Older 'premed' needs advice badly

Hello All:
Out of many discussion boards I have visited, this one seems the best suited to me. I've been thinking of applying to med school, and need some advice, because everyone is telling me its a bad move and I'll lose too much money, time, etc., and that I'm too old to be going back to school.
Here's some background info: I'm 29, married, and working as an attorney in Chicago at a big firm. I just graduated from law school (Notre Dame) in 2002 (GPA 3.47/4.0) and am absolutely miserable working in the legal profession. I graduated from the U. of Illinois (champaign) in 1996 with a B.S. in Biochem (ugpa 2.85/4.0, sci gpa 2.7/4.0). Took the MCAT in '95 and got a 29. I originally wanted to go to med school, but my grades were pretty bad and I knew there was no chance of me getting into a U.S. school with those numbers (regarding the bad grades, I was immature and didn't study when in college). I took one semester of grad courses as a student at large in the sciences and did well, 3.4/4.0 (biochem, o. chem, genetics), while working (and I worked for 3 years as a lab tech before I went to law school). I went to law school in sheer desperation - I was broke, medicine seemed unattainable, and I was being pressured into finding a 'prestigious' career by family. So, now I'm working as a patent lawyer making more money than I would've ever thought possible, but my life seems extremely empty and unfullfilling. I've also got about a 100K student debt thanks to law school. My wife is a 2nd year OB/GYN resident, and keeps telling me medicine is not as great as I think it is and that I should just plug away at my job to pay off loans and save money for retirement. However, I disagree. I've been thinking of applying to a number of MS programs, the type that prepare you for med school, or alternatively, to caribbean med schools.
Am I doing the right thing? I've always wanted to be a physician, it is a profession I could see myself doing for the rest of my life and feel comfortable with. I can't envision that with the legal field - all you do is help large companies get richer and richer, and litigation is a process mind to grind the soul into the dirt…
I understand that in this age of managed care, increasing liability costs and skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums that medicine is not what it used to be. But, I've learned my lesson, and will never do anything just for money again. I'm sincerely interested in becoming a physician and helping and educating people regarding their health. I've matured alot throughout my 20's - got married, got a grad degree (and did well), and have worked for about 4 years full time.
Any advice is greatly appreciated, either regarding strategy for admission or whether I should should just give up my dream of becoming a physician and just grind away at the law firm (note, this is not really an option, I'm extremely unhappy and a lot of it stems from my unfulfilling, unsatisfying job).

Hi there,
Well, first off, I don’t think 29 is particularly old so I wouldn’t let that stop you. As for the debt, I think you should obviously try to pay some of it down but you and your wife have enough earning potential that you will never starve - - though you may be less comfortable than you anticipated during the decades of paying back the loans.
Here are my suggestions. Spend some time “job shadowing” physicians in several different fields you are interested in - - try to spend at least one full work day with each physician you shadow. Also start volunteering. I think you need to make sure that you are absolutely passionate about medicine to justify the additional headache you will go through in pursuing that route. Some of the things that bother you about law firm life - - long hours, repetitive/boring work are present in medicine as well and you don’t want to jump from the frying pan into the fire!
Second, why don’t you also spend some time job shadowing PAs - - this is a much shorter program that I think you should at least consider carefully.
Third, as for admissions, why don’t you research DO schools that may be more accepting of your nontraditional background. There is also a MD program in Israel that I have heard good things about. I would think that you should talk to a premed advisor, probably at your undergrad school. My hunch is that you may need to prove yourself by doing well at more science courses.
I think the most important thing is that you make your decision not as a “reaction” to your current working situation, but as a carefully thought out choice. And, I would not listen to other people, harsh as this sounds, since that is what got you into trouble in the first place!
Good luck.

