A Question of Balance

Hello All,

Before I get to my question, I have to say thanks so much to everyone who makes this forum the supportive and inspiring community that it is. Last fall, when I was wondering whether med school was even a remotely realistic goal as an older student, I stumbled onto this site and found that last bit of encouragement I needed to begin the journey.

That said, I’d like to conduct a very informal survey regarding work/school/home balance during the prereq years. I know that many of you are juggling work, school, volunteering and shadowing while still managing to do things like laundry and dishes and raising children. I’m wondering: how exactly? Since January, I’ve been working 32 hours a week while taking two classes a quarter in the evenings. It’s been busy, but doable while still maintaining A’s. However, I’m looking into volunteering/shadowing now and have no idea where those hours are going to come from in my schedule. Did many of you who are now in med school find that you needed to cut back on work in the year(s) leading up to applying? What about those of you who are still in the prereq phase? Are most of us working close to full-time?

I may or may not be freaking out. And the freaking out may or may not be related to the entire pot of coffee I’ve consumed in the past three hours.

Just looking for some feedback.

Thanks so much!


Umm…the pot of coffee would certainly have ME freaking out. That said, I work 36 hours a week, have 4 kids (10,11 1/2, 13, 15), and have been taking 1 class per quarter in addition.

How do I make the rest of life also work? Partly by having my kids pitch in more, partly by leaning on my husband’s extra efforts, partly by decreasing expectations, and partly by just doing it. I do not do extra volunteering (other than donating blood regularly) - my job is medically focused, as a critical care nurse. All of that said, I do still have time (probably 10+ hours/week)that I could put elsewhere if I had to. But not if I was taking 2 courses/quarter. I think it’s likely that you will need to cut back on something (classes or work) the year that you plan to take the MCAT and then apply to med school, especially if you are going to start volunteering.

Good luck!


(BTW, welcome!)

Right now I’m working around 28 hours/week and taking 2 summer courses, but I was just approved for full-time starting in August and I’m taking 4 classes in the fall. I have 4 kids (9, 9, 6, 2.) The older 3 are home schooled. I haven’t done any volunteering or shadowing yet, but I’m trying to find the time to fit some in, even if it’s a couple of hours each month. I do it with a ton of support. My in-laws live 2 doors down from us and they help us tremendously. My husband works from home, so he’s always there to lend a helping hand, and we’re trying to find a way for him to cut back on his hours so he can take over more of the at-home parent duties. As far as having a clean house…yeah, I don’t know what that’s like. I’m hoping a little of the extra money I’ll be making can go towards hiring someone to clean the house every couple of weeks.

CA -

I was working full time and volunteering about 4-5 hours a week in the years before premed. Took an entire year off work, just did school fulltime, took all the prereqs. Did NO volunteering then (but I had a pretty rich history going back thru the years (the advantage of being old) of medical and non-medical volunteering). I had clinical experience too, so the shadowing I did was minimal - with a pain doctor 2 shifts and with a D.O. family practice doctor 6 afternoons. that’s it. Total. The shadowing I did around school holidays or first week back (before studying for tests) to fit it in. Something had to give - I figured I could borrow living expenses for a year and just go for it. In the grand scheme of things (med school debt) it is a drop in the bucket.


I’m a single mom to a 3.5 yr old girl. I started school in winter 2010 working 40 plus hours a week, going thru a divorce and taking one class at night and one online. Did very well and kept going at it, 2 classes at a time until Fall 2011 when I went close to full time (10 credits)at school. I worked full time with no volunteering for about one year. I cut back to part time at work. At one point part time was 30 hours and then I cut back more(20hrs/week) as classes got more intense and as I started training to be a Hospice volunteer.

By Spring 2012 I took Gen Chem II, Calculus, & Genetics. I worked 8+ hrs/week as a lab assistant in Biology dept( a job I started on top of my off campus one in Fall 2011), and I had cut back to 8 hrs/week at my off campus sales job, and I volunteered (still do) 4 hrs every Friday night. Truthfully that was a crazy semester and I wouldn’t do that again. Too much running around for one, but I did get a good taste of heavy school work with everything else, but I won’t overextend myself again until I’m (possibly)forced to in med school. Overextend may not be totally correct. I would say I was at my absolute limit, though. I did everything I did very well, but I was really happy when the semester was over.

