Focus on the goal, not the age?

I keep wondering why so many posts on this site revolve around something like “Am I crazy for trying for med school at age XX” or “Am I too old for med school?,” etc. Some of this questioning, soul searching revolves around the upheaval that embarking on a premed track, then med school will incur in someone’s lives. For most of us, it is a big deal to leave one career for another. Change is scary; the loss of income – especially in a weak economy – is disconcerting. Then there is the upheaval of family and home life. We have to endure the criticisms from others and our own consciences. There are those who think that starting a new career later in life is a major challenge. And it is, especially for those of us who have had established careers.

But I suspect that most people posting questions related to age are concerned that their age will limit them in applying to medical school. But look at other fields: Lots of people change careers or embark on new careers at different ages. People go to law school in their 50s and 60s. Take up acting lessons in their 80s. Go back and get that PhD in their 70s. Medicine ideally should be no different.

So why are so many posts on this site about age?

I think the reason has more to do with the fact our culture/society has been accustomed to looking at medicine as a medical career that medical students must choose early, because youth and the accompanying stamina is needed to get through the rigors of medical school. But just as medicine used to be a field that was dominated by men, where female applicants were discouraged, it is still looked at as being a “young person’s” profession. Practicing medical is demanding and those demands have traditionally been met by the young; and along these lines, our society has continually upheld the the idea that doctoring is for the young. Think of all the references in our vernacular and media that make reference to “young doctors.”

During the 1970s, medical school routinely turned away applicants in their 30s on the basis that these applicants were too old. Now, people (mostly women) in their 40s and 50s are going to medical school. Despite this progress, the stereotype that one must be youthful to go to medical school still lingers in the social milieu. I look forward to the day when our society will have matured to a point where people will no longer consider age a major issue when they decide to apply to medical school. But that day is probably a ways off.

Medicine is one of the “longest” professions to get there compared to others and grueling, expensive, and all consuming. These questions should be entertained and folks need to do a real soul search to see if they are willing to sacrifice themselves and their families.

I do not think it is society per se that is making folks look at their age…but just the nature of the beast.

I happen to agree with both perspective; but pragmatically speaking, I think efex’s point has the edge. It’s all that it takes to get there. It’s a huge commitment, and it is long in duration, exhausting, and very expensive. If you don’t count the costs, well, to me, that’s kind of nuts. God willing, I hope to live to tell of it.

When I decided to go back to school full-time, I wanted to go for medicine, but instead I prepared for the nursing curriculum. I was supporting myself as a surgical tech, and since the hospital would pay for nursing, it seemed like the right move for me. And quite honestly, I was afraid that I was already “too old” to pursue medical school. The physicians and nurses I knew tried to persuade me to at least finish my bachelor’s in the sciences and proceed from there, since I had a steady job. When I tried to enroll in the chemistry class required for nursing, I was turned away, since I hadn’t taken college algebra. When I spoke to the chemistry department chair, he refused to permit me to take any course that was not for science majors, since I had already completed a full year of calculus.

The not-so-subtle message was that I should pursue the career that really mattered to me. The nurses I knew were just as capable as any physician, but had no interest in the long and arduous road it takes to become a physician. They’re content to care for patients, both physically and spiritually, without sacrificing an extra eight or so years. I had the interest, but it wasn’t until I found the confidence that I realized that many of the physicians I knew well didn’t even apply to medical school until they were well past 30…including an orthopedic surgeon, a former Army medic and physician’s assistant, who finished medical school at 52. I had worked with him for years without ever realizing he was so “new” to the game.

I don’t think medicine, or anything else for that matter, has any limits other than those inherent to working in the profession. Medicine requires intense commitment, but often it’s the “non-traditional” students who are best prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to excel as physicians.

I agree with you guys… you should not always consider or be conscious about your age. The important thing is follow your dreams and do everything to achieve your goal…

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I believe Age should not be a factor in starting med school at a late age. Its a matter of perspective, ambition and resources.


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