New OPM Member Seeking Guidance Support

I’ve been reading numerous OPM postings recently, and I finally felt inspired to post my own message with the hope of receiving some much needed guidance and support. I apologize in advance for the length of this message, and I’m very grateful to thoughs of you who take the time to read my message and post a response.
First, some relevant background information…I’m 30 years old, and I’m strongly considering applying to medical school - something I had planned to do all throughout college, but never actually did. I was a neuroscience major at an Ivy League university, and completed all the pre-med course requirements. My academic performance during my Freshman and Sophomore years was average-to-mediocre, but it improved dramatically during my Junior and Senior years. While in college, I conducted basic science and clinical research, worked extensively in a clinical setting, and was even published in JAMA.
When I graduated college, I decided to take what I thought would be one year off before applying to medical school. During that year I worked in the emerging technologies group at a prominent academic medical center. As part of my job, I worked with numerous physicians, several of whom strongly discouraged me from applying to medical school. As an impressionable 22-year old, this message started to make me question my intended course of action.
At this same time, I started to become very interested in computing and the Internet, which was just starting to become a commercially interesting phenomenon. This further confused me about my career objectives, because, for the first time, I felt passionate about another field.
Long story short, I didn’t end up applying to medical school as I had planned, but instead, I left my job with the academic medical center, and joined a leading Internet consulting firm. I stayed with that firm for a year-and-a-half, and since that time I have earned an MBA at a top-10 program, worked at IBM’s world-renowned Almaden Research Center, lived in South Africa, traveled extensively, and worked in the strategy group of a global biotech company. I’m currently working for a global medical device company, and managing the development of software solutions that enable multiple devices to work together as an integrated system.
Without sounding immodest, I’m proud of these achievements, but here’s the problem, a day hasn’t gone by that I haven’t questioned my decision not to go to med school. Furthermore, I’ve realized that I will never be professionally fulfilled working as, what I like to call, a “corporate monkey”.
So, I no longer want to regret my decision not to apply to med school, and I’m trying to figure out what to do about it. I’m strongly considering taking the August 2004 MCAT and submitting some applications. With this in mind, I have several questions / concerns for which I’m seeking answers / feedback.
1. Considering it’s been over 8 years since I originally studied the pre-med subjects, what is the most effective method of preparing for the MCAT?
2. Will the medical schools to which I apply honor the credit I received for the pre-med courses I took during college, or do I have to retake some / all of those courses?
3. Virtually all of my professional experience has revolved around the life sciences and the delivery of health care. How will this impact the strength of my candidacy? What else should I do now to maximize the strenght of my candidacy?
4. Which med schools, if any, favor non-traditional applicants?
Thank you for your time and consideration.

JMG, what an interesting story you have to tell. While it is unfortunate that you got those discouraging words at age 22 - had you gone ahead to med school at that time, you would have missed out on the chance to achieve some terrific things. Your story will be an attractive and interesting one to many admissions committees.
on to your questions - the age of your prerequisites is, unfortunately, right on the cusp of being too old for some, not all, schools. I truly don’t think that you need to go back to school to “prove that you can still hack it,” as some of us have been told; you’ve not been out THAT long, and you’ve done graduate-level work since then and worked very hard in your career, so you clearly have the ability and work ethic to achieve a lot. There is no across-the-board rule about prerequisites, though. Some places don’t care, others will say no more than 5 or 7 years old. So you’ll need to start contacting the med schools you might like to apply to, and find out what their preferences are.
Reviewing for the MCAT many years removed from taking the coursework is a tough haul, but I know there are people on here who’ve done it. Hopefully one of them will give their recipe for success. I know it can be done.
You talk about how discouraging those doctors were. What did you see, at that time, about the life of a physician and the delivery of health care that corroborated their stories and made you hesitate? Conversely, what have you seen first-hand since then that has caused you to change your perception? You’ll need to specifically address this thought process in your personal statement - illustrate WHY you are SURE, now, when you weren’t then.
Non-trad friendly schools - you’re not old enough to have to worry about that Seriously, if you search for that phrase here you will find that I’ve had a LOT to say on that topic in the past which I won’t rehash here except to say that I believe that nowadays, almost all schools are receptive to applications from non-trad students. It’s up to you to make the sale to them.
Good luck!


1. Considering it’s been over 8 years since I originally studied the pre-med subjects, what is the most effective method of preparing for the MCAT?

