Getting into a post-bacc and other questions

I’m back! You may remember me from this thread.
A few weeks ago I had breakfast with my uncle (an endocrinologist) to talk about medicine. Doing so was really a major accomplishment for me, since I had been afraid to do it for so long. To my surprise, he was not discouraging! Despite all of the headaches associated with medicine nowadays, he thinks it would be a fine thing for me to do and that I would be able to handle it.
My uncle was a non-traditional student himself: majored in Theology & Biblical Studies, worked as a counselor at a home for juvenile delinquents after college, then right around my current age (27) decided he wanted to be a doctor. So he does have some insight into the non-trad process. On the other hand, he went to med school in the early to mid eighties, and there may have been changes since then he doesn’t know about. He gave me leads for 2 other docs to talk to, neither of whom I have been able to get in touch with yet.
He did recommend doing a formal post-baccalaureate pre-med program insted of taking the classes ad hoc (which is what he did.) That’s fine with me, since I’d rather do it that way; even if it means living off loans, I’d much prefer to go back to school full time, because I absolutely MUST get straight A’s in order to make up for my mediocre past, and I believe full-time employment would interfere with that effort. Yet I fear the effects of that mediocre past on even admission to a post-bacc. My uncle didn’t seem to think getting into post-baccs was an issue, but there were many fewer career changers when he did it. I know there are some programs where I don’t stand a chance (like Bryn Mawr), but is there such a thing as an uncompetitive post-bacc? Do I stand a chance ANYWHERE? (My undergrad GPA is 3.1, and I have a few C’s, a few D’s, and an F.) If not, what can I do? Consign myself to taking the classes individually?
Also, how common or helpful is shadowing as opposed to volunteering? My uncle was surprised when I told him I thought this practice of shadowing had become common. He seemed to think it wouldn’t give one an accurate picture of what doctors actually did, and that furthermore (here he was probably biased by his own specialty) it would be a waste of time because 90% of doctors’ time is spent looking at lab results and filling out paperwork. He agreed volunteering was necessary, but only in the sense that it’s a token required of applicants by med schools. He didn’t feel his own volunteering experience had given him an accurate picture of what medicine was like. He claimed that the way for me to decide whether I really want to go through with this is simply to talk to more doctors. Of course I’m planning to do that, but I’d like to know whether I should bother with shadowing. What are everyone’s thoughts on that?

Hey. Others will be of more help, I’m sure, but here’s what I know about post-bac programs: I’ve looked at Northwestern University’s post-bac (in Evanston, IL) and it is competitive and at great school in a great location, and they are looking for a 3.0 GPA, s I doubt you would have trouble finding one based on that. It’s expensive, though.
As for talking to doctor’s and all, that sounds like it could be good, but I think shadowing can be good in any profession. It just gives a good idea of day-to-day life.
Again, I am really new to this med school thinkg, so I’m sure others will have more to say.
Good luck,
Trix

Tris, in discussing shadowing, volunteering, etc., I think you’re actually getting ahead of yourself just a little. One of the things that both volunteering and shadowing can do is help you determine if you REALLY want to do this. Right now you’ve got a high level of interest in the field and you’re looking at what to do next - that’s good. But I would strongly suggest that your NEXT step needs to be to do some reality testing on this ambition of yours. It needs to have a LOT of staying power to get you through the long, hard haul of pre-med, med school and residency - and you owe it to yourself to take the time to really scope this out before jumping in. (especially since you’re talking about stuff like loans, full-time school, quitting work, etc. - those are big steps!)
Anyway, IMHO the most important thing about volunteering and/or shadowing is their role in this reality testing, “Do I know for sure I want to do this?” phase. Sure, eventually they’d be helpful things to include on an application for medical school - but right now, thinking about that is getting ahead of yourself.
The time spent testing your ambition and determining that you really DO want to be a doctor, and you know why - is one reason why schools like to see these sorts of activities on applications. They want to be sure that an applicant really has some idea of what s/he is getting into, that the applicant isn’t infatuated with some idyllic version of medicine that isn’t reality-based. You will get grilled on this - you will be expected to be able to articulate clearly how you came to decide that you should become a physician. You will need to have some experiences to illustrate how you recognized your ambition, tested it, and confirmed it.
So I would recommend that you do seek out opportunities that give you more of an idea of what doctors do. You could accomplish that by shadowing - I’d highly recommend shadowing a primary care doc so that you can see a variety of encounters and get a sense of the annoying nitty-gritty your uncle alluded to. You could also accomplish it in some volunteer settings. For example, my local hospital has volunteers in patient transport - with initiative, you’d get to do/see many things. A good volunteer coordinator at a hospital might be able to help you land a position that speaks most to your interests.
Now that you think you’ve recognized your life’s ambition, it’s understandable that you’re in a hurry to move on with this idea and get to work. You don’t need to spend a lot of time navel-staring to figure out if you’re doing the right thing. But a little time really thinking this through at the front end will be enormously helpful as you continue. Good luck!

