At 40 - where to begin?

Hey all. I am sorry this is long up front. I’ve read some positive posts here over the last couple of weeks and I want to give a shot here myself.

I am frankly, discouraged.

The last few months, out of the blue, various people and a doctor friend have told me my age is a severe disadvantage. For whatever reason, I had not run into this until recently.

Right now, I am not sure what to do, or how to prepare for medical school. Even if I get into medical school, the odds are it might take me 4 years before I can qualify for the Federal PLUS loans I might need. I don’t mind waiting, but it seems a catch-22 for me.

My back ground: I grew up in a blue collar, severly disfunctional family. I put myself through college starting at the age of 18, back in 1988, on my own with no family support.

I started at a community college for 3 semesters and ended with a 3.87 GPA. After these I struggled for a few years with lack of money and no health insurance. During that time I transferred to a four year SUNY school. I had one year where I had to with draw from courses back to back semesters to work–I had been sick with a severe tooth infection and had no money for a dentist. I ended up with a 3.63 GPA at the SUNY school and graduated with Math and Economics majors in 1995.

With no real direction, someone suggested Law School. I studied hard, was in the 91% on my LSATs and got a pretty decent scholarship. I also did very well in my first year of law school, which is the important year, ranked 21st out of almost 200 students. After that first year I focused on my career, doing the Science and Technology journal, tons of internships and I also worked a part-time job (my grades went way down, but it was unimportant at the time so I didn’t care.)

I graduated law school in 1998 and I passed the NYS bar the first time. The following 10 years I spent mostly working with children and their families in personal injury cases (yes, no medical malpractice).

Through my legal work I experienced and grew to know many families, saw their probelms, the difficulties of so many children, on a very intimate level. There are so many broken homes and children without the proper care, both mentally and physically. In no small part, having struggled with a mother of BPD and knowing how it is to struggle as a child, I grew more and more interested in becoming a child psychiatrist.

About three years ago my passion grew to a point where I decided to change careers. I started to take some night courses and took a lot of vacation time to get pre-med courses in. It was very difficult working and doing this, though I receieved all A’s. A year ago I decided it was best for me to leave my job, even though I am still admitted in good standing, etc., and make a 100% full committment to this field. It was about the only way I could see it happening.

My ultimate goal is to set up a small clinic in or near the Adirondacks, where I grew up, to help children and those families who simply can not get help elsewhere. At least not easily.

I am currently enrolled in a community college for this fall to finish my Organic Chem and Biology–I do not qualify for any type of aid for a four year school apparently, and I can not afford the four year school tuition any longer. I am also trying to see if I can land a part-time job at some of the local children’s homes.

No idea what to do from here on out.

I didn’t really ask the question in my post. It’s good to be around like minded people.

I guess I am trying to find out about my chances at medical school in the first place, between 40 and 45. I’ve been told by professionsals my chances are between slim and none so much lately, because of my age, it’s extremely discouraging. I can accept not getting in on the merits. Not getting in though for my age? That would be a first.

I am looking for encouragement. Something where I know my dream of becoming an MD isn’t impossible, or a virtual longshot where it is nearly impossible anyway.

Thank you again.

Read this:…

Thank you for your reply. I’ve followed that link before actually.

I guess the cynic in me says schools can not discriminate, but how can anyone prove that is what they are actually thinking? All they need to do is have one candidate every year or two who is older.

Do older candidates generally have lesser success getting into medical schools all else equal?

I believed for the last few yeas my experience and background in life, making the sacrifices and so on to get into medical school at my age would be an advantage.

The two college counselors I spoke to recently both told me, candidly they said, my chances were slim to none based on their experiences. It hit me unexpectedly like a rock to the forehead.

I’ll be almost 40 when I apply, and will turn 41 right after I matriculate…so basically I’ll be in that age range that you’re concerned with. I too have encountered several people who are quick to shoot down my dreams based on age. I know a program coordinator for a fellowship program at a very prestigious hospital in Los Angeles, and she just about laughed at me a year ago when I approached her for advice. She was quick to point out that she’s never seen a resident or fellow that age before, and suggested I was barking up the wrong tree.

More recently, the head of the biology department at my university suggested I try dental school since our school historically only produces 1 acceptance into med school per year (at any age), but has a good track record with dental school. Well, no offense to dentists…but no thank you!

This whole process is so full of unknowns. We all know how competitive it is, and realize that there are no guarantees in this process. Speaking for myself, the combination of my own self doubts and insecurities have only amplified the few negative comments I’ve gotten. With that said though, recently it has struck me like a bolt of lightening that I am no longer going to listen to those negativities. I’ve gotten support in my quest more often than negativity. I’ve seen the stats and heard the stories: people “our age” do get in. As do people older than that. I refuse to believe that I don’t at least have a serious shot at this. Rather than getting discouraged, I suddenly feel empowered. Empowered to do all I can to make sure that I control the variables in the picture that I have control over. In the end there’s still a possibility that I won’t gain acceptance, but I’ll be able to look back and realize that I did my best to try and won’t ever have to wonder “what if?”

