whether or not PathA adcoms truly prefer GRE over MCAT, please tell me. I've contacted several PathA admissions offices and they've said they'll accept both, with the exception of Duke (they only take GRE), but I wonder if they would really rather see a GRE score. I haven't heard back about GRE vs MCAT preference from UMB yet, which would be my first choice PathA school. If anyone knows if UMB accepts MCAT scores, please let me know!
 
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LizzyM

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The GRE is shorter and cheaper and (I think) easier to prep for so if most/all schools will take the GRE, you should take the GRE.

There is something to be said for getting out in two years with less debt and going straight into the work you want to do than to mess around with 4 years of medical school and then have 3 years of low paid residency before working as a pathologist.

Full disclosure: I have an in-law who is a PathA and happy with that choice. Good work/life balance.
 
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1993SLE

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The GRE is shorter and cheaper and (I think) easier to prep for so if most/all schools will take the GRE, you should take the GRE.

There is something to be said for getting out in two years with less debt and going straight into the work you want to do than to mess around with 4 years of medical school and then have 3 years of low paid residency before working as a pathologist.

Full disclosure: I have an in-law who is a PathA and happy with that choice. Good work/life balance.

A reply from THE LizzyM? :love: Thank you for your thoughts. A few people I've spoken to about this are encouraging me to retake the MCAT so I can keep my options open/won't have regrets about not being able to apply for MD 1 year from now. But the more I consider the pros of PathA, the better taking the GRE sounds. Do you know if your in-law was ever considering medical school before going PathA? Do you know what made them ultimately choose PathA? My biggest worry is regretting my choice 10/20 years down the road, but I suppose there's always going to be "what-ifs" no matter what kind of career you have.
 
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MedSciHopeful77

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Thank you for your thoughtful response! If you don't mind telling me, do you have a background in MD or PathA?

For the sake of anonymity, I'll just say that I am intimately familiar with the pathologists' assistant field/education, and am moderately familiar with medical school.

As far as GRE/MCAT, if you still feel something in your heart at this point that's telling you-- "you know, I really want to be a doctor someday!", take the MCAT instead of GRE. Many PathA programs will accept MCAT on the same level as the GRE, as long as you avoid making your application sound like a "med school reject looking for a backup" application. Of course, you could always factor in the cost and time-intensive nature of studying for the MCAT, but if you have already taken in once, you're familiar with what is required to prepare. I wouldn't be able to give you specifics off the top of my head as to which PathA programs *only* accept the GRE, but I know for a fact that several established and well-respected PathA programs do not require either the MCAT or the GRE.

Once again, go with your heart.
Option #1: "There's a chance I might still want to go to medical school" = take the MCAT since it will keep your options open in the next couple years as you sort out what you truly desire for your life
Option #2: "I believe I will thrive as a pathologists' assistant, it's a smart choice and will fit my desired career and lifestyle" = take the GRE
 
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1993SLE

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For the sake of anonymity, I'll just say that I am intimately familiar with the pathologists' assistant field/education, and am moderately familiar with medical school.

As far as GRE/MCAT, if you still feel something in your heart at this point that's telling you-- "you know, I really want to be a doctor someday!", take the MCAT instead of GRE. Many PathA programs will accept MCAT on the same level as the GRE, as long as you avoid making your application sound like a "med school reject looking for a backup" application. Of course, you could always factor in the cost and time-intensive nature of studying for the MCAT, but if you have already taken in once, you're familiar with what is required to prepare. I wouldn't be able to give you specifics off the top of my head as to which PathA programs *only* accept the GRE, but I know for a fact that several established and well-respected PathA programs do not require either the MCAT or the GRE.

Once again, go with your heart.
Option #1: "There's a chance I might still want to go to medical school" = take the MCAT since it will keep your options open in the next couple years as you sort out what you truly desire for your life
Option #2: "I believe I will thrive as a pathologists' assistant, it's a smart choice and will fit my desired career and lifestyle" = take the GRE

I've done a lot of thinking and have made pros/cons list of MD vs PathA. Despite the fact that my PathA pros outweigh the MD pros, I'm still not ready to decide one way or the other. While I would appreciate the experience and vast knowledge that med school could afford me, at this point I truly feel that pathology is the only field I can see myself in. From what I understand, pathologist MDs are essentially confined to their desks all day and reading slides (this includes the dermatopathologists I work with), with the exception of forensic pathologists, but correct me if I'm wrong. I find pathology and understanding disease processes fascinating, but I KNOW that I want to do hands-on work. I definitely don't want to be just reading slides all day. I fear that if I pursue pathology via med school, I'll end up doing just that.

I've done the research and for PathA schools in the US, the schools that require a GRE are UMB and Duke. Drexel, IU, and EVMS will take GRE or MCAT, and the rest don't require any entrance exam.
 
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MedSciHopeful77

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From what I understand, pathologist MDs are essentially confined to their desks all day and reading slides (this includes the dermatopathologists I work with), with the exception of forensic pathologists, but correct me if I'm wrong.

You are correct, most 21st-century pathologists spend the large majority of their time at a desk. Forensic pathologists do “get their hands dirty” more often, and actually go to crime scenes and testify in court as well. But I would still say that at least 60% of their time is at a desk as well.
 
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