40 and thinking about med school

I just turned forty and am facing the prospect of losing my job (and career) in a year or two. I am in a tenure track job teaching literature at a good university. However, I have been having difficulty placing my book with a publisher. Most humanities publishers are cutting down their lists and in spite of the fact that I have published work in some of the top journals in my field, I am having difficulty getting anyone interested in my book. I still have some time, but if I cannot place the book, I may not get tenure. This would basically end my career.

I have seriously been considering a career in medicine as an alternative. After decades of working on literary theory and political philosophy, the idea of being able to apply a field of knowledge to a concrete situation and then observe concrete results seems like a positive relief. The humanities are slowly losing their institutional support, and I want to work in a field whose relevance is on the rise rather than on the decline.

So here is my situation. First, the good. I have BA from Yale with a GPA somewhere between 3.5 and 3.6. I also have an MA and PhD from the University of Chicago (both in literature) with a near perfect 4.0 GPA. I have a number of publications. I also considered medical school as an undergraduate and finished most of my premed requirements except for a semester of organic chemistry, a semester of physics and a year of physics lab. I received mostly A’s in those classes with a few B+'s and I believe a B in one semester of organic. I also took an advanced calculus class.

The problem is that I took these classes 20 years ago and certainly don’t remember them well enough to take the MCAT. I also would need to brush up on my chemistry in order to take an organic chemistry course and would need to review the first semester of physics in order to take the second semester. I have looked into Post-Bac programs, but they seem to either be for students who have done all the pre-recs and are looking to boost their credentials, or for students who have hardly done any of them. The closest program that goes through all of the pre-rec courses specifically says that it is not for students who have already taken such courses.

One solution (though a difficult one) would be for me to basically re-teach myself the basics of chemistry, biology, and physics by using sites like MIT open courseware or the Berkeley course lectures available on i-tunes. I would then enroll as a non-matriculating student at the local state university to finish up my requirements. Does this sound like a viable solution? Any other possibilities that you can think of?


It sounds like you’ve thought this over pretty thoroughly. For the pre-reqs you lack, you can definitely do the DIY route at a local university to fill in those gaps. For all the rest, you could do a self-directed study if you feel that would be sufficient.

However, the big deciding factor will be school requirements. Not sure what schools you’d eventually consider but many like to see recent coursework (within the past 8-10 years) and some require it. Even if you did take it 20 yrs ago. Each school is different, though. If you have your sights set on one particular school, you can find out their reqs and then tailor your learning to it. If you want to be able to apply broadly, then you’re probably better off re-taking all pre-reqs at the local university so you have your bases covered for many schools.

Another consideration is LOE’s. Same thing again, if you can satisfy your school of choice by not having to take all classes again, then great. Otherwise, some schools want letters specifically from chem and physics profs. Some just say two from science profs. It varies.

Ultimately, you have to play the game by the school’s rules. Learn the rules and adjust your game accordingly.

Talk to the people at the close program that goes thru all the prereqs, because typically when it says it is not for people who have taken those courses, what they mean is that it is not for grade improvers. Often, the story is different if the reason you want to take it is that the courses are 20 years old. Mine were 30 years old and I had just the prereqs you did - one semester each of orgo and physics and both semesters of bio and inorganic chem. I felt I needed to take everything - the bio because it was all different and the inorganic chem to have a good foundation for the MCAT. Did the program at UVA (which says the same thing on their web site) after talking to the program director who said “absolutely you should retake those courses!”. So…talk to a live person and explain your situation.


I think you will be fine w/o retaking the courses and will be OK just devoting a significant amount of time to an MCAT class. I’d recommend looking at some MCAT materials and seeing how much of it comes back. I think a lot of the knowledge you learn in an Ochem class for example that would make you a good organic chemist is not necessary for a good MCAT score.