How much is on your plate?

Hey all!

I just wanted to get everyone’s non-trad opinion on weekly hours at work (full time, part time, PRN), credit hours at school, volunteer hours, etc.

Basically, how much is on your plate? And about what’s the average that someone should shoot for in regards to show the ADCOMS that you can be competitive academically?

This was my schedule for my first 3 semesters during post-bac:

  • 12 credit hours (between 1 and 3 labs)

  • 20-25 hrs/week work from home (ran my own company)

  • 2-3 hrs/week volunteer

  • 5 hrs/week research (during the 3rd semester)

    During that time, I also got married and added 2 dogs to the family.

    My 4th and final post-bac semester:

  • 4 credit hours (Ochem lecture and lab)

  • 15-20 hrs/week work from home

  • 7 hrs/week shadow

  • 3 hrs/week research

  • 2 hrs/week volunteer

  • all other hours, study MCAT

    Post-bac GPA 4.0, still married, and still have the dogs. I think my plate was a little too large but you gotta do what you gotta do. Hopefully adcoms are looking at my app right now and think I’m pretty good at multi-tasking.

I don’t yet have a bachelor’s, so for the past 3 years my schedule has been:

  • 12-14 credits/semester

  • 30-35 hrs/wk work (self-employed but my work is done on-site in hospitals)

  • 4 hrs/wk volunteer (past 1 year)

  • volunteer with Brain Injury Assoc

  • shadowing in the past 6 months as available

  • MCAT prep last semester and first half of summer; MCAT re-take 7/6

  • 6 credits each summer semester, plus 25-30 hrs/wk work, and last summer was also Kaplan MCAT prep course and MCAT

  • spouse also working on bachelor’s full-time and working part-time, so we’re paying 2 full tuitions each year (they should offer a husband/wife discount!)

    No kids, one chihuahua.

    3.9 sGPA, 3.92 cGPA. Applied this cycle and still working on secondaries.

What I’ve noticed among nontrads over the years is that with enough hard work and determination, just about ANY schedule you can imagine can have a successful result, admissions to med school.

IMHO, the question is what schedule gives you the best shot at performing to the best of your academic ability and I feel that taking work (for pay) out of the equation gives you the best shot.

I was told 20 years ago by an adcom that when it comes to med school admissions, you either want to work or go to school. I realize that isn’t always realistic for nontrads, but I believe there’s a LOT of truth to that statement.

That’s my “dream”! I’d love to just focus on school, but, yes, not very realistic for a nontrad. I’ve made a huge decision myself to drop to half time (20 hrs) at work as I start the Fall semester when I will be taking 10 credits (two 5 credit lab/lecture courses). I’m working about 30+ hours now while taking 6 credits this summer. I’m in a summer physics course right now. This summer course made me realize that I HAVE to cut back on work in fall if I want to keep my GPA up (3.9 right now) and be competitive for med school.

I am working on my Bachelor’s (Bio major) and I feel like I’m just plunking away, but it’s worked thus far. I have an almost 3 yr old daughter and am divorced (but my ex and other family are super involved so that helps a lot) so I have a lot on my plate. I think all non trads do, especially those of us w/ families, but all of us in general are busy people. But, I find that busy people are the most able to get things done. My grandpa always said, “If you want to get something done, ask a mom of ten.” That is to say, that those of us with busy lives are very good at fitting things in, organizing our time and making it all work. Ever notice how some people who seemingly have all the time in the world get nothing done? That being said, I’m also wise enough to know my limits and know that I cannot overextend myself. I don’t think spreading oneself too thin and burning out before med school even begins is a wise decision. Do a few things really well. That should be enough. Saying “no” is something some of us have to learn to do. For me, it is saying “no” to work. I want to help them out, but at the end of the day, I’m not staying there and my grades are most important, so I have to say “no” and only work 20 hours a week. It’s a financial challenge, but I’m taking financial aid to help and it’s really become an investment in my future so I can deal with it.

I made the stupid mistake of taking…(attempting to take) Chem II, Trig, and work full time…during the summer no less. Of course it was a complete disaster but hey, “you live you learn” right?

So now I’m taking it WAY easier. I’m thinking quality over quantity. Dropping to part time (24hr/wk), taking no more than 10 credits per semester (2 science and 1 cake HUM or ENG course), volunteering at a community clinic and physically exercising a WHOLE lot more. My primary goal here is to avoid burnout and by God I will succeed!

I’m in the “I have to work until med school” boat, so I work full time (40-45 hours a week) and attend class and labs at night. 8 hours a semester (2 classes with labs)…then I’m also a wife and a mom, and I am a volunteer worship leader at a church of over 3000 people (so factor in rehearsals and production run throughs, etc.) Oh, and I tour as a musician and inspirational speaker with my husband (I’m from Nashville–I have to be a musician, right? )…so those fly dates (to youth conventions, etc.) take up some weekends, too.

What’s crazy is that I get up at 6am, get home at 9:30pm(Mon thru Thursday)and then leave Friday-Sunday for family. I’m rocking a 4.0 GPA by some miracle…but the thing that has me worried is that while I’ve had ample shadowing opportunities (I have lots of good relationships with doctors, so that hasn’t been an issue), I simply don’t have the capacity in my day to add hours for volunteering at a hospital. I work for a hospital company, and we own 6 hospitals around Nashville–so I could definitely work it out to volunteer, but in order to do so, I would have to do it after 10pm during the week (which is my study time)or during the weekend (which belongs to my children.)