I have a couple more thoughts for you. First of all, I wouldn’t rule out a program like Bryn Mawr. I was very interested in their program and actually applied. They offered to interview me but I decided to attend Hofstra’s post-bac for family reasons. All things being equal, I think Bryn Mawr has it going on. I wish I were in a program with linkage. Anyway, I mention this because my undergrad GPA was about a 2.80 but my life experiences must have interested them.
Before I finalized my post-bac plans, I took some science classes at the local community college (Microbiology, Anatomy and Physiology). I can’t express enough how glad I am that I took those classes. They got me back into study mode, gave me confidence (4.0), boosts my science GPA, gave me a big leg up on the basic pre-reqs and will help me with solidifying MCAT material. Best of all… its was not expensive. I think Bryn Mawr was more interested in me because of my performance in these classes and the glowing recommendation from the prof.
Just another thing to consider.
Jill

Mary, thanks for the advice. I can’t say that I’m 100% sure I want to do this. My uncle basically told me (not in words this harsh; this just how I read what he said) that the only thing that’s going to enable me to decide is simply talking to doctors; that neither volunteering nor shadowing are at all helpful in making the decision, because the former does not give one an accurate picture of what medicine is really like, and the latter is simply a waste of time. So I’m soliciting second opinions, like yours. I’ll also ask the other docs I’m going to talk to about shadowing.
seacatch, did you have some of the prerequisites already before you took classes at the CC? I had never thought of taking some supplemental classes at CC, and the idea intrigues me, but wouldn’t one have to have already taken introductory biology before taking any of those other classes?

Hey Tris,
I took some of the prereqs 22 years ago. Doesn’t really count now. I just asked the Microbiology prof if she would take me. I studied hard but became the top student in the class. If you want to test yourself give it a shot. Sounds like you are bright enough to do fine if you apply yourself. I’d recommend starting with one class… maybe anatomy and physiology. Usually night classes are available and you can keep your job.
Jill

Hi guys,
I found the classes I took at CC to be helpful in exactly the same way. I took Micro and A&P and it was a great way to get back into the study mindset (it has been many years since I took a science course). I LOVED it, even the class with the lousy teacher! I just found the subject matter so interesting that I was happy to study.
So now I am looking to take the basic prereqs as well as get some experience. I took an EMT class this semester and it was really interesting. WOW, if prehospital emergency care interests you this is a great intro!

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My uncle basically told me (not in words this harsh; this just how I read what he said) that the only thing that’s going to enable me to decide is simply talking to doctors; that neither volunteering nor shadowing are at all helpful in making the decision, because the former does not give one an accurate picture of what medicine is really like, and the latter is simply a waste of time.


I think I understand the point your uncle is trying to make, and to a great extent I agree with him. HOWEVER AdComs want to know that you have carefully searched and considered prior to making this big career decision. And there is no way that “talking to docs” is going to cut it when you are called on to describe the decision path that leads you to apply (if you do). You need to be able to show that you’ve really been in there and have seen what it is like.
Now, there are a variety of ways that you could possibly do this besides the traditional shadowing and volunteering. Obviously people in other health professional fields such as nursing, EMT, respiratory therapist, physical therapy, etc. etc. have an “insider’s perspective.” But so could someone who provided the business consulting services for a practice, for example. The unit clerk in an emergency room, while not necessarily having a “health care” skill set, has seen enough to have a realistic view.
That “realistic view” - I guess that’s why I think your uncle’s advice is at once both on-target and really off. Talking to a bunch of docs will definitely give you a more realistic view. BUT it will be THEIR realistic view. Shadowing, volunteering, or otherwise somehow putting yourself into the world of medicine will help you attain your OWN realistic view. That’s the view you need to show to AdComs if that day comes - that’s the experience that will give you the confidence to say, "I know it’s a tough slog because i’ve seen x, y, and z; but seeing and doing those things actually made me more enthusiastic about pursuing medicine, and so that’s why I’m here."
hope that helps.