I must echo what Mary said, being this far removed, it is going to be a challenge to adequately prepare for the basic sciences of the MCAT. Furthermore, as static of some of the basic sciences appear while you were an undergrad, they are far more malleable than they appeared. Therefore, I suspect you would need some solid review. If you are one of those blessed with loads of self-discipline, there are any number of review texts out there, many of them under the guise of MCAT directed. Or, there is always the option of auditing courses…or even repeating the ones where your grades were lack-luster. In fact, no matter the age of the courses, if your pre-requisites are among those courses where you professed to have “avereage to mediocre” performance - then I would emphatically encourage you to retake all of them, esp the ones with sub-standard grades. You can swear that you can handle med school until you are blue in the face, but if you cannot demonstrate that claim on paper, it will not stand up in the court of the Admissions Committees.
Also to add…as helpful as I personally feel that formal prep courses are (i.e: Kaplan TPR and such), do not rely upon them to teach you the material…or, in your case, re-teach. Those courses are superb in reviewing materials largely “fresh” on your mind, but would not be a good way, in my humble opinion, to review info from many years out or as a method of learning it the first time.
If you are truly committed to this path, then take your time to do it correctly. There are truly no short cuts. And, if you have to add a year here or there, it is really inconsequential in the long run. Conversely, you cut too many corners or overload yourself trying to force a timetable, you can very easily & irritrievably shoot yourself in the foot…then what do you have?

2. Will the medical schools to which I apply honor the credit I received for the pre-med courses I took during college, or do I have to retake some / all of those courses?

This will vary a great deal from program to program. There is an AMCAS publication that provides much of this info. It is published & allegedly updated annually. You should be able to find it at virtually any of the chain bookstores…Barron’s also makes a similar guide. many of the schools will provide info on how old a courses they will accept. If it’s not there, call them.

3. Virtually all of my professional experience has revolved around the life sciences and the delivery of health care. How will this impact the strength of my candidacy? What else should I do now to maximize the strenght of my candidacy?

Formulate your game plan just as you would a business proposal to a new firm: demonstrate that you have the potential to maximize a return & minimize the program’s exposure to risk. In essence, that you will make it through med school to become a solid physician & a positive representative of the product they turn out. So, present your story as an interesting path that allowed you to grow both personally & professionally. DO NOT appear apologetic or regretful (is that a real word?) for taking the more scenic route. Presented in that context, your story should highlight your motivation for becoming a physician & your capacity to fulfill the obligations that will be set for you.
You must be able to articulate why those docs were able to suay you from applying & now are back into the fray. You will also need to be able to succinctly substantiate why your choosing to change careers.
O/w, you may wish to do some volunteer work or physician shadowing so that you can claim to have had recent exposure to the profession. That way, you can speak more from “in the know” than with only supposition.

4. Which med schools, if any, favor non-traditional applicants?

Essentially, most any school, to some degree or other, is receptive to a QUALIFIED nontrad applicant. Some schools require more of a sales job, but I do not see any of them as being truly adamantly opposed. However, there definitely programs with a longer track record of admitting nontrads. My alma mater Kirksville College of Osteo Med is certainly one of many. If you search these forums, you will that this question has cropped up many many times & has never been answered with a concrete list. Believe me, this is not from lack of effort! However, I think the reason is far more due to there not being a defined subset of nontrad firnedly schools…getting in as nontrad is far more a product of the individual’s own efforts & tactics.

I wholeheartedly agree with all that OldManDave and Mary had to say. I’ll just put in my two cents:
The same dissuasion was given to me when I was 22 and that led me to search for meaning in the computer programming field. I subsequently asked the offender, my brother, about it last year, and he denied ever making the statement and enjoys his practice. What are brother’s for?
Thanks to your exposure to medicine, you are a much better candidate than myself, and I started Pitt Med in August. I had NO relavant lab or medical experience, volunteer or otherwise, when I applied. If I had, I probably would have gained admittance to my state schools…or possibly discovered that I’d rather do something else.
I urge you to get a good feeling for why you want to do this because, personally, I’m having a tough time studying thanks to excessive daydreaming. At 34, I figured I needed to get admitted and THEN decide if the medical field is right for me. Can you guess what is wrong with this picture? But, then again, very few of my classmates are 100% sure, so I’m not alone. Last year, I was just like you, sitting in front of the computer each day thinking, “What if…” Now I only have those thoughts during exam weeks, and overall I’m happier about my future.
As far as the MCAT is concerned, I used the ExamKrackers set, plus a biology textbook from the library and the AAMC practice exams, and did well. If I had to do it over again, I’d also purchase the EK 101 Verbal passages book. You can also find official used Kaplan materials on eBay. I suspect you have the dicipline to not need a course.
Good luck,

JMG, there is nothing much else that I could add except my warmest wlecome. Glad to have you here.