33-yo thinking about med school


I am a current 33-yr old 4th year Ph.D. student in biological sciences at Hopkins planning to graduate end of this year or early next year. I have been thinking of pursuing medical school after graduation. Although I passionately love research, I feel that medicine would be a more rewarding profession.

I had taken the MCAT 7 years ago and got a 28. My undergraduate GPA was ~3.4 and I’ve gotten mostly A’s in all of my graduate courses. I have already published 15 (3 first and 12 co-authored) original peer-reviewed scientific papers so far, and am expecting to have 5 more by the end of the year. I have also had experience teaching undergrad cell bio and biochem lab at Hopkins. In addition, I am also an instructor teaching graduate level courses at the National Institutes of Health.

One of the compelling forces that has led me back to medicine is coming from the medical mission trips I take every year to the dominican republic. Since 2003, I have been joining a medical mission team and travel to remote regions of the D.R. to provide much need medical help and education. These trips have changed the meaning of medicine for me (i.e.from cut-throat competitive to compassionate and caring).

My primary concern would be whether I need to retake the MCAT again before applying? I’ve looked at a few schools and most of them specify that the earliest MCAT score they would accept is 2003…so my scores are expired. Even my GRE scores which were taken in 2002 would be too old! Although I have taken many advance science courses, studying for the MCAT is VERY different and not so interesting…

The second question I have is how likely is that I could also do a post-doctoral fellowship at the same time as medical school (instead of MD/PHD, I would be doing MD/post-doc), since I am very much interested in medical research.

If someone out there has ANY advice on how I should proceed, I’d very much appreciate it.


I have no knowledge of MD-postdoc, never heard of it but perhaps you can tailor your own program at some particular school. It might be worth calling some medical schools to discuss your situation. I wonder whether some medical school admissions people might question your interest in clinical medicine and you might get shunted into the (smaller, more competitive) MD-PhD category.

Your MCAT has expired and you’ll need to retake. However, the schools will all see your first score. You’ll need to do well on it the second time, at least as well as 1st time and preferably about 3-4 points higher. Your undergraduate grades are not too bad and combined with your more recent scholarship your overall record looks very good. Do well on the MCAT, write a good personal statement, and go for it.

Good luck,

Anything is possible. The MD/PhD I worked with did his own version of it. Schools are very open to helping you with your PhD ONCE you get accepted. If you apply to schools which encourage research you have a leg up with those.

Your best bet is to retake the MCAT and call a few schools to see what they say.

Thanks guys for the advice. I think I will start by calling some schools to disscuss my situation. Do you guys have any recommendations as to where I can information on which are schools more research oriented? Would the MSAR be a good guide?

Since you are already at Hopkins, why don’t you make and appointment with the folks in their admissions office (try to talk to either Dean/Dir. of admissions, or the second person in line) and go in and ask them these questions? After all, you’re right there, and they have a fabulous med school. (Now is a particularly good time to try to make an appointment - of about 15-20 min.)



I’m not normally one who touts the annual U.S. News & World Report med school rankings, but they may actually be helpful for your particular situation because one of the specific categories they look at is research in terms of dollars granted and a few other categories. So that might be another source of information.

But I agree w/ Judy, you should definitely talk to the Hopkins folks to get some guidance. The world of medical research is not that big, they all tend to know something about one another, and you might get some real good contacts that way.

Good luck, and welcome to OPM!


  1. Retake the MCAT.

  2. Two steps to identifying research schools:

    a. US News and World Report, or the NIH’s own rankings of NIH research fund recipients.

    b. Who you want to post-doc for and who does interesting work in your field.

  3. Post-doc in med school: I have seen a couple of people do versions of this by doing some work in first year, taking some time off in between years of med school to do some additional work. I think basically unless you are willing to take two years off during med school or something of that scale, you are really only going to be able to continue very closely the work you’re doing now, and that any big change of inquiry or techniques would be tough. However, there are certainly opportunities for research in med school. It just may not be quite as intense or responsible as your classic full-time+ post-doc–i.e., probably harder to get students you are supervising, harder to have projects all to yourself.

    The best thing to do for any situation as specific as this is to find people who’ve done it before–I would imagine that Hopkins has a number of them. The most common thing I’ve seen at Harvard is folks who got PhDs in the English system (via Rhodes scholarships and similar mechanisms) and now are coming back to do MDs.

    Finally, you write: “Although I passionately love research, I feel that medicine would be a more rewarding profession.” Though people talk a lot about combining the two, the connection between doing basic science research and really being a very engaged clinician is sometimes tougher than it looks. I think you should think very very carefully about whether a medical education is actually necessary to you; or, if you feel that it is, whether medical research is still something you want to pursue while doing medical training. It is very tough not to eventually have to essentially choose between the two–so you have to consider whether 7-10 years worth of additional training is worth one clinic day a week while you run a lab; or alternately, whether continuing to post-doc and do research is worth the extra time you’ll have to wait before getting to the clinic. This is not cut-and-dried and there are definitely ways of doing both, so don’t let me discourage you–but do think about the choices and trade-offs very very clearly.

    Another thought: it often happens at the end of one’s training that one can begin to feel that the actual work one has prepared for is not as interesting as anticipating that work. You may want to consider some time post-doc-ing before and while you apply to make sure that you are not underestimating the appeal of lab work.

    Finally, consider the ways you might be able to make a difference as a PhD–for instance, helping people in other countries set up labs, helping evaluate and support medical and scientific projects in the developing world, working for grant-giving foundations, etc–all ways you can make an important contribution to people’s health today without having to wait for translation of lab discoveries to do it. Check out the Sustainable Sciences Institute for more info on one version of this.

    This is not to discourage you from becoming a doctor but to say that if there is some way you can really use and take advantage of the great training you’ve already had, and can avoid devoting your 30s and some of your 40s to still more school and training, you should seriously consider it. If not, then best of luck in getting the MD; and either way, welcome to OldPreMeds.


One more note: a road less travelled: I have often thought that having a PhD and doing a couple of shifts a week as an RN might be an ideal career–direct hands-on caring, ability to leave your clinical work at work when you go back to research and teaching. Not often done for a whole bunch of reasons, many of them not good reasons (prestige, gender, etc, etc); in my opinion, worth considering.

Thanks Judy, Mary and Joe for your excellent suggestions. Making an appointment to speak with someone in the admission office at Hopkins would definitely be a good place to start. A few of the professors at Hopkins med schools were members on my graduate oral board. My lab even has on going collaborations with them. So I would for sure be interested in doing post-doctoral fellowship with them.

Specifically for Joe, I think what you wrote makes a lot sense. I struggled with those thoughts before deciding to pursue a Ph.D. I can honestly say that research is my first love. After all, I have already worked in a lab setting for 11 years and have trained and supervised a range of people including high school students, post-bacs, medical fellows, and even post-docs. So, I have a good idea what it is like to be an independent investigator running a lab. Nevertheless, I do understand that med school is a big commitment. But I believe that while I am trained to understand the molecular basis of biology on a cellular level, it is much different when dealing with the human body. I am hoping that the medical training will add another dimension to the research component. Anyhow, thanks for the link to SSI. I have already filled out the volunteering form! This is certainly another way to give meaning to what I do!