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I think I understand the point your uncle is trying to make, and to a great extent I agree with him. HOWEVER AdComs want to know that you have carefully searched and considered prior to making this big career decision. And there is no way that “talking to docs” is going to cut it when you are called on to describe the decision path that leads you to apply (if you do). You need to be able to show that you’ve really been in there and have seen what it is like.
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Again, as usual, Mary is right on. AdComms want to know that you have done more than talk with physicians. They want to know that you’ve been around patients, that you know what it is like from the “trenches” (as much as possible).
From my experience on an admissions committee, an applicant who had only talked with docs for his/her clinical experience wouldn’t have garnered an interview, and without an interview, there is no acceptance letter.
Please, do broaden your clinical experience to include as much patient contact as possible.
Cheers,
Judy

I am completely aware that AdComs look for clinical exposure of some kind and that I won’t even get an interview without it. I guess what I’m saying (and maybe I’m being too cynical here, it runs in the family) is that that fact–that medical schools require it–is the ONLY reason to do it. I’m tempted to see it as a big pretense: you go in for an interview and they say, “so, how did your shadowing/volunteering experiences lead you to decide you wanted to be a doctor?” And you respond with some stories about the grateful look on the patient’s face when Dr. Smith removed the drill bit from his nose, or how thrilled the patient was when she woke up from elective plastic surgery and saw herself in the mirror with her new breast implants in. But the fact is, those experiences aren’t really why you decided to become a doctor. The AdComs know it, and you know it, and they know that you know that they know it. They’re pretending, and you have to play along.
It’s just like community service volunteering: most med school applicants do it, but ONLY to get into medical school. Right now there are thousands of college kids all across America building Habitat For Humanity houses, participating in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and doling out soup at the local homeless shelter, JUST to make themselves look good to med schools. Most of them probably wouldn’t go anywhere near those institutions if they didn’t want to become doctors. Yet med schools, who are fully aware of this fact, consider their applications more competitive because of it. Heck, you don’t have to look to med school to see this phenomenon. There are kids all across America doing community service just to boost their COLLEGE applications.
I think I understand where my uncle’s coming from, because I feel the same way about my current job. He’s often lamented that he didn’t really know what he was getting into; that he wasn’t aware he’d have to spend so much time on call, stay late at the office some days to get business stuff done, etc. The full extent of his decision making process was to talk to the Family Practice DO my grandmother worked for as a receptionist. I feel the same way about my current job: I didn’t know what I was getting into; I had incorrect assumptions about the field, which I didn’t know I needed to investigate. And as a result, I’ve often thought “Man, I was so stupid. I wish I had TALKED to some people in the IT field before getting into this!” So if some kid came to me and told me he was interested in IT, my first advice would be to simply talk to people in the field, and ask them what the joys and headaches of the job are, but more importantly, simply ask them what they do all day. That’s all you really need to do to get your hopes or doubts confirmed or debunked. That’s as far as I would have gotten: as soon as some IT guy started to talk about meetings, project plans, and other business stuff, I would immediately have decided it wasn’t for me. There would have been no need to follow him around at work for an afternoon. And I think my uncle feels the same way about medicine. Not that he wishes he hadn’t done it, but that the only thing you really need to do, as far as getting information about “a day in the life” goes, is to talk to people.
Can anyone out there honestly say that they were on the fence about medicine until they volunteered or shadowed, and only then decided they wanted to do it? Conversely, does anyone know anyone who thought they wanted to become a doctor, having already read up on the subject and talked to doctors, UNTIL they did shadowing or volunteering, at which point they decided against it? I very much doubt it. I would tend to think that anyone who claims to have made their decision based on investigative clinical exposure experiences actually made their decision on some other basis, and used their clinical exposure to rationalize it.
I fully intend both to volunteer in a clinical setting, and to shadow if other doctors recommend it. And don’t worry; I will start doing so before quitting my job or taking out loans to go back to school. I’m just skeptical that those experiences are ACTUALLY (in contrast with the games AdComs and applicants play) going to form the main basis for my decision. That’s why I asked whether shadowing was worthwhile.