Welcome to OPM. My opinion is that if you’ve really thought about it and are pretty sure you want to be an MD (or don’t forget DO); you should do it. I can’t imagine ever doing a job that I didn’t love (and in fact “are miserable working in”)just because the money is good. It’s true that it’s going to take time, money, etc… but what the heck.
At 29 you are older than some and younger than others. I am 31 at this point and still taking pre-reqs. To be competetive, it still seems like you need bump up your GPA and MCAT. As you stated 2.85 ugpa (defineitely not good enough), 3.4 grad (better but not great), and 29 MCAT (also not great especially in light of your gpa). Also, with your undergrad dating back to 96 you probably need to inquire to your med schools of interest about the acceptable age for the prerequisite classes. Your classes may be too old now or may become too old by the time that you apply. Seven years seems to be a common limit floated around the posts but seems to vary by school. So, you may need to retake those basic science pre-reqs (e.g. general bio, general chemistry, O-chem, and physics). On the bright side, if you do need to retake some courses you can increase your gpa. Also, it would serv as review for the MCAT.
You mention that you have substantial educational debt but also a substantial salary. I’m not sure exactly what “more money than I would’ve ever though possible” is, but the amount that comes to my mind when I think of that would enable me to pay off the loans and even save enough to pay for school in 2-3 years. It may require a bit of a lifestyle change.
The M.S. programs may or may not be worth it. It seems like admissions folks don’t give much weight to graduate degrees. Have you looked into some of the post bac programs in or around Chicago. Here is a link to the AAMC website for post back programs. AAMC Postbaccalaureate Premedical Programs.
I don’t know if I would apply to carribean med schools without trying to get into U.S. schools at least a couple of times. Not because I don’t beleive the education will be adequate but because of the extra hoops there would be to be eligible to get a U.S. residency.
That’s what I think. There are a bunch of folks here who are farther along in the process that I’m sure will chime in and let you know what they think. Good luck!!!

Thanks for the advice. I've heard about the 7 year rule on other posts as well. If I were to repeat all my premed courses, would those grades be averaged with my 'expired' pre-med gpa, or would it be looked at in isolation, thereby giving me a 'new' pre-med gpa? It would definitely be worth repeating these courses if I could achieve a 'new' gpa, untainted by my old one. However, even were my pre-med gpa's averaged, it would only result in around a 3.3 (assuming I got close to a 4.0 the second time around).
As for salary, the big law firms in Chicago (and I work at one of them) pay 125K/year to new associates, with about a 10K salary bump every year. I owe around 100K, so you are correct, perhaps it's better to work for 2-3 years, pay off as much of my loans as possible, do a post-bac program, and retake the MCAT (ugh). I'll also look into shadowing some physicians.
As for carib schools, I've done quite a bit of research into them, and a handful seem legit (st. george, ross, AUC, SABA). It appears that good USMLE scores are extremely important, as well as doing rotations at greenbook approved teaching hospitals for licensing considerations. The temptation of the caribbean (aside from the weather) is that the application cycle is quick, I could probably start as early as this fall or spring semester, and that the programs are only 40 months long. The drawbacks are limited residency choices as well as the fact that if you don't pass the USMLEs with good scores (or god forbid fail), then you'll get a horrible residency, if you match at all. Thus, I could be a resident by going the carib route whereas I'd be an M1 going the U.S. route.
Finally, regarding the MS programs, a few toute high acceptance rates into med school upon completion of the program. Chicago Med has one that will take you into their program, Midwestern Univ. also has a MS in biomed sciences where you take courses with the med and pharmacy students. I thought that by doing well in a program such as this, you could prove without a doubt the ability to handle graduate medical coursework. Am I wrong? Has anyone else looked into this?
Thanks for your respenses.