I am working on my BS in Biology so I had to finish getting some gen ed classes in initially, but the last 1.5 yrs I have been taking mostly science courses/prereqs. When I first went back to school I had no idea how I was going to make it work. I knew time would be precious. I also knew that somewhere along the line something would have to give. You cannot do it all. I know others (though I don’t think anyone on this forum) who take 18 credits with 4 kids, and a job and then sign up for everything else they can. Something always suffers eventually. It is important to recognize what your limits are and work with them. Part of what I think makes a lot of us nontrads so spectacular is that we do understand balance. Most of us know how to choose our activities judiciously and do them very well rather than sign up for everything and do them all half assed. Padded CV’s, I think, stick out like sore thumbs. A person that understands life/work balance before even starting medical school? Now that is a positive stand out and a lot of us nontrads are that person.

It’s also important to take things one step at a time. I never thought two years ago I would be doing what I am now. I’m in summer school now and I’ve managed to cut back on work so much that I only work as a fill in person and can really focus on my real full time job-school and being a mom. It’s taken some big sacrifices, but it’s worth it to me. I intend to keep volunteering 4 hrs/week until med school if I can (I am lucky to have found a position that I love that also gets me excellent experience) and I will find a shadowing opportunity or two at some point also, but it’s still just one step at a time. Remember to lean on others if they let you and are capable. It takes a village to put a nontrad through school! I may be a single mom, but I sure as heck don’t do this alone! I really hand it those who truly are doing it all alone.

Best of luck and really I cannot say it enough: one step/semester/class at a time. Don’t look too far ahead and wonder how you’ll do it. You’ll drive yourself crazy. Trust me. Been there. Done that.

Hi CA-

I am also a working mother ( I have a 5yr old and 1yr old), wife, student trying to get everything done for med school. Currently I am working 40 hours a week as a dental hygienist (Mon- Fri 8am-5pm), on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have my evening classes from 6pm-9pm, and I am dedicating one saturday a month (10-12 hrs) to do my shadowing. I will be applying for med school next year to start in 2014, so just shadowing 1 Sat a month will be enough. I also have the help of my very supportive husband- esp on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. It can be difficult at times, but it will be worth it when I get accepted. I hope this helps.

Thanks, everybody, for chiming in from similar trenches. It’s nice to know I’m not alone (or crazy) doing what I’m doing.

Friday was one of those days where you just don’t get a break…then you have car trouble in the pouring rain and the wait for AAA is long enough to unleash reams of self-doubt. But Friday came to an end, as even the worst days must, and life goes on.

This is quite the adventure, isn’t it?


We never said you (or we) weren’t crazy…we’re just with you, so you are NOT alone. Good luck!

I too am finding it difficult to fit in shadowing and volunteer work. I have been working full-time and taking 8-11 hrs of math and science for the past two years. Last semester was overwhelming taking organic II and biochem at the same time. My wife is also in school so that she can work will I attend medical school. We have 3 kids (10, 8, and 5). I only have two classed left and then I will start studying for the MCAT. I have only 4 hours of shadow time under my belt and no volunteer hours. In addition, I made Cs in organic chemistry. I am feeling very discouraged and looking at fallback pathways such as CRNA in the event that I don’t get into medical school. I don’t even know how to get more shadowing done. The interventional radiologist who I shadowed is difficult to get in touch with and I have to be ready to show up immediately once I do get in touch with him or I will loose him again. Any advice on finding doctors to shadow?

I made a list of doctors from the local university hospital whose specialties interested me and cold-called their offices. I just stated that I would be applying to med school and I had a particular interest in Dr. ____'s specialty - do you know if he/she allows students to shadow him/her? I also offered to supply my resume and transcript (only one requested this). Two of my shadowing experiences resulted from this method. I only had about 30 hours of shadowing on AMCAS, if that - no one ever asked about the minimal number of hours.

Full-time work (that I self-schedule, so insanely flexible), last semester I did 18 CR of all As (including Physics II, Macro and Calc), happily divorced with two teen-aged children (who I have about 30-40% of the time), plus volunteering ~5 hours per week. I also work out 2-3 mornings a week. The simple answer for "how?’ is that I don’t sleep very much. Fortunately, I can do just fine on ~4 hours a night. I do the volunteer hours late at night, otherwise I’d have to give up weekends to fit it in. I’m also insanely fortunate that I don’t need to study all that much to do well in classes.