Clinical experience strategies for non-medical older pre-med?

Trying to figure out how to concisely pose my question given my background. I was a nuclear engineer for ~20 years, and have been working since summer 2014 for a transition to medicine. Undergrad pre-med GPA ~ 3.86, GPA for M.S./Ph.D level classes ~ 3.65. Applied during the 2016 cycle @ 47yo, 3 MD interviews, 1 DO interview, 1 DO waitlist. Didn’t do a very good job on my DO application, so there is room for improvement.

Feedback that I got from pretty much everywhere were low MCAT (504, but two ~90th and two ~50-60th percentile scores, so plan to retake to bump lower scores) and clinical experience. The latter item is the one that I am really struggling with how to address.

At the time of application, I had >250 hrs of Hospice volunteering (direct patient interaction), another 50 hours in the ED, and at least 100 doing biostatistical work. Fair amount of shadowing of MDs in various environments. However, the feedback seemed to indicate that I was expected to have paid experience, and more specifically experience as an EMT, CNA, phlebotomy, RT, etc. My feeling was that they almost viewed it as a litmus test.

This is a bit frustrating, as the clock is ticking (I’m already an extreme outlier in terms of age), and having to take a quarter or two of classes to get one of those certs and followed by a couple of thousand hours of paid experience starts to make the whole thing a lost cause (now I’ll be what, 51 or something when I get through that hoop?). Since the 2016 application cycle, I’ve now got around an additional 200-250 hours of scribing for an MD, additional volunteering experience, and am looking for more to satisfy the clinical experience.

Any suggestions on strategy? Like some older pre-meds, my background isn’t nursing or biomedical research, so it isn’t like I can simply lean on my background. How to get one of these certs knocked out fast, so I can jump into clinical hours?

Thanks in advance!

  • TPL

That’s weird and slightly alarming to me as I would be in a similar situation but even less volunteering. Everything I’ve read seems to indicate that 100 is the number to shoot for. Better is good. I’ve never seen paid being necessary. Maybe it’s a polite way of saying no?

I’d love to see this addressed in the podcast

Ironically, I’ve known a number of candidates who got credit for having “ornamental” certs of that type (CNA, EMT), without ever using them. In other words they did the minimum number of hours of experience to get the cert, then never used it again.

Now granted, they were younger, strong candidates in other aspects, so it doesn’t tell the whole story…

Ditto your idea of a podcast investigating the area of how to get clinical experience for older non-trads coming from a background other than patient care.

Huh, I knew PA schools often want you to have paid clinical experience, but I hadn’t heard of MD or DO schools demanding that. Based on what I know, I would just recommend really pushing yourself to get a higher MCAT score, and then apply to a big number of schools, and maybe that will be enough without the certifications or paid experience. Good luck!

My name is Laila and I am old lady who has previous degrees but planning to go to medical school,
I will be even more extreme outlierin term of age.

Would it be possible to learn from your experience or do you know older thank 50 y old applying to medical school and you can refer me to.

Thank you,

Hi Laila
So I gather that out of all the interviews etc you got no offers?
I mean, you seem more than exceptional candidate. But then schools are very focused on the clinical experience.
My situation is similar to yours, have strong science background and biomedical research but no clinical experience which I am planning on doing this year thru volunteering in hospitals and summer clinics. I work full time so I can only dedicate weekends. But I am guessing that whatever experience I gather won’t be enough. Haven’t taken the mcat and currently taking a course for it to ensure a decent score.
But lately I am giving serious thought to Caribbean schools or at least the big 4. Just like you, I am only getting older and I really dont want to go thru an application cycle, spend all that time and $ just to find that my clinical experience is not enough and at the end get rejections.
So I am really considering going the Caribbean school route - I know i can get the mcat score needed for these schools and most importantly, that I can study my ass off to get the grades and pass the USMLE. I’ve been reading/listening to the podcasts on this site from students who attended these schools and all seem to point to the fact that success is really up to the individual. I really dont want to wait to start on this new path and go thru the disappointment and loose time. Not sure if this helps, but it’s worth considering.
Best of luck.

If you are thinking about going to the Caribbean, I would consider it only as a last resort after applying for several cycles to DO and MD schools. The odds of you getting a residency spot (i.e., actually being able to work as a doctor) are much lower coming from a Caribbean school than from a US MD or DO school.

I’d encourage you to do a little more research into that path. This post lays out some of the reasons why not to go Caribbean.

I, too, think that the lack of paid clinical experience is odd, as most premeds, who are undoubtedly younger than you, do not have paid experience. But according to your post, you “had >250 hrs of Hospice volunteering (direct patient interaction), another 50 hours in the ED, and at least 100 doing biostatistical work.” None of this appears particularly “clinical” to me, although, the emergency department experience and the physician shadowing come close. Perhaps what these schools want is you to work or volunteer in a real clinic, instead of in a ward or hospice, perhaps with the idea that as an older applicant, you are more likely to do a residency that will put into a clinical setting rather than a surgical one. Of course, I am just guessing here. Hopefully, your scribing work will be considered clinical work.

The other aspect has to do with what some people call continuity or consistency. Lots of premeds skip around, doing 100 hours of this, 50 hours of that, etc. It creates great variety, but shows less in the way of consistency. Perhaps, pick one clinical experience and stick with it, taking it as far as you can. It might show that you can stick with something (other than your nuclear engineering job) for a long time.

Your GPA is competitive. Your MCAT score represents about the 66% percentile, so perhaps improving that score will help. Don’t worry about retaking the MCAT as long as you are certain that you might do better the next time.

As far as your age, I would not let that deter you. There are some of us who are much older than you. Present the best application you can regardless of how old you are. Be able to articulate, why after 20 years of nuclear engineering, do you want to be a physician. Why now and not earlier?