New OPM intro

Hi, My name is Marcia and I am 38 years old and I want to be a doctor when I grow up. I have 5 children, 1 husband, 1 dog, 1 tarantula, and 2 ball pythons.
Unlike many of you here, I did not begin my college career until I was in my 30’s. I began in 2001 when my youngest son was afew months old. I was going to take classes at my community college and become a nurse. I felt I was too old to even consider doing something else which would require more than 2 years of school. When I took my first chemistry class, I knew I wanted more!!! More school that is. I love chemistry, then I took Biology… I loved that as well. I spoke with my chemistry professor and he asked why I didn’t just continue and go to medical school. After laughing at the idea of an old woman in medical school and doing residency. I decided then and there that being a doctor was exactly what I was looking for. As an adult I had never thought of myself as anything other than a mother. It was like I had been strck by lightening. I wanted to be a doctor and now I had just realized it.
Needless to say my husband was not as sure as I was, but he didn’t say too much. We had decided to have another child, so he thought that I would not still want to be a doctor when my mind was on getting pregnant and having children. Well, as you can see his thoughts were wrong. We have discussed it at great length and after the birth of my 5th child, a beautiful little girl, I continued on my journey.
It has taken me longer than normal to get to my junior year. I had to take 2 semesters off while pregnant and immediately following my daughters birth, and I had surgery that cost me another semster. I have a 4.0 GPA and am set to begin my junior year at UIC in the fall. I am taking OChem 1 and Phys 2 along with a couple of gen eds. The pre med advisor told me it would be almost impossible to keep my GPA at a 4 year institution. I hope not, cause I really kinda like it where it’s at.
My question is…I bet you thought I would never get to it, huh?.. What kind of volunteer work, clinical experience etc, do I need.
I have volunteered at school with my children, and on sport teams, and band, etc. I worked as a caretaker for terminally ill elderly patients for 1 year, and I cared for a quad for 6 years. At first I was just a caretaker, but later was trained to do his therapy, bowel programs, and caths, etc. Would this be considered clinical experience, or do I need something else? Also do I really need research experience? I have emailed a few professors, but it is summer and not a lot is going on. I have a list from the Honors College, but that mostly begins in the fall. And how do I find time to commute 2 hours each day to school, take care of 5 children, and do research volunteer work?
Another thing, I see that most non trads go to DO schools. I am going to apply, but I can only apply to schools in my area, fortunately for me, I live in Illinois and there are 6 schools that I can apply to without having to move. Unfortunately, only 1 is DO and 2 are very selective and 2 are not that easy to get accepted to either.
So now that I have written this book…I am so glad that I have found this website, and I appreciate the insightfulness that you answer and post with.

Marcia, welcome to OPM. I have known a couple of other people who started their undergrad careers much later in life - in a weird way, I think it’s an advantage because you KNOW what you want and you know how to work, unlike all of us who were stupid at 18 and didn’t appreciate what we’d need to do to reach our goals (assuming we had a clue about those goals). Good for you - keep up the good work!
It sounds like you’ve had some clinical experience that will help you talk knowledgeably about what’s involved in health care to some extent. What you need now is some exposure to what DOCTORS do - why do you want to do this instead of nursing? or physical therapy? or some other health profession? You will need to be able to speak with understanding about the role of the physician and why it appeals to you. I’d say that some sort of shadowing experience would probably be a good way to go. Search our archives for lots of discussions about how people have arranged shadowing opportunities. It doesn’t need to be a huge ongoing time commitment. So that’s answer #1.
On research, this varies a lot. I wouldn’t worry about getting going right this minute - if you can make better contacts in the fall I’m sure that will be OK. As you point out, it’s one more huge burden on an already tight schedule. It is MUCH less important than keeping up your GPA and doing well on the MCAT. But you will be well-advised to try and find someone to do something with, even if it’s pretty small, because that person will be able to write a good letter of recommendation for you in the not-too-distant future. It’s really more about cultivating relationships and getting a sense of what’s involved in research than doing graduate-level hard science work.
Finally, while it is true that DO schools have been historically more receptive to non-trads, you’ll find lots of us at MD schools too, so don’t fret that most of your choices are allopathic schools. My first introduction to non-trads was when I became part of a small group of women talking to each other about our experiences preparing for medical school - of that handful of women, most of us applied to M.D. schools. One went to U.Miami in her 40s, another was accepted at both Rush and Northwestern in her LATE 40s, I started GWU at age 44. Having SIX schools you can apply to sounds good to me - you are already on your way to having a strong application, so keep up the good work.
Now is the perfect time for you to contact the admissions officers at these schools and start developing relationships with their admissions counselors. Lay it out like you have here - I am determined to attend a local school, I want to have the strongest application I can, here’s what I’ve done so far and what I hope to accomplish, can you point me in the right direction so that I stay on track and submit a good application to your school? I did not do this - didn’t know to do it until too late. By “too late,” I mean that once I was in the process of officially applying, they wouldn’t talk to individual applicants except for the official contact involved in arranging interviews, etc. So talk to them NOW, pick their brains a little, get your foot in the door, keep in touch with them so they remember you. Then when you’re an official applicant, they’ll have a more three-dimensional picture of you, which can only help. I know it seems weirdly early but DO IT NOW.
Good luck!

