Current climate for older premeds and request advice


I represent the far-college graduate population with an asterisk. I graduated from college with honors, premed requirements complete and a gpa north of 3.5 over a decade ago. The departure from a premed track was initiated because of a call to action. I saw first hand a rise of pharmaceutical drug recalls but did not understand how the pharmaceutical development approval process correlated with the drug recalls. If I could not understand it myself, how could I as a future physician inform a patient about the modification of a treatment plan due to a recalled drug. I went into a career in the pharmaceutical industry to gain that knowledge. Over a decade later, I am back on the premed train. While I know I will be a better physician because I took too many gap years, I find the premed journey needlessly difficult and sources of creditable premed advice few. I am on my last few steps of the premed journey and come to this forum asking for advice or at least reassurance that what I have done thus far is enough to apply to medical school next year (if you want to skip ahead see #5). The below points highlight what I have done, what I learned along the way (I hope this is helpful to others) and where I am now in my journey. I do apologize for the length.

  1. Reflection and creation of a career development plan. I reflected on the aspects of my former career that I loved and didn’t enjoy. I put those traits into a clinical context for use in choosing a medical specialty, which is how I arrived at a surgical specialty (it is literally the one that checks off all the boxes). I then created a career development plan listing the allopathic medical schools, residencies and fellowships I am currently interested in.

  2. Gaining recent academic coursework. The most difficult step was solving the “policy on aging coursework dilemma”. If you are not aware, there are some medical schools that very clearly acknowledge on their websites at your coursework is valid if it was less than 5 years ago. A nice way of saying to far-college graduates like myself that you are not eligible to apply. So how do you tackle this? First I learned through a lot of trial and error, pre-health advisors, pre-medical undergraduate programs (includes post-baccalaureate programs), and some graduate schools are not in align with the allopathic medical school admissions departments views on the pre-requisites for nontraditional students.

    The responses to my application:

    From the career changer post-baccalaureate programs programs: “I took too many science classes and the program is not suitable for me.” Though they did formally acknowledge the age of the coursework in their email.

    From the regular post-baccalaureate programs: the admissions officer told me during the interview that I was more suited for the career changer program and asked why I didn’t apply to that program instead. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I did and they turned me down.

    Graduate school masters in biomedical sciences program: during an interview the director said that if you are interested in medical school this is not the pathway to get you there. One of their current graduate students was studying to take the MCAT that year.

    Lessons learned: Reach out the medical school admissions departments directly. The only ones that can truly tell you how to translate their pre-requisites to your personal situation is them. While they can not discuss the intricacies of your situation, if you provide a very short, concise email of the courses you took when and whether this academic pathway is feasible they will respond with everything you need to know.

  3. The allopathic medical schools I talked to are aligned as follows regarding nontraditional far-college graduates with old competitive gpas: consider taking refresher coursework (the same class or at a higher level that the original one you took) and they highly recommend you take recent, advanced level science courses. I stress here this is no substitute for reaching out to the medical schools yourself. Each one has their own policies and views on the subject of nontraditional students. That said, one ivy league allopathic medical school did mention that “we strongly advise applicants take one semester of an advanced Biology course in mammalian (molecular) Biology if it has been four years or more since your last Biology course.” The take home, take a Molecular Biology class and be your own advocate!!!

  4. Advancing towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Given the existing barrier imposed by post-baccalaureate programs and the advice of the medical schools, I enrolled at a 4-year university as a non-matriculating student. With the allotted 30 credits, I took undergraduate classes that mirrored the curriculum of some of the more prominent, successful post-baccalaureate pre-medical programs while refreshing in areas I knew given the length of time being out of school would be a challenge, like Organic Chemistry.

  5. The questions?. I completed an academic year as a non-matriculating student and am currently a graduate student studying Cell and Developmental Biology. My grades are remaining competitive (gpa 3.4). I am enrolled in an MCAT prep course and slated to take the MCAT in January 2018 and apply to medical school in 2018. My recent clinical experience consists of volunteering in ambulatory surgery for about 7 months (had to stop because the commute was too far from school). Is this enough for a strong, holistic medical school application?

