advice for the aging and undistinguished

Hi, everyone. I was delighted to find this site recently, as I’ve been hoping to find some advice as I ponder the possibility (and odds) of trying to gain admission to a med program.

My background:

I just turned 40 and have spent the past several years as a non-trad student. I earned two B.A. degrees (both summa cum laude) from NIU (English and PoliSci) in May 2008. I had planned to become either a journalist or teacher, but real-world exposure to both via clinicals and internships made clear I wouldn’t be happy with either option.

After leaving high school and earning a GED, I first attempted college in 1988-89 and bombed out – F’s in two humanities courses (due to not withdrawing from them) followed by four withdrawals at Pitt State in Kansas; withdrew after spending one whole week at Spartan School of Aero. in Tulsa; and three withdrawals in humanities/social sciences plus a B in Gen. Psych. at Tulsa CC. In 1992, I tried again at Northwest Arkansas CC with no better results – an A in Beginning Algebra followed by three F’s in humanities & social science classes (due to withdrawing too late for a “W” grade).

My interest in health care was first piqued during this time, as I spent about three years working on & off as a CNA interspersed with some factory/warehouse jobs. From '94 to 2000, I worked only in factory/warehouse jobs and played in some bands before moving to the Chicago area. Worked some odd jobs here (and played in a few more bands) and started back to school at Harper CC in '01, withdrew from my class, then decided to go full-time in '02. Earned an A.A. degree w/honors from Harper in '04 (3.82 GPA) and took two humanities classes (both A’s) at NEIU before withdrawing from four humanities classes there and moving back to Arkansas to be near my ailing father-in-law. Started at U of Ark. w/three humanities courses, then withdrew from those and moved back here after wife could not find suitable work in AR.

After moving back to Chicagoland, I started at NIU in '05. Took courses in a broad range of subjects, going back and forth trying to decide between journalism and secondary teaching. (As noted above, I ultimately decided neither would be a good fit for me.) Along the way, I got straight A’s in everything regardless of the subject matter (almost all humanities and social sciences). Graduated B.A. summa x 2 in May '08 and tried to find a decent job without any luck. Last fall, I made the decision that I wanted to go “back to my roots” and prepare myself to work in health care. Started at my local CC (Waubonsee) this past spring, taking Microbiology and A&P I with a view toward entering WCC’s RN program, then (to my considerable regret and shame) panicked and withdrew at mid-term over concerns that I needed to find work at all costs since we were trying to buy a home. (As it turned out, we ended up buying a great home without my having a job – which is good, since I couldn’t find one yet again.) My lack of job-hunting success and desire to continue working toward a health care career led me to complete a CNA course two months ago, after which I ended up getting hired to do some seasonal work part-time from home.

That’s where I’m at currently. I’ll be going back to WCC to start over with the Micro and A&P I courses next month, and I plan to find a CNA gig when the semester ends. Meanwhile, I’ve been starting to wonder if I’m selling myself short looking into nursing instead of aiming higher. I’m well familiar with both nursing and medicine as professions, and I feel like I would probably enjoy doing medicine even more. I’m still working on figuring that out for certain, though, so any insights or opinions anyone here may have on the topic would be very welcome.

Of course, I also know I’ll have to start almost from scratch if I want to be a strong med school candidate (as opposed to nursing, where I need just 3 extra prereqs for WCC’s RN program). At my age, and with my unfocused academic background and spotty vocational history, I’m under no illusion that doing fundamental prereqs would suffice; I would expect that I’d need a 3rd bachelor’s degree in Biology or Chemistry and very strong MCAT scores just to give myself a half-decent chance at med school admission. I know most premeds opt for biology, but being 40 now, I feel like doing a biochemistry degree would be smarter, as I would have a broader array of solid career options in biochem if I met with universal rejection from med programs. I’m also considering applying to several PA programs to hedge my bets, figuring that doing the work to make myself a decent med school candidate would likely make me a very attractive applicant for most PA programs. Along with the new degree path, I would plan to work part-time as a CNA to gain the requisite patient-contact experience.

Factors working against me include:

age (currently 40)

spotty/unfocused academic history

spotty vocational history

no. of transcripts? (9 in total)

Factors in my favor include:

GPA (3.82 A.A.; 4.00 B.A.x2; 3.57 lifetime, even with multiple F’s!)

past CNA experience

If I’m leaving out any strengths or weaknesses here, please feel free to let me know. I’m also not too worried about the hard-science stuff; I had A’s in both Micro and A&P before withdrawing this past spring (without ever having taken Gen. Biology or Gen. Chemistry, no less), so I feel confident I could at least get mostly A’s on my way to a biochem degree so long as I work hard.