Hi there,
After reading your posts, I believe that you should definitely get some shadowing experience with physicians other than your uncle. I applied to medical school with nine physicians in my family and I shadowed none of them. I chose to work with a physician that knew me but had not worked with any of my family members. I also chose to shadow a physician in a discipline that I was sure that I would not be entering (Emergency Medicine). This turned out to be a great decision because I was able to get good feedback that was not colored by a family relationship. (I was also right about the Emergency Medicine thing too!)
Volunteering may offer some good clinical exposure but a good one-on-one shadowing experience is valuable too. When I was doing my admissions committee work, I actually looked very closely at the applications of persons who had close relatives who were physicians. I also asked them about their experiences during interview questions.
If you are of the opinion that application to medical school is a “game” that applicants and admissions committee play, you are sadly mistaken. As a former member of an admissions committee, I can promise you that I didn’t care that an applicant wouldn’t have gone near a community service project if they were not applying to medicial school. The important thing is that they did it regardless of their intentions. By the very fact that an applicant does something, some else benefitted. For that matter, why are you taking the Pre-med courses? Are you taking them JUST because you want to go to medical school and “look good to the AdComs” or because you have a genuine interest in the subject matter?
Natalie
"The ultimate devil’s advocate"

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It’s just like community service volunteering: most med school applicants do it, but ONLY to get into medical school. Right now there are thousands of college kids all across America building Habitat For Humanity houses, participating in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and doling out soup at the local homeless shelter, JUST to make themselves look good to med schools. Most of them probably wouldn’t go anywhere near those institutions if they didn’t want to become doctors. Yet med schools, who are fully aware of this fact, consider their applications more competitive because of it. Heck, you don’t have to look to med school to see this phenomenon. There are kids all across America doing community service just to boost their COLLEGE applications.


Well you know what, I completely and wholeheartedly disagree with you on this. You’ve noted that you’re cynical - okay, I can be a cynic on my best days as well, sometimes appallingly so. But in fact I am VERY sure that a lot of people go into medicine with what a cynic would call “do-gooder” impulses.
I haven’t heard you really specifically talk about why you’re interested in medicine other than that you’ve recognized your interest and (brief paraphrase, correct me if I’m wrong) I think you feel it would be an intellectual challenge worthy of your skills. I’m sure you’re aware that a lot of people applying to medical school struggle to find a creative way to express that one important reason they want to practice medicine is “to help people.” The phrase is mocked but the impulse is often genuine. I am not going to state that every person in my class is a candidate for sainthood or that s/he is going into medicine solely for altruistic reasons - hell, I am certainly not going into it solely for altruistic reasons.
But ONE of the things that I recognize as satisfying about medicine is the impact it has for the good in other people’s lives. When I’ve interviewed medical school candidates, I want to hear that desire to make a difference come through. I want to know what sorts of activities have given them that kind of satisfaction already. I want to see someone who cares about his or her community, who has contributed to the community in some way - whether that’s Habitat, Big Brothers, Candy Striper, whatever. And maybe some of these people have really been pulling my leg when they’ve talked enthusiastically about their volunteer activities, but I have seen their eyes sparkle with satisfaction as they recount their experiences in a way that leads me to conclude that either they’d be better off pursuing work in Hollywood, or they really do care about people and they’ve enjoyed showing that in a myriad of ways.
Clinical experience, whether it’s volunteering, shadowing, or work-related, provides ONE context for describing your desire to become a physician, and it’s key. Community involvement, however, is also extremely important because of the likelihood that your medical education and career are going to present you with demands for service to others. At least one measure of your suitability for this career is what you’ve done for your fellow (wo)man up til now.
Mary Renard, M.D. in 2004
"starry-eyed cynic"

I feel that I have to jump back in here as well. I wholeheartedly agree with both Nat and Mary. Having also been a voting member of an admissions committee, I can assure you that they are not playing a game, and they are generally pretty savvy about applicants who are trying to game the system. Of course some will get through and get accepted to medical school…and often these same folks are just miserable during schooling and in their new career. And then there are the applicants who jump through the hoops because they are passionate about medicine. Maybe they have been passionate since they were kids, or perhaps it is a more newly developed passion. But they have passion. And it shows in everything they do that is related to medicine. They have “walked their talk” and they can talk about it. Not to beat a dead horse, but their eyes dance. Really dance.
AdComms don’t want you to get all this clinical experience to prove to them that you want to be a physician. They want you to know that you have challenged yourself about this career, and that there is very little else that will make you happy career-wise.
Cheers,
Judy

I can tell you that I was hooked AFTER my clinical experience. At first, I started the process because it was a huge intellectual challenge and that was really sexy to me, but I knew that I really needed to see the trenches to be able to tell someone I wanted to do it. I volunteered and I loved every second of it. The medical terms I didn’t know, the smells the and very pulse of the hospital. I had to do more, be involved in more and learn more. If it wasn’t for that experience I would probably still be on the fence. You can’t get that from just a conversation. I am not saying don’t ask questions, but nothing can compare with seeing it for yourself. My 2 cents.
DRD