Best of luck to you. I hope you’re able to find the inspiration on this board that I have.

Have you looked at osteopathic medical schools? One of the several reasons that I specifically chose a D.O. school is that they are much more open to non-traditional students. I was 45 when I entered med school – and I wasn’t even the oldest person in my class! In a class of 140, there were 5 of us over 40, and another 7 over 35. I encourage you to investigate the options.

I am starting med school in a couple of weeks and I am 47. Do not let anyone discourage you because of your age. You are still very young : )

I haven’t really looked into the DO schools. Honestly, I figured I would be able to get in school on the merits, and the age ‘problem’ is very new. I spent a solid 3 years making sure medical school was what I wanted before I left my job. Part of the reason for the wait was I wanted my daughter to finish high school first too. Saying I was crushed by about the time the third person told me I was doomed–a couple of weeks ago–is an understatement.

What types of residency programs am I limited to with the DO’s?

I am most specifically looking for child psychiatry. I know it’s a long process to finish, but there is a significant shortage and need. It also meshes well with the mental health picture for children, and their families, I would like to provide services for.

I would also very much like to consider adolescent medicine. There’s a lot I still do not know yet, and I am very interested.

Also, thank you all so much for your replies. People to relate to is very supportive.

Thank you again.


For residency purposes, DO schools are pretty much the same as MD schools. There are a number of DO-specific residency programs, primarily in the Midwest, but more than 50% of DO students do ACGME residencies (i.e., they are in the exact same residency program as their MD colleagues). Although DOs tend to focus more on primary care disciplines, DOs can and do enter any and all of the specialties and subspecialties. One of the DOs I know is head of neurosurgery at a major teaching hospital. It is true that some residency programs are not as likely to match a DO student as an MD student, but it is illegal for them to discriminate. Those are tend to be the uber-competitive academic programs anyway. Another thing you might find interesting, based on the background you describe, is that DOs (and DO schools) tend to focus more on working with underserved populations.

I apologize advance if I seem a bit ranting and raving, but as one native new yorker to another, fuhgeddaboudit! If you look at the “chances” of getting into medical school, then nobody, whatever age, should apply. However, if your desire is to be a doctor but then deciding to apply based on probability of being accepted is an, pardon me, asinine way to analyze things. I can say this a thousand different ways

  1. If you apply, your chances are slim. If you don’t apply your chances are ZERO. which are better odds?

  2. You are considering spending 10 years of your life and 200K debt. Spending a few years in premed, taking MCAT, sending applications, etc relatively short time and little money in comparison, presents little risk.

  3. you are not in medical school now. If you apply and don’t get in, you still won’t be in medical school. You lose almost nothing in trying and everything to gain.

  4. You will never get younger. So if your are worried that your chances lessen as you get older, then the sooner you get started the better.

  5. Lastly, (and my pet peeve) if you apply and go to medical school you’ll be say 5 years older. If you don’t apply and go, you’ll still be 5 years older. Your rate of age change is constant whether or not you go to medical school. This is NOT a variable, therefore should not be considered a factor in this equation.

    So now if your desire is strong, you think you have the commitment, wouldn’t want to try your damnedest to get in or would you rather sit on the sidelines and wonder if you should have tried?

    (sorry, too much traveling, too much coffee, and not enough sleep)

Exellent post (as he usually does) by Gonnif!!

I’ve honestly never considered a life philosophy change before. It will probably take some time to process what you are saying.

Practically, if I focus on the doubts I can see it hindering my motivation, and all the energy on second guessing is wasted.

I have a lot of support from my significant other too. I am sure she would fullly agree with your post. She believes in me more than I do sometimes.

It’s scary. I am worried were I will be in 5 years if this doesn’t pan out.

  • Rotane Said:

It's scary. I am worried were I will be in 5 years if this doesn't pan out.

you'll be five years older and doing what you are doing now. you will never "lose" in this process, you can only gain and go forward. This does not mean you jump in blindly. You do it premed rationally, part-time, and in a manner that allows you to back out with little lost except some time and money, small in comparison to the cost and time of medical school. Premed is not to just show the med schools that you are capable but to also show yourself that you want this. You do not have to make a committed decision until you have a letter of acceptance in your hand. So instead of wasting time and energy worrying about your age, start premed/pre-req, preparing for MCAT, and try.

Do you, and by you I mean the collective of long time posters on the board, have a general set thought process on how to best “premed rationally”?

I get excited thinking about it and you guys are so positive, it’s great!

My plan currently is to use this next academic year to get the Biology and Organic Chem courses out of the way. I will also start to study for the MCAT’s.

A year from now I thought it might be good to plan on taking a couple of advanced science courses, such as Cell Bio, at a 4 year University, while wrapping up my studying for the MCATs.

My current thinking is during this time I should work to shadow both an MD and a DO. I will need to get letters of references somewhere as well, and hopefully this would afford me the opportunity.

There are some really great children’s homes in the area, and I know I can get a part-time job at one of those at least. I will need to work.