Thanks for bearing with me this far; I appreciate it very much. Now…In light of all of the above, where do you folks think I stand at this point? Do I have any realistic hope of turning things around and getting into a med program? If so, what would I need to do to overcome my several weaknesses and give myself a fighting chance? Any and all responses to my questions (and beyond) would be very welcome indeed. Again, thanks so much for taking the time to read my post, and I apologize for the length; I just felt I’d be much more likely to get helpful advice and suggestions if I described my plight in great detail.

Hope to hear from you soon! Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to eveyyone!

I would highly doubt you need a third BS or BA. Med schools don’t really seem to care what your degree was in nor how many you have. Get As in pre-reqs, a strong personal statement / vision, demonstrated commitment to patients through work or volunteer, and a high MCAT and I would imagine you would be a very strong candidate.

We are almost the same, except I am 45 years old. I was thinking about nursing and decided that I was selling myself short. I am going to try my hardest to do well in my sciences and then go for the MCAT and try to get into a DO school.

You should do the same. No need to take BIO-Chem or other tough classes. If you really want to go for medical school then stick to the basic sciences required for med school (Gen Chem1,2, Organic 1,2 BIO 1,2 and Physics 1,2) Then take the MCAT. Do well in both areas and you should be a good canidate. You need to REALLY try and not DROP or Withdraw.

Don’t do well, then you can try nursing or another area.

Jeff and Thomas: Thanks for the responses. I appreciate it very much.

I agree that I technically wouldn’t need another bachelor’s degree, but my initial research suggests that taking several courses beyond the basic prereqs (e.g., Micro, Genetics, Biochem, etc.) and getting high grades in them makes for a much stronger application that will help candidates stand out, as well as prove helpful on the MCAT. Given the number of premeds who have entire degrees in Biology and Chemistry and the fact that I’m already starting out at a major disadvantage due to my age and my spotty academic and vocational history, I felt that getting that third bachelor’s could only help.

Also, as I noted before, having a degree like Biochem that should offer some solid career options in itself strikes me as a valuable hedge against the very real possibility of my med school applications meeting with universal rejection. I realize that it’s not a question of pure need; it’s simply a strategy designed to help an applicant who would be going into this with multiple glaring weaknesses to beef up his application significantly. Additionally, in light of the cost of obtaining even the basic prereqs, I’m thinking that if I’m going to choose this path, I’d prefer to go a bit further to make the additional education pay for itself down the line no matter what happens with my med school applications. And I’m mindful of the fact that quite a few AdComs seem to devalue prereqs taken at a CC, so having a full major’s worth would provide me with plenty of courses at the more valued 4-year level as well.

Of course, having said all that, I’m still debating whether it would truly seem worthwhile to spend many more years in school and take on a debt burden well into six figures when I could simply take 3 prereqs, get an associate’s in nursing and RN licensure in 2 years, and take advantage of a “special entry option” for RNs with non-nursing B.A. degrees to leapfrog into an MSN program. On this path, I could actually work while pursuing the MSN part-time, allowing me to become a family NP and pay for it as I go (and possibly even get some tuition reimbursement). This option would only pay about half as much as a GP physician earns and the scope of practice would be more limited, of course, but I often wonder if it would be worth trying to pay off a mountain of debt when I’d only have probably 25-30 years at most to earn money with whatever education I get, especially when NPs in primary care can do many of the same things as a GP physician and going the NP route would allow me to emerge from the program debt-free.

Decisions, decisions. Is this something anyone else here has thought about? If so, please feel free to share your thoughts; I’d love to hear them.

Again, thanks for the reponses. Any help I can get in considering such a monumental decision is hugely appreciated.

I rather like the idea of getting a 3rd degree (but then again I probably should since I’m finishing a 4th degree next year, LOL!!) as long as you’re getting the degree in an field you can see yourself enjoying if you’re not admitted or choose not to attend med school.

Getting a 3rd degree for the sole purpose of getting into med school seems a rather expensive and risky move.

if you want that third degree, then go for it – but I highly doubt it’s the most direct or best mechanism to get you into medical school. Have you considered MBS programs like what Tufts and The Commonwealth Medical College offer? .html


I can sympathize with you. I’m 43 now and in 3 short weeks, I enter as a transfer student (Junior) to Bowling Green State University in Ohio, in the Neuroscience Department.