Hey there,
Welcome to OPM. A couple of things caught my attention about your posts. One thing is that your wife is a resident? Wouldn’t that make your going to a carib school kind of tough for you guys? You plan to be seperated while you’re in school?
Also, it sounds like you are ready to rush in head-over-heels. It might be better for you to take some time, make sure this is REALLY what you want to do. Do some shadowing & volunteering. Take some classes. When your wife finishes residency, you’ll be in a better situation - both with respect to debt and her ability to move with you.
You may or may not have to repeat your prereqs, but you will definitely have to retake the MCAT. I had some prereqs that were 13 years old when I applied. But, I don’t think many (if any) schools will allow you to apply with a MCAT score over 5 years old. Kaplan or TPR is a great way to review the old stuff if you feel like you need to re-learn it for the MCAT. As for your question - every class you ever took at a college will count towards your final GPA. However, an upward trend will help a lot. And kicking butt on the MCAT will do wonders. I bet you can too - you must have aced the LSAT to get into Notre Dame with your GPA.
I don’t think doing a MS will help that much. The schools use your undergrad GPA for cutoffs and such, so a good grad GPA won’t help there. However, post-bacc classes factor into your undergrad GPA so they do help. Of course, the MS programs you mention “feed” the medical school, but I think the acceptance rates are not that high (don’t know this for sure) and if you don’t get in that school, you’ll have to apply elsewhere. There are some post-bacc programs that are similar - that “feed” into the med school - but from what I hear they are full-time and expensive (and you’re already worried about debt). Might be better to keep working and take classes at night, or work part-time.
I’ll bet you could start taking classes this summer, take next year’s April MCAT, and apply next summer. Then you’d be ready to start school in the fall of 2005. Totally doable - especially if you don’t have a whole lot of prereqs to take. And you don’t have to have them ALL completed when you apply (I still needed English and a physics lab when I applied, although it’s better to have them done). Oh, and you could start volunteering or shadowing right now before you start summer classes. Just an idea. smile.gif
Best of luck to you!

Yes, my wife is a resident, and yes, we'd have to be seperated for 18 months or so if I went to the carib (basic sciences portion). The upside would be that I'd be able to come back to Chicago for rotations around the time my wife finishes her residency. She could then work, while I finish school. Then, I'd have to try and find a residency (hopefully in the Chicago area), while she continued to work. Tough, but not impossible, to pull off, right? Plus, she'd be able to come down for the 2 week breaks between trimesters to visit, or I'd go home.
As for classes, that will be tough. I work long, hard hours at the big firm, and it makes it difficult to pursue education while working. Still, a night class or two might be doable (sp?). I'll definitely look into it. As I mentioned before, I'll also consider volunteering or shadowing a physician. As for the MCAT, I dread taking that test again. I am a good standardized test taker (got an 85th percentile on the LSAT), and my 29 MCAT was the result of 2-3 weeks of studying. So, if I take Kaplan, perhaps I can increase my MCAT score.
Regarding the pre-req's, though, I have them all. I've taken 2 semester of gen chem with lab, 2 semesters of o chem with lab, 3 semesters of bio, 2 semesters of physics with lab, english, etc. Plus, I've got a lot of biochem classes with lab, physical chem, physio…etc. I was a biochem major, so I took all that stuff. The problem was that I was immature and not into school at the time, thus a horrible GPA.
Final question, if I do repeat most of these prereq's, will schools factor them into my GPA? My undergrad GPA is set, I don't know if there is anything I can do to change it. Will taking additional undergrad courses be considered? Perhaps I should contact my undergard pre-med counseler?

A few quick thoughts in addition to those I noted above.
First, I would be very careful about the decision to spend so much time apart from a spouse - - particularly if the two of you are in different countries. I know it all sounds fine in theory but long distance is incredibly difficult and painful. I have seen some marriages grow stronger from it and some disintegrate. If you waited, I think your wife could practice in the Carib. once she is done - - that would allow both of you to move together.
Second, I am not an expert on this, but it is my impression that you would be much better served graduating from a U.S. D.O. school than a Caribean MD. There is substantial prejudice against Carib. grads in the residency application process, much less so against U.S. DOs. Also, you should look carefully at the statistics of of what types of U.S. residencies Carib. grads place in - - I had always heard they were mostly primary care spots. This is great if you are interested in primary care but if you aren't it may be a problem. Here again, job shadow some primary care docs. Do you have any ideas as to what fields in medicine you are interested in - - I think this may bear on your strategy for med school applications.
Third, why don't you call the admissions offices of the Chicago area med schools, explain your situation (do find the right person to talk to - - an admissions director or counselor - - not the secretary!), and ask them what they would rec. for someone in your position: post-bac vs night classes versus masters degree.
Best Wishes.