The outlines of your plans in what to take, when to take it, etc, sound quite solid. Rule 1 is “take a breath.” The other one of my ten rules is “learn to be a student.” Or as my mother would have said, don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you have been out of school for a while, make sure you can handle the workload. Never risk bad grades by taking too much. Basically, just know (ie prove to yourself slowly) what workload you can do in school combine with job, family, etc.

Some/Most med schools require 2 letters from science professor. so get to know your new instructors…

'nuf said

Thank you again, very much. I am sure I am going to enjoy this board over the next several years.

It’s a very nice thing you guys have here.

I distinctly remember my snooty brother-in-law, who was always the expert in everything, saying, “They say it’s very difficult for someone to get in after 40.” (I was applying at 43.) My reply was, “I intend to present a highly competitive application.” And I did, I guess - since I got in.

The people who are expressing doubts are giving you the narrow views from where they sit. There is a big world out there beyond their office doors, and they are making the typical arrogant mistake of thinking that they can extrapolate from their narrow view to everything and everyone else.

Is it harder for over 40s to get in? Yes, I believe it is. But here is why: over the years I’ve been involved in this (and I’ve been in OPM since, I dunno, 1998?), I’ve encountered a fair number of older folks who think that being older is itself a qualification. That “life experience” is, in and of itself, something that should be considered an asset. Well, in a world where the metrics are grades, MCAT scores, and good academic references, “life experience” is hard to quantify.

That’s not to say that it can’t help you, AFTER you’ve established your academic bonafides. I was able to write a highly personal “life experience” personal statement for my application because I had a 32 MCAT and a 4.0 in my postbacc courses. (not braggin’ just sayin’) But I’m afraid I’ve encountered people who felt that they should be cut a break because they were taking classes and working too, or having to cut out of lab early because they had kids to pick up, etc. etc. etc. No, sorry: you don’t get cut any breaks. You have to do all the same stuff that other med school applicants do, and you have to do it well. Then, and only then, can you play the “life experience” card to your advantage.

I don’t have any of the current statistics on MCAT performance (if someone wants to go to, I bet you can find them), but I remember looking at those stats when I was planning to take the MCAT, and being kinda shaken to observe that people over 32 (yes! that was the highest age group haha) did appreciably worse on the MCAT than the lower-age groups. I don’t know if people over 32 didn’t take it as seriously (maybe they were thinking, “oh hell I know how to take a test”) or if people over 32 were more likely to just take it to see how they would do, without studying as much, or - and this was my fear - that “older people” actually had lost a mental step for such a challenging test. I still don’t know. All I know is, if the age group we’re in does appreciably worse on the test, then it is no surprise that we’re going to have a lower acceptance rate.

Rotane, you’ve got a terrific story. You have done very well academically and there is no reason to think that you will not do well in your prerequisite courses. You will present an excellent and very interesting application. Yes, the process is still a crapshoot, but you need to stop thinking of yourself as some kind of victim. YOU have the power to mold yourself into a fascinating and very desirable medical school applicant. Good luck!


That’s one of the nicer things anyone has said to me. Thank you.

I would also like to add you are spot on about the life experiene card, and my beliefs on the subject.

One mistake I’ve made already, apparently, is to withdraw from a couple of courses two years ago. The reason was I was working full time, court dates are not something I can get out of, and it never dawned on me “W’s” would be some negative thing. The courses I did finish and the labs, both Physics I & II, and Chem I & II, are all 4.0.

I was trying to do both work and school. In truth, I was scared to death if I didn’t get into medical school I would be screwing up my career, and have to start over in many ways down the road.

I learned then though, I can’t do both. It’s simply not possible. Over the last two years I have not been able to get the idea out of my mind to try medical school and get my clinic going. If other people can do such great things, why not me? The desire overcame my fears–for the most part, since I am still scared to death–and here I am.

I am 41 and am strongly considering taking prereqs and applying to med school in the near future. I’m in the same boat that you’re in. I, too, have a lot of fear taking this path, but mine have more to do with having two young children and making ends meet. Regarding the difficulty of getting in as a 40+, I recommend that you call and talk to some med schools. I called two in Ohio, where I am from originally, and I was pleasantly surprised and felt more optimistic about the issue. The admissions people were very encouraging. I agree with Mary that we have to meet the same standards as everyone else. That having been said, I think that there are schools out there who are open to 40-somethings and also recognize that age can be an asset.

Also, have you considered moving to a state where your options may be better? Or have you checked out med schools in other states that are less “discriminatory”? Call some schools up and see what their attitude is. I noticed that the oldest student at Ohio State was 34. I’m not counting on getting in there, but at other Ohio medical schools, some had 2 or more 40-somethings in a class, which was encouraging to me. You live in NY. I think people in NY and CA probably have a harder time getting into med school because of the stiff competition, and med schools in those states can afford to be picky.

Also, the DO option is excellent. I am very grateful for the comments that people have made regarding the osteopathic medical school options. As an Ohian, I’m hoping to apply to a couple of med schools in addition to our osteopathic medical school. Because I am open to the DO path, I just don’t feel that I can fail.

Thanks for sharing your story; it’s helpful to me to talk about these issues.