I left college 24 years ago for money in the computer field, and have regretted it ever since.

BGSU was gracious enough to allow me credit for almost all of my previous coursework. I’m very lucky on that one.

It is my dream to enter medical school in two short years, but like you are contemplating, I am hedging my bets with a marketable science degree, just in case my plan goes astray.

This is my first post here and I am looking forward to reading and posting more as I can use all of the support structure I can find as I make this journey.

Good Luck and Happy New Year!

Thanks again for some great responses, folks! I agree with Scott that it’s great to have others aboard who are taking/pondering the same road to share ideas and support.

To PathDr: What field are you currently working/studying in? I see from your blog that you’re into some heavy research-type stuff. I’m curious to know a bit more.

To Jeff: Thanks for the link. It’s a good idea, and we actually have such a program here (at Loyola) that offers guaranteed interviews to top performers. Unfortunately, the insane cost ($30k-plus) is a non-starter for me. At that price, they’d have to guarantee me admission to get me to bite!

To Scott: I’d be curious to know what field/degree you’re looking into as a hedge option. I’m pleased to say that, after a bit more investigating, I found that NIU has a program that would be a great hedge option for me: a B.S. in Clinical Laboratory Science. The CLS program Web site notes that many students are actually hired by the time they earn their degrees – and that a number of grads have also been successful applicants to med/dental schools! Conveniently, the “pre-professional” portion of the CLS curriculum fulfills nearly all of the standard med school prereqs as well. That would allow me to complete those (prereq) courses first, take the MCAT, and apply far and wide to med programs, continuing with the CLS coursework while awaiting AdCom decisions.

If I were rejected universally the first time out, I could then reapply (and also apply to several PA programs as another hedge) while finishing the CLS coursework. If I failed to get into any med (or PA) programs at that point, I’d at least have completed the CLS degree, allowing me to avoid the ignominy of using my English and PoliSci degrees to their full professional potential by asking, “Can I start you folks off with an appetizer?” 100 times per day – and that, at the end of the day, is what really matters (LOL)!

It’s nice to know that many other folks are in the same boat as I am, and you all seem like kind and compassionate people who will make excellent physicians. I look forward to continuing our conversation here. Thanks again for some great advice and inspiration, and the merriest of new years to everyone!

I have a bachelors in biochemistry and I do not think I’d be any better off than you in the application process. I do believe that the age will hurt both of us. Of course this website is littered with folks that have gotten into med school while long in the tooth. I wish they were more specific as to WHICH schools would be kinder to us old wanna be’s.

Ah, sorry. I am am completing a B.S. in Neuroscience. To quote the department site.

“The bachelor of science major in Neuroscience is a prototypical interdisciplinary program consisting principally of biology and psychology courses. Courses that contribute to meeting the requirements of this major are all listed in biology and psychology departmental listings. In addition to structured coursework, majors are strongly urged to take independent research courses with Neuroscience faculty (NEUR 470, BIOL 401, and/or PSYC 490). The Neuroscience major is especially suited for students interested in careers in medicine or research.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the baccalaureate degree, students in Neuroscience are expected to:

Understand the scientific process and the design and implementation of experiments;

Evaluate evidence and differentiate between scientific fact and unscientific arguments;

Present scientific information in oral and written formats appropriate to scientific and nonscientific audiences;

Understand the basic principles of Neuroscience, behavior, and the integration of the two fields;

Read and comprehend primary research literature of the biological sciences;

Be prepared for post-baccalaureate studies in psychology, biology, Neuroscience, or medical school, or for entering the private sector in areas related to their training.”

BGSU Neuroscience

Although I am totally committed to becoming a physician, in the event that no admissions people see things as I do, then my backup plan is graduate school to the PhD level. If I can't be a Physician, then I'd like to be a teacher.

“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for mankind” ~ Horace Mann

“Education...beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of conditions of men --the balance wheel of the social machinery...It does better than to disarm the poor of their hostility toward the rich; it prevents being poor.” ~ Horace Mann


Sounds like to me you should investigate and shadow each profession that interests you. I think you’ll be surprised to find out that one-half of all physicians(!) regret going into medicine. u/News…

While it does make sense to prepare and apply for nursing or physician assistant programs alongside medical school, it could actually work against you. You should read the following links:…………

RN, NP, and PA programs are notoriously known for actively excluding those who have a latent desire to become a physician.