QUOTE (rbanerji @ Mar 27 2003, 11:03 PM)
Final question, if I do repeat most of these prereq's, will schools factor them into my GPA? My undergrad GPA is set, I don't know if there is anything I can do to change it. Will taking additional undergrad courses be considered? Perhaps I should contact my undergard pre-med counseler?

Yes, repeat classes will be factored into your undergrad GPA. However, they will not erase your old grades. When you do your AMCAS application, you will input every class you ever took along with the grade and it's all added together to get your overall GPA. Post-bacc counts in your undergrad GPA. Graduate work is bookkept seperately.
Good idea to call a school or two and see what they recommend. Or, go to the OPM convention and ask some experts directly!

Yes, perhaps an osteopathic school is the route. My wife is a D.O. from Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. I might give them a call and explain my situation, I'm sure they'll be willing to give advice to the spouse of a grad.
As far as time apart from my spouse, yes, it would be difficult, be we've done it before when I was in law school and my wife was doing rotations (albeit Chicago to South Bend is not a far distance and we saw each other every weekend). Months apart would be much more difficult, and I don't know if it would be worth it if my marriage fell apart…
Regarding medicine, I am interested in a primary care specialty (although I don't know what), although this could easily change once i get into med school and do rotations.
Regarding my desire to be a physician, it has always been there. I gave up a few years after I graduated from undergrad because the situation looked hopeless. Plus, I was feeling bitter, and decided I could make the big bucks in patent law with far less effort than it took to go to med school, and make the same, if not better money than most docs. Well, that was a bad decision born out of bitterness and frustration, and I have come to realize that money is not everything, and that it's much more important to have a fulfilling career with longevity than I'm truly interested in. I find myself reading the AMA newsletter my wife gets and throwing away my American Bar Assoc. journal. I'm intrigued by issues that affect physicians, such as the liability crisis, and problems with managed care. I wrote a paper in law school regarding the liability crisis and how the fear of lawsuits contributes to the practice of defensive medicine.
Thanks to everyone for their advice…I'll make a point to speak with some admissions counselers at the chicago schools as well as get a hold of my a pre-med counseler at U of I. Best of luck to everyone here!

I’d think about changing the “empty and unfulfilling” before making a major career shift that will cost a big pile of money.
I have had four very different jobs, but I have never had one yet that fixed all the unfulfilling aspects of the others. The problem is usually within us, not the job (unfortunately).
There are plenty of lawyers doing good and fulfilling work (perhaps not as patent lawyers). Be thankful that you are making a ton of money and that this option is available to you. Work part time, change firms, do what you have to - pay off some of that debt. Use your money to do good things. Find ways to make your life full and fulfilling. Have fun. Devote time and energy to strengthening your marriage. Then make a decision when you are motivated by clarity and satisfaction. You are still young and you have plenty of time.

it was in a completely different context, but I was once told “be sure you are running towards something and not just running away from where you are” -

Hi there,
Before you invest another $100,000+ into education, do a little shadowing of a physician that is an attending in some specialty that you find interesting. You need to get a very realistic picture of what medicine is about for the long haul. Residency (I am a General Surgery Resident) is nothing like practice so you can't really use you wife's experience as a guage. Perhaps you might not like the OB-Gyn lifestyle and might find something like Preventive Medicine or Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation more to your favor. Both of these residency programs are a little less extreme than OB-Gyn.
You do have to ask yourself what draws you to medicine and whether you can find a happy medium that is not so expensive. You will be out of the job situation for four years (well, maybe three) so that you need to be sure that you can live on your wife's income for that length of time. As you know, residents don't make too much money during residency and Chicago is pretty expensive.
Finally, I do want to echo what has been said above about going to an off-shore medical school. Even if you do a residency in the United States, you are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to residency. Even though you are an American citizen, you will be a Foreign Medical Grad and will have difficulty getting into a good residency program. You might find yourself limited to very few programs and specialties that would even grant you an interview. (My residency program UVa General Surgery did not even interview any Foreign Medical Grads, US Citizen or not , this year).
Good luck and welcome to the forums!

