Introduction and a few questions

Hello all,

I’m a little more than a year on this path that will ideally lead me to an MD. I hope to specialize in pediatric oncology eventually, with a focus in clinical research. I’m recently 30 and am transitioning from a career in journalism, though I am currently in a different job that has given me the means to attend class (if any of you have worked in journalism, you’d know how impossible that can be in that industry).

I’d like to give you guys a brief background on myself that may give a little more context to the questions at the end of this post.


*I have a very solid GPA from my initial trip through college and all A’s in the prereq courses I’ve taken since the start of this journey (full year of Gen Bio and Gen Chem as well as psychology and sociology).

*I am a very good test taker in general, so while I know I will need to study hard for the MCAT, it doesn’t intimidate me by its very existence; in my experience, that can be half of the battle.

*I have a huge number of hours of volunteer work, both quasi-medical but not clinical (more than 600 hours with one organization over the past 5 years) and medical/clinical (more than 200 hours in a hospital setting).


*I am taking my prereqs at a community college for scheduling and financial considerations. As a single person, I don’t have the income availability or the schedule flexibility to attend a four-year university (the big one around here does not offer night or weekend courses in the subjects I need). I know some colleges frown upon or won’t accept these courses, and I am limiting my school choices given that.

*I have one W in a prereq on my transcript from my first trip through college, though it is easily explainable.

*I do not have the schedule flexibility to obtain research-based volunteer hours. Everyone I’ve talked too has needed people between the hours of 8-5 M-F, which is when I work. This frustrates me because I’d love to be involved in research, but there’s not much I can do about it.

*Several of my preferred schools are in Texas, where I used to live but no longer reside, and I know those have very few spots for out-of-state candidates.

At the moment, my largest question is when I should attempt the MCAT. My current schedule would leave me with all the prerequisites except for biochemistry complete by the end of this summer (the only other prereq course not completed by the end of spring semester would be Physics II). However, I know biochemistry is going to be a very important portion of the new MCAT, so I am starting to question this decision.

My original plan was to take the MCAT in April of 2015 and again in August if necessary with the goal of applying for admission to start in the fall of 2016. However, given I will not have biochemistry by that point, do you all believe it is a better idea to push the MCAT/admission date plans back by a year?

Also, while I have plans in the works to get true shadow hours, I was wondering what a good baseline there would be, as I will need to take vacation days from work to make them happen. I was thinking 40 hours is a good minimum, especially given I have a large amount of experience in a hospital setting?

Thank you for your advice, and I look forward to joining you guys on the journey.

Welcome, and thanks for sharing your background!

Don’t rush the MCAT. Wait to take it until you’ve finished your prerequisites and then give yourself time to prepare for and take the MCAT when you’re really ready. Definitely wait to take it until after you’ve completed biochemistry and also allow time to repeat the MCAT, if necessary. So push back your plans by a year, then submit your application EARLY. Good luck!




Fellow journalist here (I worked in newspapers, magazines, and textbooks), and now accepted medical student. So yes, it can most definitely be done.

I agree with Liza on the MCAT issue–wait until your pre-requisites are finished and give yourself TIME to study for the test. Like you, I am an excellent test taker, but it was still an uphill battle for me. The MCAT is unlike any other exam–classroom, AP, etc.–that I’d ever experienced. Budget yourself at least 3 months for study. That’s my recommendation. It worked for me, and I was happy with my score.

As for the shadowing, I think I had about 40 hours, same as what you are proposing. I don’t think admissions committees are as particular about shadowing hours as they are about volunteering hours (and you have plenty of those). I think they just want to see some exposure to medicine. I wouldn’t worry to much about that, or about the research. While research is great (and I did a lot of it myself), by no means is it necessary to get into medical school. It sounds like you’re interested in research–which is great. You will have opportunities for that in medical school, residency, and fellowship. Don’t kill yourself now trying to work that in. Focus on your classes and the MCAT. Those are the important things right now.

Another former journalist/future doctor just popping in to say hi!

I had no research experience when I applied to med schools (I’m an MS2), and it was never an issue. Plus, my school seems to be littered with research opportunities, so like Terra said, there will be plenty of time for research down the road. You already have some amazing experiences, so focus on your classes and MCAT and you’ll have a super competitive application.

Good luck, and welcome!

Thank you all for the replies! That makes me feel much better about some things (specifically the lack of research opportunity at the moment - if only people had labs working on Saturdays…).

In reconsidering my plan, it looks like the best path for me is to wait a year. That will allow me to take a rigorous biochemistry course (likely online as an upper division course from a four-year university like UNE or Colorado) in the fall of 2015 and spend all of the winter/spring devoted to studying for the MCAT in April of 2016. It would also enable me to get a year of A/P under my belt, which I’m sure couldn’t hurt.

Do you all recommend a self-study program for the MCAT or a more formalized approach? I did quite well on my SAT exam without a formal class preparing for it, but as you guys know, the MCAT is an entirely different beast. I do worry that taking it a year after the introduction of the new test, the classes offer in preparation aren’t going to be really tuned to it yet.

I did self study for three months, as I mentioned. One month for content review, one month for practice questions, and one month for full-length practice tests. I found that strategy worked well for me – you build up from reviewing the MCAT content itself to taking full-length tests and thereby gain confidence through the process.

I used The Princeton Review for Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. I used Examkrackers for Verbal. People will disagree ‘til the day they all die on which MCAT prep material is “best.” I don’t think there is a “best.” It’s what works for you and your learning style. When you get close to that point, I recommend checking some books out from your library (if they carry them, or interlibrary loan) to evaluate which you prefer. Then buy what you like best.

In terms of self study versus a formal course, there are pros and cons. I am a very motivated studier. I knew I could stay on track myself without a teacher handing out assignments. Some people like, want, and/or need that encouragement. In addition, I wanted the ability to focus on my weaknesses, not what the program thinks are the majority of students’ weaknesses. Those are sometimes very different. (I much preferred electricity and magnetism to kinetics, for example, when it came to physics MCAT questions. Go figure.) Formal courses are very expensive. I thought about taking one, but I honestly couldn’t afford it.

Hope that helps!