Is a convoluted or drawn-out path to medical school an application killer?

Unlike many OPMs who finally figure out what they want to do (become a physician) and then go all out with premed and applications, my path to medical school has been long and drawn-out. I finished my first bachelor’s degree in 2001, and my second bachelor’s degree in 2013, after having done many years of medical work (as an MA and HA), lots of international health work, and several years of ethnographic fieldwork and public health projects. However, this work is not blocked out in time, but all are interleaved with each other. For example, I did most of my second bachelor’s until 2011, then took time off for MCAT, fieldwork, and public health work, and then returned to finish the degree. I am now studying for the MCAT again.

I am concerned that adcomms will expect a straight-through older premed course (premed classes + volunteering, then MCAT, then application), whereas mine is: work + volunteer + classes, then more work + more classes + more volunteer, repeat, etc. Part of the reason that I’ve taken so long is that my volunteer work involves 3 health projects and each requires more than just showing up and helping with patients. In addition to assisting health providers and translating, I also coordinate the clinics and do the logistics of getting supplies, providers, and products to the clinics.

I’m no expert on what ad-coms think, but I wouldn’t think so. Your story is your story, and there’s no use pretending otherwise. What might seem strange to one ad-com would make you the best candidate to another.

More than ever, it seems schools want a diverse student population. Having extra years and experience is a huge plus, IF you can talk about what you learned along the way. Personally, since I made a total career change, I used my application to highlight what those years taught me about who I am and what I value.

All the advice I’ve picked up from my pre-med advisors, the Old Pre-med conference last year, and various online articles is that medical schools want to see that you’ve put a lot of thought into becoming a doctor and you’ve purposefully sought experience that has proven to you that becoming a doctor is the right choice. I’ve even heard that people who appear to come to the decision lightly are disfavored by medical schools.

It sounds like you’ve got a lot of great experience that you’ll be able to talk about in your personal statement and interviews. You should be proud!

If it makes you feel better, it took me 10 years from catching the bug to submitting my application… Undergrad (engineering) complete in '04, started working (military, non medical). O Chem 1 & 2 in 06/07 while working. Break for non medically related masters program while working. More work. Bio 2 in '12. Biochem and ~50hrs shadowing in spring of '13.

Other than working with mentors along the way in my last couple of years leading up to my application, my only clinical exposure came right before application season. I set my sights on med school, life got in the way, worked through it as time allowed, accepted first cycle.

I’m not the ideal applicant by any means, but the way I got to this point seemed to not outshine what I got out of the journey. Don’t sell yourself short or kick yourself for not meeting the cookie cutter mold. You have a lot to offer. Good luck with the test and application!

I talked about this with a 1st year student and her path to medical school. While not completely drawn out and random, it is OK to not have a straight path. Your story will be that much more interesting!

You can listen to that interview at

As others have said, your circuitous (but continuous) path is not something to be concerned about. In your personal statement you will want to focus on a theme that ties everything together to bring unity to your application. You will have to be sure that admission committees understand your whole picture–and that can be achieved in your personal statement. Good luck!



Whether or not they expect it, it doesnt matter. This is your story, your past, your history. Worrying about your past, which you cannot change, does nothing to help your present, where you can take action, for a future that you so desire. Look forward, not back

If your MCAT and GPA are good I think you have a GREAT application I’d see your 10+ years of healthcare work as a major positive.

Datsa, my pre-med friend in arms…

We’ve walked this path a long time together, no?

Let’s just put our best foot forward, do our best and carry on!!

As Richard said, SNAP OUT OF IT!!


Thank you all for your comments.