I agree with all of the above superb advice. However, I have a burning question.
You got into Notre Dame Law with a 2.85 gpa? Did you crush the LSAT? Or is it that easy to get into a law school? I'm sort of floored…
Medicine is a hard lifestyle. It truly is a life's passion, I believe. Folks who wind up in medicine because they weren't finding other things interesting to do tend to be pretty unhappy; the demands are simply too great. It's hard to assess your level of interest in practing medicine, but you're looking at another seven to ten plus years of training and an additional $50-200K in debt here, so it's something to pursue with a significant degree of certainty, in my opinion.
Good luck.

Thanks to everyone for their great advice - it is certainly possible that I'm more interested in running away from the law as opposed to running towards medicine. I'm short on time and it's difficult to fully articulate my desire to go into medicine, but it certainly there. As for going to ND Law, I did do well on the LSAT, and law schools factor in difficulty of undergrad majors when assessing GPA. Thus, a 'tough' major such as biochem gets kudos from law school admissions, and may be equivalent to a higher GPA in an 'easier' major such as psych or sociology, or the like (nothing against these majors, I'm not trying to start a war, I'm just using them as examples). Couple a tough major from a good school with a high LSAT, and you're already competitive at some decent schools. Throw in a well thought out and articulated personal statement, and you'd be surprised at where you can go. Plus, law school, aside from perhaps the top ten programs (Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc.) is not that tough to get into. If you truly want to be a lawyer, there is some ABA accredited school that you can get into somewhere in the U.S., but this is just not true for medicine.
Anyways, I'd certainly be interested in hearing why some of you decided to go into medicine after successful careers in other fields. Did you dislike what you did? Or would you have gone into medicine no matter what, even if you were making a million dollars a year? I often think that if I could win the lotto, I could pay off all my bills, repeat my premeds, and then shoot for a U.S. school - in other words, medicine is something I'd be interested in pursuing regardless of my financial status. Thanks to all for your advice.

I don’t know if this help but my story …
(typing is so therapeutic)
My career has been fairly strange. My political experience started early – I started volunteering on political campaigns at 10. After college I moved to Washington, DC to work on Capitol Hill. Interned (before it was a bad thing) at the White House, worked for Senator Feinstein, got some other political jobs, started doing advance for the White House. Left that to do PR at a a record company (BMG), left that to go back to do advance first for President Clinton and then the Gore campaign. My carreer was a lot of press work and a lot of politics. It was fun and exciting and I felt like I was making a difference in some way.
As a side thing, science and medicien always interested me. And I was in a profession (well, at the record company that was not about helping people – that is one dirty business) that – and you probably don’t believe this – where people really do want to make a difference. Then I took a trip to Nepal and it changed my life. I got over my fear of heights and met Dr. Jim Litch. He worked (for free) in Khunde. I saw what he did and thought – that’s what I should be doing. This was in 2000.
I thought I was too old – had never heard of this place – and I tried to put the idea out of my mind. I looked into post bacc programs but not seriously. Then in August 2001 I got an email from a friend not too much younger than me who was leaving her job at Lifetime Television for the Columbia program and I was set – I was going to try. Over a year later and several classes done, I am about to quit my job (at the UN) and do this full time.
Now, I like to say I was just killed by the 2000 election mess – and that’s not untrue – but I couldn’t do this because I hated something else. I could stop doing what I am doing because I hate it but this decision has been the hardest of my life. My self esteem was not anywhere near what it needed to be but it’s growing and for better or worse, I have to do this.
Anyway, enough about me.
And as I always do – THANK YOU to everyone here who posts their stories and offers support and and advice. Makes a world of difference and keeps me on the path.

