killing my confidence...

My ‘thick skin’ is beginning to wane. I am being hit from all angles and walks of life that applying this year is a good idea and a horrible idea. I listed my info and some burning ques…

My background info:

I graduated with a degree in biology and chemistry in 2007 a GPA of 3.1. I was in the premed program at the time, thus all my prerequisites are fulfilled. I attempted the MCAT back then and only received a 20. At that point I felt I wasn’t ready to apply with those “stats” and I wasn’t mentally prepared nor aware of what medical school would require. Therefore I accepted a job as an intraoperative neuromonitoring tech, which entailed working daily in the operating room. If you are unfamiliar with this job, I provide neuromonitoring during, mainly neurosurgery, but orthopedic and general surgery as well. This job has provided me with years and a vast experience in surgery (over 4000 surgical cases) and with many types of surgeons specifically. In my time since school, I have began a family and learned/experienced/shado wed as many physicians in different fields as I possibly could. I feel that with everything I have learned, now is my time to apply. I know better than a lot of applicants what I am entering into and I am not only ready but know without a shadow of a doubt this is what I want to do with my life. I took an undergraduate anatomy and physiology course last semester, received an A, and I am currently enrolled in graduate courses virology and molecular biotechnology (so far both A’s). As I am still a full time working mother, these classes and the biology masters program is online. I have had a few medical school application consultants tell me that online courses have a stigma. I tried the MCAT again last year and only reached a 23. So here are the questions…

  • are online course/masters programs frowned upon?

  • Is this taken with a ‘grain of salt’ for full time working applicants?

  • How will a 23 MCAT hurt me? Should I still apply this year? I have read a lot of inspiring posts/blogs that med school is still viable with that kind of score but ill admit Im very intimated.

  • As a non traditional applicant and out from school for so long, how does the LOR from a professor/premed committee work as I have no real resource for this at this point?

  • What steps can I take that I haven’t thus far?

  • Will a transcript with a 3.8-4.0 GPA in graduate level courses help and how with respect to my undergraduate transcript? Should I just take 12hrs (max hrs allowed as ‘non degree seeking’) or apply for full masters program?

  • Does all my surgical/medical experience make a difference?

    I am so excited to begin this chapter of my life and I know I will succeed. Some tell me that this excitement is causing me to rush things… thoughts?

Lots of stuff here, but I’ll touch on a few things.

To start off with, it is possible to get in with the MCAT score you have, but that will be a challenge for you. Some stats, for perspective. For MD schools, about 6% of those applying with an MCAT between 21 and 23 were accepted. For DO schools, about 18% of people applying with an MCAT between 20 and 24 were accepted (sources: factstab… and ata-and-… ). Note that the MD numbers are for white students, if you’re some kind of URM, then your chances will increase somewhat. My suggestion would be to see if there’s some way you can improve that to increase your chances. Even 2 or 3 more points would be a big help (or whatever it works out to for the new test).

LoRs are going to be tough, and how that falls out will vary from school to school. I would suggest you call the schools you’re interested in and ask them what their LoR requirements are and if you can substitute other letters. You may be able to get one of the professors from your online courses to help. I think you do have a good pool of people to draw on with your work experience, as some of those doctors you work with and/or your supervisor(s) would be a good source for letters. I struggled with the same issue.

Best of luck in your endeavors! If this is something you truly want to do, you will figure out a way to succeed.

Sounds like a strong clinical background. The trick now is to take away any doubt that you’re an academic risk. A good showing of recent academic success in upper level sciences will help, combined with a solid MCAT, can help alleviate some of the potential concern. You need to take a step back and figure out what is keeping you from scoring better on the MCAT. There are books/programs out there to help with content review and study strategies that can help you out. With the new MCAT, the test may play better to your needs (don’t know for sure).

Now for your questions…

  • Online I think does carry some stigma, but you have to do what you can with your available resources and your current responsibilities. Taking them through a more rigorous school can make the credits seem more valuable, in my opinion. I did take some online prereqs after a traditional undergrad experience. (Details available in some other posts). Not every school accepts online credits, but I think more are opening up to them.

  • Masters degree GPA is differentiated on AMCAS. This won’t necessarily hurt or help as long as your undergrad GPA doesn’t get you screened out of places. Otherwise, the classes should be taken for what they are…upper level science classes. I think it’s the masters programs that don’t actually contribute to a students strength in the sciences that don’t help or really hurt, like an MPH or MBA. Sure, they teach useable skills, but not any that show you can handle the academics of med school. If you are enrolled in a full masters program, all the schools I looked at specified that you are expected to complete the program prior to matriculation. In other words, plan on finishing it or raising a flag as to why you start things without finishing them.