Regarding ageism, you should read the following links:…………………


If you’re absolutely sure becoming a physician is right for youk, then a program like this is probably what you’re looking for. As long as you are selected for linkage, you will be guaranteed admission to Temple medical school after completing the two years of premedical study (no application glide year) at Duquesne and provided you preform well during those two years.

  • Richard_S Said:
To PathDr: What field are you currently working/studying in? I see from your blog that you're into some heavy research-type stuff. I'm curious to know a bit more.

I'm currently finishing up an MS in Pharmacology.

But I want to comment on your choice to get a 3rd degree in Clinical Lab Science.

I think that's an excellent idea for a few reasons. The field of Medical Technology (which is another name for your program) is one of those solid allied health fields that seems to ALWAYS be hiring, especially if you're certified.

I currently direct a histology lab which is also usually found in a hosptial setting (I have research duties in neuropathology as well as general lab duties). And the reason I'm an very gainfully employed scientist during a resession especially for scientist types, is because I have lab experiences in a clinical lab setting. Not only that depending on where you live, you can have your pick of lab positions, private companies versus hospitals, full-time versus part-time, with reasonably competitive salaries.

This choice will also keep you in the loop as far as medical exposures/expereinces are concerned. When I worked in a clinical lab at a hospital, I was often given permission to shadow doctors.

The down side is that the work can sometimes get VERY redundant but the opportunity to mix it up as I have, is always there if you look hard enough. Finally, this is a position that you could work on a PRN basis while in med school too!

Ok, I'll get off my soap box now, LOL!!!

iwanttobeado2 and pathdr2b: Thanks much for the thoughtful responses. You’ve both helped me to arrive at the tentative conclusion that I’d probably be best served to keep leaning strongly toward going for RN licensure and (eventually) an MSN program/FNP credential instead of med school, and I appreciate your (and everyone else) helping me to get some needed perspective on the topic.

To begin with, I realized that above all, I want to make sure I’m able to provide direct patient care, and while lab work might be a reasonably interesting fallback option, I wouldn’t want to settle for it at the expense of direct patient care in the (probably likely) event that I meet with universal rejection from med programs. I have to say that I honestly don’t feel like I’d be able to convince any AdCom that I’m worth taking a chance on. I’ve come to realize how important it is to be able to weave a compelling narrative for AdComs that makes clear why becoming a doctor is a logical, well-conceived decision for you, and between my scattered traanscripts and lean (and equally scattered) CV, I just don’t see that happening. Age isn’t a noteworthy concern for any of us, but the rest of you have forged productive, basically stable lives and careers for yourselves that will suggest to AdComs why you’d be good candidates, whereas I simply cannot say the same. Somehow, I made it to 40 without actually accomplishing anything save for earning two utterly useless degrees.

Fortunately, unlike medicine, nursing tends to be a very forgiving field. I’ll have less than zero problem getting into my local CC’s RN program, and all I need is that foot in the door. No trying to explain away my myriad missteps and abject lack of accomplishments, no brutal competition for spots; just meet the basic requirements and you’re in. More importantly, I’ll be able to ensure that I don’t blow my chance at a good health care career by betraying the sort of “latent desire to be a physician” that MSN programs may very well frown upon.

I also worked as a CNA many years ago, of course, so I already know nursing will be a career I’ll find rewarding and satisfying, freeing me from concerns about whether I’d regret spending 7-8 years and taking on a six-figure-plus debt burden to become a doctor. The lesser scope of practice and lower wages of an NP aren’t a big deal to me; NPs can do quite a few of the same things as the typical family-practice physician, and I’m fine with that. And that’s probably the most telling sign of all, ultimately; the fact that I believe I’d likely be perfectly happy as an NP suggests that I don’t have the sort of all-consuming passion to become a physician that med schools are ideally looking for, so why waste the time and money when I can do something else I’ll like at least as much without the heavy time and financial burdens of a med student?

Having said that, I know better than to say never to almost anything, so it’s possible I’ll decide to revisit my present decision at some point. But I figure that wouldn’t be appropriate until and unless I develop that passionate desire to study and practice medicine that makes one a fine doctor. If I do, I’ll definitely return; in the meantime, I’d like to thank you all again for your help. I know you’ll all be strong med school candidates if you work hard, study like mad, and refuse to give up no matter what. Best of luck to you all!