Have you ever looked into other areas of the law ? I am a Medical Malpractice Trial Lawyer - and I'm starting the Post Bac program at Loyola in Chicago this year.
It is the work with medical experts that has firmed up my decision to pursue medicine. I enjoy the trial work, but more than that I absolutley LOVE the learning and applying the medicine and science. Perhaps you could better meld your current profession with your goal by working a field of law where you work closely with doctors - or defend doctors in civil litigation or before state licensing boards. I plan on continuing my current law practice while I complete my pre-reqs. Have you considered continuing to practice law while preparing to retake the MCAT etc ?
Did your earlier post state that your wife graduated from CCOM ? I would think that if you explored CCOM, you should be able to contact someone there who could direct you as to what they would want to see as far as further work- ie Post Bac vs. MS - to support your acceptance. Also, like someone else noted - CCOM (and the other DO programs) seem much more likely to embrace your non-traditional path.
If you have your heart set on an MD, and you want to update or enhace your science background, be careful about pursuing the MS. The advice I have been given is that pursuing advanced degrees (or even a second undergrad degree) should be done only if you have a strong desire to learn the topic of study. It seems a path towards updating your pre-reqs makes more sense to me.
The Loyola Program holds spots in the night classes for the PBPM students and gives registration priority over all undergrad students. This could allow you to continue to work (although I must admit that I don't know the kind of hours patent lawyers work) while updating the pre-reqs.
Good Luck

Hi, thanks for your response. I'll have to admit, I haven't really looked into other areas of law. I'm in the IP group in my firm, and we are expected to do work within our group, not outside of it. I am interested in health care law and/or medical malpractice defense law. The problem is trying to break away from IP to gain experience in these other fields. Furthermore, I don't relish litigation - I don't have that type A agressive pitbull mentality it takes to make a good litigator. I was initially interested in medicine because it allowed me pursue science, which I love, with the ability to work with individuals in a meaningful way. As a big-firm lawyer, I'm lucky if I ever speak to a client, and it's hard to muster a lot of passion or zeal when you are representing a large corporation, the contact person of whom you've never even met. I suppose representing physicians is interesting in that you have an individual client who you can develop some empathy for, which allows you to work harder when representing them.
As for post-bacs, yes I've taken a look at Loyola's program. The only problem is that classes start at 6PM, on their lakeshore campus. This means I'd have to leave work at 5 every day, which won't cut it at the firm. Plus, I do a lot of litigation work, which as you know can be unpredictable, especially when you are at the mercy of partners and partner deadlines. I'm thinking of doing coursework through Northwestern U, who also has a post-bac, as a student at large. They have classes at their downtown campus that start a bit later, so this makes it a bit easier to do.
I've decided it's better to repeat my pre-req's over the course of 2 years, and then study and write the MCAT. This slower pace will allow me to hopefully get A's in all the courses, and provide me with a good refresher for the MCAT, which along with a Kaplan course should get me there.
As for practicing law…I've got no choice! My wife and I both have substantial student loans from med school and law school, and a resident doesn't make much. Plus, we bought a condo before I started my job (back when I thought I'd found my lifetime career), and the mortgage must be paid. Thus, I can't even afford to take a pay cut to try different types of law, such as med mal defense. I guess I'm truly schackled by the 'golden handcuffs'. But, when my wife finishes her residency in 2 years, the situation will be different. Hopefully by then, I'll be in a position to apply to med school - and I'll certainly apply to osteopathic schools. Thanks for your advice, and best of luck in the post-bac.

I heard you can do law school at night???

Not to get too far off the topic, but yes, one can go to law school in the evenings. A number of Chicago law schools have both part time and full time programs. It takes 4 years if you go to law school in the evenings. Why anyone would do this is beyond me…as law is (in my opinion) an awful profession.