It can happen!!

Okay, so here’s the scoop…

I am in my thirties and have been actively pursuing gaining entrance into medical school for about three (3) years now. My current status is that I have been accepted into what I consider to be a medical school ‘bridge’ program that will start this upcoming semester. It is a nice program in that I am guaranteed automatic matriculation into the Class of 2014 medical program upon successful completion of the one-year program!!!

I am so thankful that the school has seen promise in me and has given me the opportunity to prove that I am indeed ready for the academic rigor of medical school. Many people would be disappointed with what seems like a “probationary” year before starting medical school, but, as you will soon see, I am rather fortunate for this opportunity. Here is why.

Like many others, I left for college at the tender of age of 18. It was out-of-state and really the first significant amount of time ever spent away from my family. I came with around 18 AP credits and found myself signed-up for some pretty heavy-duty courses for a freshman (e.g., Orgo I, Calculus II).

It was during the orientation week before school that I attended my first keg party. I was unable to harmonize socializing with academics (I never even managed to attend a single Orgo I or Calc II lecture) and somehow seven years later, managed to squeak out a degree with a GPA that was marginally higher than 2.0. Unfortunately, as I progressed each semester, I fell further and further behind in the foundation materials that one really should know before continuing to higher level courses. I probably knew more math and science coming out of high school that I did coming out of college—yikes!

I did manage to gain entrance into a graduate program in the social sciences. I started the program with great ambivalence and left a few years later with many Incompletes still pending. I never finished the Incompletes, which have since turned to ‘F’s’ and my graduate GPA dropped to around 2.65.

About three years ago, I started to take the required foundation courses for medical school. It is amazing how much difference there can be with one’s schooling when one is focused, determined, and enthused about what one is studying. I have taken over 50 credit hours now and have received only one B (all the others were A’s!!!). The way that AACOMAS calculates grades, my GPA improved somewhat: Sci-3.35 and Tot-2.99. AMCAS was much lower than these. Ouch!!!

I felt pretty good after the grades I had received so I scheduled myself to take the MCAT. I basically crammed for two weeks, was scoring 33-36 on practice tests, and came out with a 25Q. Ouch!!! If I were to ever take the MCAT again, I would certainly approach it much differently this time.

I applied to only one medical school the first year I applied. I got interviewed but was not accepted. The next year, I applied to five schools. I got interviewed at two but was not accepted (I contacted a few others, but it sounded like it would a waste of $$ to apply). However, one of the schools that did not offer me an interview did ask if I was interested in the one-year program—I was!

In any event, I should be starting medical school next year. I am going to re-apply to the two schools that I got interviewed at previously, so maybe I’ll get accepted into one these this time around. No matter though—I’ll be happy at any of programs!

This journey has taken a bit longer than I anticipated; but it has also been much more rewarding than I anticipated. When you are following your dreams and progressing towards the actualization of them, every step forward brings satisfaction and reinvigorates your efforts to press onward.

If anyone is interested, I can fill in some gaps and details from above. I have learned much about myself, the medical school application system in general, and I am eagerly looking forward to this semester’s course work. It will be the first semester in my life where studying and learning is my main focus in life and the course materials are all in the subject that I am most interested in—the science of the human body.

It will be interesting to see how this one-year program compares to undergrad courses and medical school courses in the future. I think it will be of great benefit because it will allow me to accelerate my learning capacity and develop and hone a learning style that is productive in the medical sciences.

As a take home message to those whose grades and MCAT scores put them in a very precarious position in the de-selection process of most medical schools, HANG IN THERE! If medicine is truly your calling in life, and frankly no backup plan is acceptable, it can (AND WILL) happen for you with the proper effort, dedication, and planning. I would be more than willing to share some of the things that I wish I had known three years ago!

OMG, apple!! That is exactly what I have gone through. I started out not knowing how to balance the social life with my studies (over 16 years ago) and ended up with really low confidence in my abilities. I decided to switch majors to fine arts and graduated with a 2.6 overall (b/c of previous school) and a 3.2 Cum from that school. So far I have done pretty well in my biological sciences courses, but physics and chemistry is pretty weak. Because of failing Organic chemistry a few times, my gpa has gone down a bit and so at this point, I’m not sure what I can do to redeem myself and show that this is really what I want to do.

I also don’t want to waste tons of money that I don’t have (gave up $37500/yr to go back to school full time) to apply to schools that are going to turn me down. Any advice that you can give would really help. I am planning to retake Organic Chemistry II this fall. At this point, med school being a reality seems to be my unicorn, but I can’t see myself doing anything else.

Okay, Artsydoc. Let’s get you into medical school! I post as I can—please excuse the installment nature of them.