Oh, I forgot. I am shadowing my OB/GYN. I went last week and he said to come any Thursday that I wanted to hs office. Unfortunately I can’t go to thte hospital, but I can watch him do exams and talk with his patients. He has been very supportive and very encouraging. I told him that I was kind of nervous about not being accepted to medical school and thought maybe I should do something else. He told me that I am a doctor and not to stop until I finished. He talks with me about application and mcat and interviews. So I do have a very great supporter in my corner.

Welcome, Marcia!
You will find there is a great group of people here with great advice.


The pre med advisor told me it would be almost impossible to keep my GPA at a 4 year institution. I hope not, cause I really kinda like it where it’s at.

Well, it will definitely be tough, but people do manage to do it. Good luck with that!

My question is…I bet you thought I would never get to it, huh?.. What kind of volunteer work, clinical experience etc, do I need.

Personally, I think your caretaker experiences are probably great clinical experiences. You MIGHT be a little shy in volunteer land, but its hard to tell. I would STRONGLY encourage you to get some shadowing in with a MD or DO (Most DO schools require a letter of recommendation from a DO when you apply). Despite my clinical experience, I was still asked at every interview about whether or not I had done any shadowing. This may be a standard interview question, but med schools are definitely looking to see that you have a good idea of what you are getting yourself into.

Also do I really need research experience?

No. It helps, but its not necessary. I actually asked my interviewer at a school that is known for research if my lack of research would hurt me. She said that they look for clinical and/or research experience and they don’t expect every candidate to have both. If you have time, you might consider a research methods class or research writing class. I don’t know that it will help your application, but it will help you out a lot when it comes time to start reading research and understanding what they are talking about. A statistics class is also very worthwhile.

Another thing, I see that most non trads go to DO schools.

Not necessarily true. DO schools probably have a larger percentage of non-traditional students than MD schools, but I don’t know that that translates into most non-trads going to MD schools. DO school tend to be a little more non-trad friendly and a little more forgiving of GPA errors. However, MD schools are more accepting of non-trads than they used to be. I applied to all MD schools, and nearly all of my interviewers indicated to me that they felt my non-traditional background would be an asset to their class.
There are several of us on here who have gone or will be going to MD schools. If you are limited by geography, then do what you can to make yourself an attractive candidate to those schools.
I highly recommend that if you have time over the summer you make appointments with someone in admissions at the schools where you are interested in applying. Some of them will give you great advice about what they would like to see in your application, others will give you the standard “research, clinical experience, volunteering” routine.
As for the volunteering, you don’t really say how much volunteering you have, so I can’t really say whether you need more or not. Every pre-med advisor you will talk to will tell you that you need more volunteer experience. However, I know its hard. I didn’t do any volunteering when I went back to school to take the pre-reqs. I just didn’t have time. Adcoms do understand this. They just want to see that you give back to the community. Personally, I think that my volunteer work that I did BEFORE I went back to school was much more valuable because it helped show that I was volunteering because I wanted to, not to pad my application.
Hope this was helpful -

Most of my volunteer experience has been as a mother. I was Art Mom for 1 year and Team Mom several years. I also chaperone on Latin trips, band trips and sport trips. I headed the sausage/cheese fundraiser. I have helped on various other fundraisers. This is not the same volunteer service that most people perform, but as I said; I am a mother and that is how I give to the community. I am a mom to others as well as my own.

I personally see nothing wrong with your volunteer work that you’ve done. Maybe Mary or someone else who has sat on an adcom can chip in. And, definitely ask the admissions people about it when you go in to see them.