going back after phd and years out

Hi to all,

First off, I should mention that I have found this forum and the participants very helpful over the past few months as I have begun to consider seriously moving to medicine. The forum has given me a bit of hope that someone in my position (i.e. Old @ 33, 34 in two months!) could pursue this route. So, thanks!

My question is general and probably one that has been answered several times over, but I will propose it anyhow. I am currently a professor of psychology. I received my PhD in 2002 (biological psychology/behavioral and cognitive neuroscience) and have been in academia since. My academic career has proved successful with many publications and books, etc. Because, however, my degrees (undergrad and PhD) are in psychology, I do not have many of the pre-med requirements; I had to learn most of this myself in grad school. For example, the chemistry sequence and physics I don’t officially have on my transcripts. I have taught as a prof in a biology department for the past 2 years, but am moving back to a psych dept this coming fall. The main reason I am thinking along this path: I have become disenchanted with academia and feel I have missed a calling to help people. One of the greatest enjoyments in my current position is the ability to help students (professionally and personally). I am weighing my options between going for an advanced degree in clinical psych or returning for medicine, that latter of which appeals to me because of my interests in the biological sciences/neuroscience. I have always been very interested in the osteopathic approach and would almost certainly only apply to DO programs.

My question(s): In all of your humble opinions, is it reasonable to consider taking the missing pre-reqs over the next academic year (including summer), while continuing to lecture? I would need to take (at the very least) chem and org, & physics sequences, but would probably also want to do bio to beef up that mark a little and familiarize myself with bench techniques again (my current research is cognitive neuroscience - so I spend a lot of my time ‘playing’ with magnetic resonance imaging of humans and such). Then plan to take the MCAT end of summer '09 and applying that fall to some DO programs? I think it would mean taking Chem and Physics this year and then Org over the summer (I have a little org background through my grad studies, but nothing formal). Also, is my PhD considered at all in this process. I do not think it is.

Anyhow, I am sorry for posting such a long and wordy post, but would appreciate any feedback/suggestions about a path forward. I might also mention that I am married (no kids).

Best wishes, and thanks in advance.

You PhD certainly will not hurt you. One of the major considerations in admission to medical school is your potential to be academically successful. Your degree helps to establish that, and your background teaching biology at the college level can’t hurt you either.

Do not underestimate the time involved in completing lecture courses with labs, of course, but if your reaching schedule is light enough you may be able to do just fine with the course load you propose.

You’re a good age, as far as non-trads go–old enough that you have to explain why you are NOW deciding to do medicine and not earlier, but not old enough that you have to worry about paying off your student loans before retirement. Having started med school at 42 myself, I think you’re in a good spot! I think this is doable for you.

Welcome to OldPreMeds!


Thanks so much for your kind words. I am a bit apprehensive - about everything - the pre-req courses and going back. The uncertainty really does not sit well with me. But your message makes me feel confident.

So you started at age 42 - can you provide any further details about how that was for you? Just curious.

Anyhow, thanks again.



Starting at 42 was no big deal, surprisingly. I occasionally revealed my age to classmates and the universal response was, “AWESOME!”. Now I brag about it. I’m divorced, and in a lot of ways I am not very different from my single classmates. I have friends in the class and I gripe about exams and good or bad lectures about as much as anyone. Being in med school makes me feel younger.

I think most of the concern about our ages comes from inside. The rest of the world is too busy with its own problems to really care how old you are.

I agree with Denise’s classmates–she’s awesome!

Regarding your situation–I think you have a great background and an impressive record of professional achievement and undoubtedly you will make a fine physician.

Probably the key question the med schools are going to ask you is why you don’t go into clinical psychology instead of clinical medicine. They probably want to make sure you’re serious about this. You are going to need to articulate your reasons clearly (once you have decided which direction to go) and probably you should outline those reasons in your personal statement–what is the path that brought you to medicine? What was unsatisfying about psychology? What skills will you bring to the profession?