One thing to remember is that re-taking a class is not the only way to show that medicine is really what you want to do. What taking classes (and doing well) shows is that you are able to handle and process the type of material and content that is relevant to medical school (at least in the opinion of medical school admission committee members). From my experiences, some of the guards at the admissions gate pay a great deal of attention to them (we can address the ramifications of this later).

I think that you are in a good position now because you can complete your courses while studying for the MCAT at the same time. I would suggest studying these courses concurrently with a MCAT review book (you can usually get a clean, used, older version pretty cheap somewhere) for the same section; keep reviewing and answering questions from when you learn them until you take the MCAT. You’ll find that the maintenance reviews take very little time if done frequently and that you’ll have no problem learning new material at the same time with some dedication. Hopefully, when you take the MCAT your preparation will simply be the continuation of your maintenance reviews and getting familiar with the test and its style!

The MCAT should be a reflection and extension of the basic pre-med coursework for you. I made the mistake of approaching it as something completely separate. Prior to my taking the MCAT, I had the poor study style of cramming the night before tests. While I passed the course tests with decent grades, the information decay was almost immediate and exponential; a few weeks later, it was as if I had never taken the course. I could remember the new terms but I lost the details and the connection of the concepts. This was a bad, bad thing and, from what I have read, it will never fly in medical school.

Since you have a degree, and are really only needing the pre-medical requirements and suggestions, you can easily study for the MCAT while taking the classes and raising your GPA at the same time. AACOMAS (D.O. schools) will calculate your GPA with the highest score for any class re-taken and AMCAS (MD schools) average all course work taken. So, you get quite the bang for the buck with AACOMAS. Know that they do see all the coursework attempted, so be prepared to answer questions about why you have re-taken courses.

Orgo II can be rough. Sometimes it is difficult because it seems like a course of rote memorization. If your particular study style is not suited for this, you will need to quickly adapt it to handle this kind of course. See what others who did well in Orgo I did and emulate some of the things that you like from their learning styles. Make Orgo a daily habit. If you had difficulty in Orgo I, you’ll find that this will carry into Orgo II. Some things from Orgo I are very important to be familiar with (e.g., naming, molecular orbital theory, functional groups, etc.) and a good background in these can bring some sort of order to the Orgo chaos—but there is still plenty of need for rote memorization.

If you are not particularly interested in the material presented in Orgo, it can seem like an extremely painful course. But, try to look at it as a way to develop your study skills so that when you get to medical school and need rote memorization for many courses, you’ll be much better prepared. Trust me, you don’t have to love, or even like, orgo in order to master it!

Next installment: timing and quality of output from this point forward are very important for you know.

Apple, my story is much the same. Took me about 7 years to get my BS in Engineering with a really ugly GPA of 2.6 or so. I went back a year later for an MS in Engineering and did much much better with a 3.85. Medicine is always where I wanted to be, but I never had the self confindence to make it happen.

But my undergrad years are where all the med school pre req’s are, and they haunt me to this day! If only…hindsight…ect!

I start back at Univ. on August 24th for about four semsters of repair work. I have such faith in myself now, which I did not posess when I was young…I know I can do it, and will do it, and in fact cannot wait to do it!

Thanks for sharing your success story, best of luck in your new program!

Jclark, I only wish my story had been similar to yours!

You are in a much BETTER position that I was; you completed your MS with a decent GPA. Engineering is a tough major, and for many, it is just an accomplishment to graduate—so congrats on a job well done. Also, you have found this type of forum early in your life trajectory change; use it, there is a lot of very good information spread throughout it.

Don’t worry about your past haunting you; it sounds like you will have resolved any issue with it in just four semesters. I am reminded of an engineering joke that I have heard:

Philosopher: Is the glass half-empty or half-full?

Engineer: Neither, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

Best of luck with your upcoming semester… and YES you can and will do it!!!

Finally hope! Your story is similar to mine. All I have ever been told by advisors is it can’t be done. No hope, go away. Well my gut instinct tells me otherwise. I work in the emergency department where I am encouraged daily by my physician co-workers. I teach (for 20 yrs) every level of emergency/pre-hospital medicine. I lead medical teams to 3rd world countries. There has to be a place for me! My passions are underserved areas and 3rd world as well as teaching. If anyone has solid advice as to entrance into osteopathic schools (which is in keeping with my own personal beliefs) I would appreciate your advice. My undergrad school (VCU) is useless. Never a suggestion for success, only negativity. Four of the Doc’s I work with were either second career Doc’s &/or less than stellar students in undergrad. I don’t care where I go. I just have to do this.

Any one who may know of someone to offer real practical advice in the Virginia area please, please post some info.

This is the most valuable site I have ever found.

