Community College Questions

Hi guys and girls,

I have a question about some of the prerequisites for med school. I’m in a tenure track position at Vanderbilt in Civil Engineering. I have my BCE from Auburn University (3.92 GPA), my MSCE (3.7 GPA) and my PhD from Vanderbilt (3.7 GPA, as if the PhD GPA really matters that much in academia). I took two quarters of general chemistry at Auburn and two semesters of physics. I have not had organic chemistry or biology. I wanted to ask about the options I have with regard.

In my graduate training, I learned a lot about the tools that will be important in working toward an artificial pancreas on the optimization, control, probabilistics, reliability, modeling, and simulation, and validation side of the house, but would need the knowledge of the endocrine system. I want to become an endocrinologist. I want to eventually be at the interface of device and software design and clinical trials. As a type 1 diabetic I know what a huge difference insulin pump therapy and monitoring have made in my life, and I want to work toward getting a closed loop system where diabetics would not have to think about it, and I want to help others establish better control over their diabetes. So I have desires to do some clinical things and some non-clinical things.

I could eventually quit my job and take the prereqs full time at a 4 year school. But I could start on them in the evenings at a CC and not have to quit my job. What makes the most sense? Would I be looked down upon if I did biology and organic chem at a CC at this point? I mean, it seems fairly absurd that they would after having engineering degrees from three very well respected engineering schools and a tenure track job. If I had the MCAT to back up my work, would an adcom even care?

Many thanks for your advice!


The CC route gets bandied about as you’ve read. There are former adcom members on this forum who will hopefully chime in.

My op is… why can’t you take them at Vandy? or is that frowned upon in academia?

If so, how about TN State? or Belmont? Ideally, after the bio and o-chem, you’d take some upper division bioc, micro, genetics…

I could be wrong here… grats on PhD… grats on finding a different passion altogether.


I think you are probably right about what to do coursewise.

I’d probably rather my department head and admin not know I was doing this in my “free” time, if professors have such a thing.

It’s interesting how I came to this point. When I was in undergrad I though my career was going to lead me straight to a department of transportation or Army Corps of Engineers. I took a very traditional path in Civil Engineering. But along the way, I fell in love with the science, math, and problem solving.

Part of me will always and forever be an engineer. The only question is what type? That started to change when I was offered a fellowship to Berkeley, which forever changed my view of the engineering profession. I started learning so much about systems, optimization, stochastics, reliability, control, surrogate modeling, and so on. I didn’t want to just apply these only to problems in seismic design. I wanted to do very new things with the mathematics I had learned.

So I found the best reliability lab anywhere at Vanderbilt. I started working on a collection of problems called system of systems. Some are DoD related, and included conceptual design of many systems which would be integrated to perform a mission. Some were transportation related and involved optimal control of a transportation network. But the most diverse problem was one given to me by friends at Los Alamos.

The Department of Homeland Security is very worried about the effects of a pandemic influenza outbreak, and with the case mortality rate of avian influenza, the effects of an outbreak are very scary. Determining what will happen to a metro area is complicated and the system evolves over time. LANL integrated a relatively large ODE/Systems Dynamics based suite of models to predict what would happen if an avian influenza outbreak struck a large metro area, and consequences to all the major urban infrastructures- public health, emergency response, general population, transportation, banking and finance, public utilities, etc. The model was too expensive to sample endlessly, so I ended up using probabilistic optimization methods that I developed at Vandy to determine optimal stockpile levels for antivirals, masks, etc. Pretty far cry from work as a typical civil engineer, huh?

Anyway, I got to the point of learning a lot about how to deal with optimal control problems for complex systems, and it only seems natural to go towards the disease that impacts me so much on a day to day level. I am a type 1 diabetic. I hate diabetes as much as Lance Armstrong hates cancer. So really, why not put the things I learned in engineering school to use fighting diabetes? The modeling skills, stochastic methods, optimization and control, and model validation skills I bring from the engineering side have to be the future of the artificial pancreas. It’s the next natural step in my progression.

Of course, to be very successful, I need to understand a lot more about how the body works. That may require some additional training. Of course, I would love to get clinically involved as we move toward insulin pumps capable of closed loop control.

I’ve been on the patient side of the endocrinology clinic for almost a decade. I know what a difference these people make in the lives of those with this silent, equal opportunity killer of a disease. I don’t know how the adcom will look upon that, but I know a lot about the disease I’d like to treat and fight from living with it. While I wish nobody had to live with it, at least it is relatively treatable, and I know I would like helping others manage it. Of course, I would be shaking my head at the people who present with an a1c of 16.3, the way a friend of mine at UVA was telling me happened to her, but helping people take charge of it and keep it under control would be very gratifying.


Have you thought about Biomedical Engineering?

Review the link below:…

Yeah, that’s something I would like to be moving toward.

I still think that for all the strides that have been made in encapsulation, we’re a long long way from getting there. How I wish I could be more optimistic! I think a stem-cell based autoimmune reset may allow for islet transplantation, but even if that works, will we get to the point where xenotransplantation is accepted? I don’t know. Gene therapy is promising, but realistically this is going to be a very long way off, too. The most promising solution, at least in the next 10-15 years is going to be based in control systems, with a pump and sensor that is implantable and capable of monitoring glucose in real time, and a control algorithm in place so that the person doesn’t have to think.

Regardless, I’m still going to need some additional training to get there.

Contact the medical school you are interested in and find out how they view community colleges. They are what counts. If you do a CC search you will find a lot of posts. It comes down to this:

If you can afford to do your prereq’s at a 4 year, do the 4 year. The medical schools that are somewhat CC friendly don’t mind seeing prereq’s at a CC as long as you do upper level sciences at a 4 year. Yep, they still want to see science coursework done at a 4 year. But, to really make sure your a good candidate for all medical schools, just go to the 4 year.

With your background (i.e. Excellent GPA, Phd) take the courses at CC to save money. The only reason I wouldn’t is if you can’t get 2-3 letters of recommendation from former instructors or mentors (staff at CC don’t always have Phds and their recommendations could not be taken as seriously). If I were you I would take the courses I need this spring and the first semester of the summer. There is usually a MCAT date in the mid summer. You could defiantly apply for fall 2011.

With your background, I wouldn’t worry. You already have a solid academic foundation, so your pre-med requirements are merely a formality. You should definitely speak to the admissions committees at your prospective medical schools, since some waive pre-requisites (and even the MCATs) for those who hold a PhD in the sciences, and even for those who will be completing a PhD.

Though I haven’t applied yet, I’ve been assured that with my (far less impressive) academic background, the fact that I took some of my pre-requisites at a community college won’t be an issue. Good luck, although I’m sure you don’t need it!