  • in short, yes a 23 hurts. On bennards post, the data shows that only 3.5% with a 3.1/23 were accepted. I’m sure they had eye watering applications otherwise or a hospital wing named after the family. i think the mean MD matriculant MCAT is between 30-32. Slightly lower for DO. Not saying you can’t do it with a 23, but I wouldn’t put money on it.

  • LORs depend on school policy. Not all schools require letters from specific people, though many prefer/require prof letters. I limited my applications to schools that either didn’t absolutely require prof letters or ones that I contacted and had the requirement waived. I was 9 years removed from the classroom and didn’t want any online prof LORs, for obvious reasons. I had 2 docs, my supervisor and my commander write me letters.

  • I think your thousands of cases helps, but only as much as you can explain how they help. Much of the application asks you not only what you did, but how it has made you a better person and/or motivated you on your quest for med school. Only you can answer those questions.

    I would continue taking the upper sciences and excelling in order to solidify your more recent GPA. Consider taking a formal MCAT prep course. I did the Kaplan on-demand to balance work/family/study and felt it was a great program. Also, research which schools you’re specifically interested in to see if the requirements have changed. Next cycle is possibly full of changes. I’d recommend purchasing the MSAR online subscription or reviewing the PDF doc available online through AACOMAS.

    Good luck!

Thank you so much, I cant articulate how much I appreciate your help. I just wanted to ask you couple more things if that’s okay? You mentioned continuing graduate level courses but may or may not enrolling in masters program? Is your point that fully enrolling in masters programs would be that red flag of explaining how I plan to finish it or would it give admissions ‘ammo’ that I should finish it and THEN apply? Also these transcripts dont appear as an online program. I had a surgeon that I work with tell me that if it doesnt say it, they dont ask then dont bring it up. Also because I would have to go the university at the end for a comprehensive exam that it is “technically” not online. This same physician told me that he appreciates that I am a non traditional applicant but that this world hasn’t changed much and that I should appear as traditional as possible. (This was in context of writing about my kids in my personal statement and he believes I should revise that idea.) Do you agree? Again thank you so much

Grad school isn’t a red flag. You can apply while you’re in grad school without issue. I just wanted you to know that some schools require that you complete the grad program you’re in prior to matriculation. There are plenty of reasons to start a program and then drop it, but it can be seen as a failure to stick to an academic program.

I had online classes (entire MBA plus some post bacc classes, including 3 labs) and was fine. None of my transcripts spelled out “online course,” but it’s not something I tried to hide. I viewed it as a demonstration that I can succeed in multiple modalities and can teach myself when the situation dictates. You don’t have to take the same approach. Definitely don’t lie about it (especially if the school does not accept online courses) if asked, but I don’t think it’s necessary to highlight them as online. You may want to check the course number and section number. 3 classes in my post bacc didn’t include online in the description but had a unique course number. One other class had the same course number but a unique section number that was specific to distance learning. Will med schools know this? I don’t know.

I was no where near traditional. Finished undergrad in 04 with an engineering degree. Prereqs completed over a 6 year period, one at a time. Active duty military for 10 years in a non medical field. Zero notable volunteer hours and minimal clinics exposure. You are who you are, and you need to market that fact. Try to relate everything you’ve done to how it has made you a better future physician. What you learn from things you do is maybe more important than the act itself…

Regarding your personal statement, that’s your story and it should reflect who you are. I was told by several people not to mention my family in my personal statement, because it might be seen as a disadvantage to me.

My family, and the experiences that we went through during pregnancy and birth of my daughter directly contributed to why I wanted to practice medicine, and it featured prominently in my personal statement. I talked about those facts and my family openly in my interviews. And I got accepted with all that being known. So, if your family is related to why you want to practice medicine, I’d definitely include it.

I would advise against enrolling in a grad program. It seems that you already have the academic preparation you need. Get some strong LOR’s from the surgeons you work with and check with schools you are interested in regarding their LOR policy. Even one academic LOR will help. I’d put most of your effort into doing an MCAT prep course and retaking the MCAT to improve your score. I’d apply early even if your second MCAT score won’t be available till July (ie take early in June). THat seems to be the weak spot in your application so I’d concentrate your effort there to get the most help for your chances.