Hey, I don’t want to start a flame war. (How often does that happen here, anyway? Seems like a pretty mature crowd.) It just seems that one is required to believe that ALL doctors, or the vast majority of them, are Marcus Welby wannabes who want to practice primary care in an underserved rural area for a pittance of pay while spending all their spare time volunteering in a free clinic. It’s pretty obvious to me that that’s not true, and it gets kind of frustrating feeling like I’m required to “buy into” that view if I ever want to be a doctor.
I guess what I’m saying is that there aren’t just two types of future doctors: the haughty, arrogant jerk who just wants to be a heart surgeon so he can make $500k per year, and volunteers only as a means to that end, all the while despising the very people he’s “helping”, and then pretending to have enjoyed the experience when he goes for interviews, and on the other hand, the Marcus Welby wannabe who would have spent 25 hours a week personally washing homeless people’s feet even if he didn’t want to get into medical school. There’s a third kind: the people who want to be doctors, so they do some volunteering, and enjoy the experience, even though they originally did it primarily as a means to an end: getting into med school. The fact that one enjoys jumping through the hoops, and finds doing so a worthwhile experience, doesn’t change the fact that they were hoops to be jumped through. That’s not necessarily BAD; sometimes life requires jumping through hoops and that’s the way it is.
I think most doctors are normal human beings. They’re intelligent, hardworking professionals who saw in medicine a career that would have a positive effect on people’s lives (and an aspect of life that really matters: health), offer a great deal of personal interaction with a wide variety of people, provide them with a challenge and intellectual stimulation, give them the satisfaction of a job well done at the end of the day, and be pretty well compensated for it. Sounds like a good deal to me. All of those are reasons I’m interested in medicine. I think I’ll enjoy jumping through the hoops. I honestly do expect to enjoy my volunteering experiences, regardless of whether or not they lead to a career in medicine. That doesn’t change the fact that I wouldn’t have signed up for them if I weren’t interested in med school (or that I might have done it eventually, but much later in life.) Now, am I going to advertise that fact in interviews? “Yeah, it felt great to help those poor people at the clinic, but I was only doing it to get as far as sitting in this chair talking to you!” Of course not. But at some level, it’s still true.

Hi there,

It is not so much as what draws you to medicine as what keeps you there and keeps you practicing at a high level. Many of my classmates saw and continue to see medicine as a means of providing a stable income in an economy that has seen many recent ups and downs. Some are drawn to " really make a difference". I was drawn for the constant challenge of "getting it right every time " and the downright “adventure” on a daily basis. The Operating Room is a huge “adrenalin rush”. I would do surgery even if I didn’t get paid and believe me, I make barely more that poverty wages. ($38,000 divided by 80 hours per week). I do medicine and surgery simply because I enjoy it. Nothing more or nothing less. I spring out of bed at 0330h and smile all the way home after 1800h. It’s a constant blast.
Whatever your reasons for seeking a career in medicine, follow them but don’t kid yourself. It’s a long-term goal with few guarantees at the end. In the end, only you will be able to decide if the sacrifice will be worth it. It’s also D–M hard to do well. If you are the “half-way” sort, or looking for ego gratification, medicine is going to be a great source of disappointment, Marcus Welby-type or not.
Natalie

I think there’s a forth type of premed applicant and that’s the one who decided what they wanted to do FIRST and then looked at the career that would best fit.
My example is how I was led to the wonderful field of pathology.
Summer of 2002, I attended a lecture by a professor at BAylor. I had NO IDEA what her background was in terms of training but since I was interested in breast cancer research I wanted to hear her lecture. Throughtout the entire lecture I kept saying to myself, this is exactly what I want to do since at the time I was headed for a career in preventative medicine/epidemiology. At the end, I learned she was a pathologist so I emailed her to get more info and read her papaers. I then shadowed the pathologist I currently work for for almost a year to get the “inside” scoop as well as attending weekly pathology conferences. The pathologist here at NIH consult with physicians, treat patients, and do research, so for me it has everything I’m looking for. Needless to say, I’ve been hooked evey since and I’m also currently taking courses toward a doctorate in pathology too.
So what started for me as the “Marcus Welby Inspiriation” with a little Quincy MD thrown in when I was 5 years old, has become a passion. I’d ALWAYS known I wanted to be a physician one day and thanks to the field of pathology, I now know WHY.