So the volunteering piece of the application is my greatest conundrum. I have lots of volunteer hours…but they aren’t medically related. I just wasn’t on that train until January of this year, so I wasn’t putting my time and efforts toward that end.

My sweet husband has been so supportive and has really picked up the slack at home…but he can’t go volunteer for me! LOL I just need more hours in the day.

So I’m doing all of that just to get the bare minimum pre-reqs… fun, huh??

I long for the day I can resign from this job and simply focus on academics…but that’s just not going to be a reality until I get accepted to medical school.

So what do you guys think? I know that volunteering serves 2 purposes. 1)It shows a spirit of altruism, and 2)It shows that you’ve been exposed to the profession and know what you’re getting into (as much as you can). My volunteer work fulfills the 1st item, but not the second. But I’ll have tons of shadowing hours that give me exposure… Any thoughts on that? Should I start pulling over-night volunteer stints?

Happy Friday, all!

  • carrieliz Said:

So the volunteering piece of the application is my greatest conundrum. I have lots of volunteer hours...but they aren't medically related.


Your volunteer hours do not need to be medically related. I'm a student interviewer for my school and it's given me a bit of an insider's perspective on the admissions process from the medical school's point of view. The purpose of volunteering is not to get clinical exposure. Instead some of the things we look for in applicants is:

1. Experience helping underserved and/or disadvantaged individuals through work, school, or volunteer effort.

2. Choice of Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, US military or other service-based work or career.

3. Routine participation in meeting the needs of the less able.

4. Sustained experience as a mentor (ex: Big Brother or Sister).

5. Participation in and contribution to the community (ex: coach, youth group leader, worker in a shelter).

6. Direct service as part of community activity (ex: Habitat for Humanity, post-disaster rebuilding efforts).

7. A meaningful profile of service - balance in the breadth and depth of chosen service activities and/or sustained or significant level of service.

Don't get me wrong. Clinical exposure is still important for applicants to have, but it is rated as a separate category from volunteer service. Therefore, your volunteer service does not have to be clinical in nature. Hope this clears up some misconceptions.

Wow–it truly does help to hear that. I’ve been experiencing a HUGE amount of FUD this week, and much of it stemmed from my inferiority complex over the volunteer piece. Hard to explain, but I just felt really…behind… I have thousands of volunteer hours, but I couldn’t shake that “My stuff will never stack up to a college student who’s had summers off to volunteer in Honduras medical missions for 4 years” kind of insecurity.

I can’t thank you enough for giving that perspective. We each run our own race, and everyone’s story is different. It’s an overall pervasive theme that shines through, regardless of the details of the work. I need to keep that in mind as I forge ahead!

I can only speak for myself, but I was VERY much on the road to burn out with a VERY demanding job, familial duties, and classes earlier this year. When my health started to be significantly affected, I made some changes STAT!!!

So, I quite purposely found a job that is not only far LESS demanding but that only pays a few thousand dollars less than I was making. And my health is so much better too.

The thing I think we tend to forget as super nontrads is that burning the candle on 3 ends (pun intended), gets harder and harder to do as you age, even if you’ve done a great job being healthy. And your body will let you know too!!

Burning the candle on both ends in my 40’s has a very different “feel” to it literally, than it did in my 20’s.

About six hours a week in class, 30+ hours a week in lab. Running data analysis on a project I inherited from someone else, hope to have it out for publication in about a month. So my time in lab at the moment is less a set amount of time, and more “work until it’s done.” Which works out pretty well being a graduate student with a limited courseload.

med schools want to see a pattern of commitment, motivation and achievement so long-time volunteer involvement, especially with leadership is an excellent EC to be noted no matter the subject. Even, as my favorite example, something as mundane as a model train club can be useful. If you belong to a club since you were 10, spent half that time as club officer, presented displays at regional meetings, had a display at a national convention, setup a christmas display and invited local church and school groups in, and began a program to setup small displays in peds departments at hospitals around the holidays, it shows alot of who you are.

I am so glad someone posted this! I am also stuck having to keep my full time job until I am able to find something part time that would still allow me to pay rent/eat. (the loans I have only cover school at this point )

Last semester I took Bio w lab and Trig. 7 credits and it went very well, But this semester…. I am starting an official post bacc program and taking Chem. and Physics with labs which adds up to 8 Credits and 5 days a week. I also volunteer as the director/ teacher of a drama program for teenagers with Down Syndrome. (We mounted Romeo and Juliet in the Spring and are working on a film festival now )

To be totally honest I am a bit terrified.

I am really trying to find a different job but so far that just hasn’t happened. It is good to know that there are other people out there who are figuring out how to succeed at this in less than ideal conditions.

Thank you so much everyone for chiming in. I thought I was the only one trying to work a demanding full time (50 hour/week) job and trying to do school. I am four classes away from finally getting my BA (I’m 33), and then need to do six m-school pre-reqs. The tought of Mon - Thurs night class, plus a baby (hopefully, I think?!), work, and ER volunteer shift on Saturdays is freaking me out. Glad to know I’m not alone and people are doing it!!