Best of luck,


Thanks so much for the kind words and the advice. I was thinking I would probably have to do such - outline my reasoning. Should be pretty straightforward.

Thanks so much for your help and thoughts about this process.



Others have already made sage comments so I’ll address your timing issue.

Although DO schools tend to accept applications later than MD schools, you still want to be on the front side of the application process. Plan on submitting your application in June of the year you decide to apply. You do NOT have to wait for MCAT scores before you submit an application (a common misperception). Just keep in mind…the early bird gets the interview.




Thanks so much. I really appreciate your comments.


Hi again,

You have all been so helpful, I wonder if I can pose another question?

As I mentioned previously, before applying, I will need to complete a few pre-reqs - mostly chem and physics. I was wondering what the FORUM’s impression was on online/distance courses that include lab components. There are apparently several available from reputable places (e.g. UNE, Univ System of Georgia, etc). This could be something I consider because the closeness of places to complete the missing pre-reqs (for me) appears quite far. Obviously, an online lab experience is different (probably better and worse in some ways) to the hands-on approach, but I have had 4 years PhD and 6 years in Academia where I have conducted animal surgical, physiological, anatomical and histological techniques, as well as human neurobiological investigations including BOLD, perfusion, diffusion, and electrophysiological imaging and interventions (the latter by using TMS). So, any opinions, thoughts, etc on online pre-req courses would be greatly appreciated. The online route seems reasonable, but I do not want to put myself at a disadvantage if the COM’s disapprove of this method or discriminate against such methods for completion of these courses.

Thanks again, in advance for any assistance!



The majority opinion here will probably be against taking distance education prerequisites which include the labs.

Although, I do know of a fellow sailor who took all his premedical prerequisites that included labs via distance education through Mountain State University while he was deployed overseas. He now is attending a medical school that teaches using PBL in lieu of lectures. According to him, his distance education experience was very much an enhancement in applying this particular medical school because distance education disciplined him to learn without the ready assistance of an instructor nearby and when he was in communication with his instructor he made sure he only asked well-thought questions that he tried his best to solve beforehand. For him, succeeding in this type of environment meant he could succeed in the first two years of PBL and more importantly that he could succeed in the 3rd and 4th years of any medical school and in residency where you gradually become more and more independent and less directed in diagnosing and treating patients. Because distance education courses aren’t distinguished from traditional, attendance courses on transcripts, he readily explained in his interviews of how he completed his premedical studies while on board a ship.

The major disadvantage in distance education that my friend readily admits is that it is hard to get to know his instructors. Oftentimes as a distance education student, you are a just a name on the screen or a voice emanating from your instructors’ computers, so instructors will have a hard time recalling how you were as a student when asked to write a recommendation letter.

Steve, rather than answer your question, I have a different question for you. Have you given thought to who you’ll approach for letters of recommendation? Given your unique background in academic, I would presume that you’ve got any number of candidates in mind.

I’m asking because for the more conventional OPM, those prerequisite science courses are a good source of academic LORs. That’s an opportunity you wouldn’t have with an online course. However, I think you’ve probably got many other good opportunities for LORs so it may not be a concern for you.


Again, I start with a great big thanks for the comments.

In answer to both questions LOR’s will be no problem for me. I can get letters from known academics, physicians that I have scanned with, co-editors of books, etc. etc. So, unless all of the people I think would write nice letters on my behalf conspire and decide I would make a lousy physician, then I should be A-OK in that area.

The other thing, the online courses I have been investigating actually have a proctored component for exam and lab practical - so I guess they are in actuality some form of ‘hybrid’ courses…?

The idea that online courses help in PBL based learning and 3rd/4th year independence is intriguing, and hopeful. I agree with this notion. I have actually lectured on an online course. Being a “techy” geek about computers, I really enjoyed lecturing on that course because it served to teach students not only the course material, but what they really needed to know to succeed - a level of self-learning. Many of these students went on to do research in my labs and are now studying on Masters and PhD courses.

Thanks again,