    To get additional healthcare experience and pay for my education and the bills, I tried to apply for various paid positions in healthcare over the course of a few years and failed to even get an interview. How do you get paid healthcare experience as a career changer? Unfortunately, work-study does not pay the bills.

    Any advice is greatly appreciated! Thank you in advance!

You don’t necessarily need paid healthcare experience to get into medical school, though it probably makes it easier on the bank account if you’re trying to juggle work/school/extra stuff. I think at this point, the only thing you’re really lacking is some shadow time. Depending on where you are and the policies of the hospitals/clinics in your area, this can be a pain in the butt to arrange if you don’t already know someone. Some places differentiate shadowing from hospital volunteering in that with shadowing, you are directly working with a physician to learn more specifically about the job that you are pursuing. In my opinion, shadowing is something everyone should do before making the full commitment to medicine since it’s at least 7 years before you actually start making any significant money to pay off loans and recoup that opportunity cost of leaving your prior life behind. It’s important to be able to look past the ideological aspect of medicine to see what being a physician actually entails, though it’s arguable that you can’t develop that full picture after just a few hours.

Otherwise it sounds like you’re doing what you need to do, and you’re almost there! Of all the courses I had to take post-bacc, I wish I had studied a little bit more cell biology. Everything you need to know about the “basic sciences” will be retaught to you in medical school, except, at least at my school, all of the intricacies of cell bio that WILL be tested on Step 1 of the boards. It’s nice to have some background in the rest of the subject areas so you’re either relearning or honing your knowledge and not starting from scratch. Either way, medical school is manageable, and, to me at least, it is more of a volume of information thing than it is an actual difficulty of information thing.

Thank you, Kennymac for taking the time out of your busy schedule to reply to my post. I agree I need shadowing experience. It is difficult to obtain lengthy, meaningful shadowing experience when you already have a bachelors degree. Formal summer shadowing programs only accept undergraduates. My graduate school is linked to a medical school and its affiliated university hospital is right on campus. I will see if networking within the graduate school system or reaching out to the affiliated hospital directly will be fruitful in obtaining any shadowing experience.

It is interesting you mentioned you wish you were able to have had more in depth study in cell biology prior to medical school. I read somewhere that many students that complete graduate school prior to medical school find the medical school curriculum does not add a wealth of new information. Are there other areas other than cell biology that you feel if you had more background knowledge in or had more class time covering a certain topic it would be value added? My graduate school allows me to divert from the normal curriculum and take classes from a wide range of disciplines, including health related studies, and it counts toward graduation. I am certainly looking to take classes I would not have an opportunity to take in say my fourth year of medical school (if there is still a fourth year when I am accepted).

I think the only reason I wished I had taken more cell biology was because I was never fully comfortable with organelle physiology, like what detoxes what type of toxin, etc. It was never really stressed in my curriculum, so I either never learned the finer details or forgot them over time. Medical school will pretty much teach you (remind you) about the points of all of the other sciences that you need to know. Learning it for the 2nd time while you’re sucking on the fire hose of medical school makes it a little easier.

That being said, I think if you’re a quick learner or hardcore studier, you could probably be fine getting into medical school with just a mind that is capable of processing sciences. I wasted some time before I started medical school trying to learn basics of physiology and immunology, but what I was actually able to teach myself was covered in mere minutes during medical school lectures. It sounds daunting, but when you’re in student mode it’s a lot easier to receive and digest the info.

Classes that may be helpful in my opinion, having not really taken them beforehand: Physiology but probably not basic anatomy, basic genetics, statistics/epidemiology, and maybe microbiology (though there are really great products available to help you learn it for the first time in med school).

Keep in mind that in most curricula, the 1st 1.5-2 years of school is when you would take all of the basic science classes. Years 3 and 4 are heavy on clinical stuff. It’d be really difficult to take classes now that you would miss out on 4th year. In general, though, probably eyes are the weakest part of any student I’ve talked to anywhere because ophthalmologists have their own language and code.