Wow, and I thought I was the only one with this kind of problem. I too messed up badly in the first three years of college. I was always an average student and all that time I thought I was just being lazy. However, the real reason is that I could not think of a reason to be in school and did not know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. but after three years of failure and seeing my friends all graduate I knew I needed to put my foot down. Currently I am 23, so luckily I caught my mistakes early in life; but, even so I still have a lot of regrets for my low grades in the past. I just can’t believe how stupid I was when I was younger. I decided to take it slow and am now one semester away from earning my AS degree with a 3.6 gpa. Yes a AS degree isn’t much these days and probably not important to ADCOMS; nevertheless, it is a start and knowing I do have the ability to accomplish my goals this has become a new start in my life

Timing and quality of output from this point forward are very important for you now!

Although you hear many stories that being a non-traditional applicant is detrimental, I have found it can actually work to your advantage. Remember, there are a lot of applicants for each spot in medical school. However, as a non-traditional applicant, your application can stand out from the herd—good or bad as may be the case.

I did not approach any medical programs until I had completed all the required pre-reqs and had taken the MCAT. I felt that this was a good strategy because I wanted to give them something tangible to work with and have a baseline from where we could start.

I called and scheduled to meet in person (at the local schools) during the slower periods of the admission cycle. I spoke earnestly about my plans, my history, and why this was so important to me. To my surprise, the local programs told me a very important thing: there is a chance. Depending on the program, as long as you can meet the minimum requirements (which are usually low and not competitive in the sense of the class profile), you have a shot. Slim shot, perhaps… but still a shot.

I walked away feeling very optimistic that perhaps someday, I would get into medical school. The nay-sayers, which we are all surrounded with, told me that they just wanted my application fee money. If that was their only intention, they disguised it admirably.

From my experience, the non-traditional applicant brings some extra expectations. There is a much higher level of maturation that is expected of you. Your story needs to be cogent and compelling. You have to be able to succinctly answer, why medicine?, why now?

I believe that medical schools admit the traditional applicants with the assumption that as they mature they will develop into successful, stable, caring, socially responsible, dedicated physicians who value life-long learning. We non-traditional applicants seem to get viewed the other way around; we should already be successful, stable, caring, socially responsible, dedicated life-long learners who need only to mature ‘academically’ in medicine.’ It’s a subtle difference, but I think an extremely critical distinction for a non-traditional applicant.

If you are having trouble with a concise explanation that connects the dots, you will have trouble getting further consideration as an applicant. You really have to convince the medical school that you warrant a spot in their program. While they are willing to give a break in regards to previous academic work (you will have to address this and assuage any fears that this could happen again), the recent coursework that you have taken since you have heard your calling life, must be exemplary. You should excel in these courses, as you have purpose and motivation now.

I spoke with some of my instructors about my plans (towards the end of the course, after establishing academic credibility in their course!—again timing and quality of output are important). It is amazing just how much experience and knowledge of the medical school app process some of these professors have; more importantly, they were willing to talk and share the experiences and opinions with me. Since they had not seen my previous academic records, their appraisals were based on the new-me (for lack of a better term) and this support was really important to me. They offered to write letters of recommendation and have proven to be a continued source of support throughout the years. Try to build these relationships as you complete your pre-reqs.

Since I did not enroll into a degree-seeking program, I was told by many advisors that they were not allowed to advise me—uggh! So, I did not make contact with a pre-med advisor until I had already applied (and been quasi-accepted to medical school). I did finally meet a pre-med advisor (I took a course taught by this person) and boy did I wish I had made contact earlier. This person was a wealth of information and support; I even managed to get an absolutely wonderful letter of rec out of the deal. This advisor stated that I should have made contact earlier, as they would have gladly helped out in spite of the school’s policy. Try to find this person at your institution—your chance of success will be greatly improved if you do.

On a side note, and to address MollyP, if you have an advisor who says it can’t be done, find a different one who is willing to support your effort. If you read many of the other postings at this site, you’ll find the advice: if you don’t apply you don’t get in. Unless you want to doom yourself to definitely not getting in… apply.

To sum things up:

  • Do the best you can do in your coursework

  • Be able to clearly communicate your sincerity, motivation, purpose, and maturity in pursing a path in medicine

  • Find and build relationships with resources that are available to you (but make sure you have something to build upon when you do—see first two bullets; they really need more than just I want to become a doctor)

  • Don’t rush at the expense of sacrificing quality in coursework, MCAT, relationship building—make your overall presentation the best it can be given all your life circumstances

  • Be prepared for setbacks, but use them as opportunities to improve your situation

  • Look for alternatives that can still get you into the program you want (e.g., post-baccs, one-year programs); it may be a longer road than you hoped for—but you’ll still end up where you wanted to go!

    Next installment: Interviews and all those bright, young go-getter next to you!