Just my 2 cents as someone who (at the “old” age of 29) decided to enter a 3-year NP program, thinking I was too “old” and unskilled at life sciences for med school. Private nursing school is very expensive. Nursing education in general is not for those who are even remotely bookish or academically inclined. This has nothing to do with the considerable intellectual gifts of the practicing RNs and NPs I know. If you must go the NP route, do it at a public school only and do not expect much in the way of learning for its own sake.

I bailed from the NP program after getting my BSN and am now doing premed prereqs with a terrifying amount of debt. Caveat emptor!


  • samcooke Said:

I bailed from the NP program after getting my BSN and am now doing premed prereqs with a terrifying amount of debt. Caveat emptor!


IMHO, the PA route is a better "model" to what a practicing Doc does far more than nursing.

I guess the PA's/Nurses out there can correct me if I'm wrong.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sam. Believe me, I know that even NP programs, whether public or private, won’t exactly come cheap. Around here, the public school I’m looking at (UIC) is actually almost as expensive as the private Rush Univ., and both of them are a good bit more expensive than the private St. Xavier Univ. Of course, you tend to pay for quality, and UIC and Rush are both top 20 grad nursing schools (UIC is top 10). Even so, any of them will be far cheaper than any med school, enough so that I’ll be able to pay as I go (perhaps even get some employer-based tuition assistance) and thus finish an MSN debt-free.

And although I’m fairly “academically inclined” as well, I won’t be going to nursing school as some sort of intellectual exercise – I’ll be there to learn a trade and a career. If I want the bookish end of anything, I’m perfectly capable of studying things independently. Upon further reflection, I’ve also realized that I doubt that I am (or would be) fond enough of studying the hard sciences to love med-school-level academics anyway. I’m confident that going as far as the graduate nursing level will suit me just fine.

Again, thanks for bringing those insights to my attention. I’m glad you’ve forced me to think about my decision from a different angle or two, as doing so has helped me feel even more comfortable with it. Have a great new year!

Just don’t sell yourself short. If you take premed prereqs, apply, and don’t get in, you still have plenty of time to become an NP.

“And although I’m fairly ‘academically inclined’ as well, I won’t be going to nursing school as some sort of intellectual exercise – I’ll be there to learn a trade and a career. If I want the bookish end of anything, I’m perfectly capable of studying things independently.”

Almost verbatim what I thought at the time. Nursing education was still alarming by even the most pragmatic standards. 90% of my career-changing classmates felt the same. As for “top,” I went to a school not at all far, shall we say, a few blocks, from City College, about which I write elsewhere on the board.

And wait. Wait! I’m reading your first post again. I had somehow inserted a low undergrad GPA in there. On the contrary! If you have a clean slate in the sciences and high grades in the non-sciences, why not work, take the prereqs, and do your best to get admitted? Prereqs plus rejection, even 2 cycles, plus NP plan B still puts you in front of patients well before prereqs and the med pipeline.

But you know your own situation best. Trust your instincts.


Quick update: I suddenly find myself wondering whether trying to become an NP would even be worth it. It seems there’s a strong push afoot from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing to make the new (and apparently rather controversial) Doctor of Nursing Practice degree the entry-level credential for NPs and certain other advanced-practice nurses by 2015. Some brief research indicates that this would essentially double both the financial and time investments required to become an NP.

There also seems to be much disagreement among nurses as to whether or not such a requirement could be implemented, especially by that target date. Some point to the fact that the same folks have been pushing since the '60s to make the BSN the entry-level requirement for RNs without success, while others note that the DNP has been added as an option in recent years by quite a few grad nursing programs, some of which have even begun phasing out the MSN pathway for NPs. So, while it’s still really too early to say one way or the other, it does seem clear that this idea is gaining some traction.

As one commenting nurse put it, though, if you’re going to be forced to go through four years (full-time, or the equivalent) of school anyway – and pay the fat wad of bank required to do so – you might as well aim for med school and make that outsized investment of time and cash pay off! I’m starting to think that it’s difficult to argue with that logic. I know that’s far from the only factor that should enter into the equation, of course, but there’s no denying that this AACN-inspired scheme would seriously undermine much of my original rationale for settling for an MSN rather than shooting for med school. Add in the prospect of a B.S. in Clinical Laboratory Sciences as a fail-safe “golden parachute,” and I have to confess that I find myself beginning to lean back the other way…

Right on. I wouldn’t worry about a darn thing the AACN says, but even 3 years of nursing school, which is what zero-to-MSN takes right now (you will still pay for 3 years of credit hours even if the time is condensed to 2.5 calendar years), is not cheap and IMHO not worth it (insert appropriate caveats).

Happy New Year,