Premed prescience vs procrastination vs aced out

As with so many of you, I’m looking forward to getting to medical school. I still need to retake all my premed courses (so says all the med schools I talked to; my premed classes are 21+ years out of date). Unfortunately my work and volunteer obligations have precluded me from finishing these courses. And then there’s the Peace Corps.
For several years I’ve wanted to do international field work, but have been stymied by limited financial resources. My plan was to spent 6 months overseas and use what free time I had to start reviewing my basic sciences in preparation for returning to school full-time to retake premed and some upper division biomedical coursework.
Recently a co-worker suggested the Peace Corps, an option I had long ago dismissed because of the time commitment and because I already have 12 years of volunteer health work under my belt and did not think I needed any more. At the time, I felt I should focus on my education, and enter the PeaceCorps with an MD; in this way, I’d be more useful to the people I’d be trying to assist.
But now I am having second thoughts about waiting until I get my MD. By the time I get my medical degree, I would be massively in debt, and being significantly older than other new doctors, I would have fewer years to repay my medical school loans, and fewer residencies would want to take a 50+ resident, and fewer places would probably want to hire a 50+ newly-graduated doctor. Going now would allow me to prepare for a return to school, and would also qualify me for some masters’ level programs that I could pursue in medical school.
But it would mean close to 3 years of delay (due to the bureaucratic hurdles of the PeaceCorps administration, it can take between 6 months to a year to get to one’s assigned country, plus 2 years in that country), a high risk for an older med school applicant like me (I’m almost 40). I estimate that by the time I finish a PeaceCorp commitment and take my premeds, I’d be in mid-to-late 40s by the time I apply to medical school. I’m no fool: I know very well that medical schools want young applicants (as so many medical school deans have warned me); the longer I delay getting to medical school, the harder it is to get in. As one medical school advisor told me, "Age is not supposed to matter, but it does."
But the lure of spending 2 years of hard work abroad doing service is tantalizing. I am at last at a time and space in my life where I can repercussions on my present life: no debt, no family obligations. Going abroad would finally give me the time to puruse all the little mental things that I’ve been putting off in order to satisfy my work and multiple volunteer commitments.
Any comments on this? Am I just procrastinating myself out of medical school or am I taking prudent precautions for future goals (of doing medicine abroad). Of course, there are other organizations to volunteer that I could volunteer with as an MD such as Doctors Without Borders?
Feedback si vous plez?

IMHO I do think that you are procrastinating with the pre-reqs. Unless you have this burning desire to keep on volunteering and do the Peace Corps stint, I would go ahead and start with the pre-reqs that may take you more than a year. Then I would apply and see what happens. Also, you mention that at age 50 or so you may not have all the residencies available to you that younger folks would, heck I do not buy that for one second, look at Dr. Belle! general surgery residency at 50.

Well, In my opinion you are at the time in your life where you need to chose what is most important in your life. If you still have to take all your required pre-med courses, that is going to take time, even if you take just the bear bones minimum (year gen bio with labs, year gen chem with labs, year organic with labs, year physics with labs, year math and year english).
And then you haven’t mentioned the MCAT. That is also in your future. So you have a number of years of just pre-med work getting you ready to apply.
Are there any programs you could do during the summer between your course work?

Thank you all for the emails and posts. After reading your posts, talking to the PeaceCorps, and discussing this issue with my own doctor, I’ve decided to re-focus on pre-med. I probably would have been foolish to pursue the PeaceCorps at this time in my academic life.
My own doctor says that the older you get the harder it is to do those horrific all-night on-calls during residency. She admits that she had a hard time doing her family practice residency, and she was younger than most residents at the time (She entered Harvard Med at age 20). She also states that I can always volunteer in some rural program during the first summer after med school. The PeaceCorps says that they have special programs for medical professionals who want to volunteer with them and loan deferrment may be possible, and there is no upper age limit to applying for the PeaceCorps (their oldest volunteer was age 83). I can even begin the process of applying during med school or residency.
With these thoughts in mind, I’ve decided to start searching for post-bacc premed programs; in the meantime I’m reviewing my study skills.
Thanks for helping put me back on track.

Dear Nahani,
I can relate to how you feel! When I was trying to decide about going back to school for pre-med, one of the main concerns I had was whether I’d be able to get overseas at all while also trying to complete all those academic requirements. At one point I too was interested in the Peace Corps. Well, I didn’t end up doing the Peace Corps, but instead I got started on the pre-reqs. I still had the volunteer bug though, so halfway through I took a summer off and worked at an orphanage in Russia. If I can afford it, I’m hoping to do something similar this summer. There are always opportunities to volunteer in various ways for shorter time periods. There are also things you can do in your own area.
I’ve also found that although I haven’t been as free as I’d like to travel or work abroad, I now have a better idea what I’d eventually like to DO overseas, such as work for the World Health Organization. Taking so many science classes has helped me focus in ways I didn’t expect! If that’s what you decide to do, I’m sure you will find yourself benefitting.
As far as what your doctor has to say about age, I’d be grateful for that advice but take it with a grain of salt. Personally, I’m not sure I’d completely want to trust any one-time 20-year-old-first-year’s view on the effects of age! Perhaps she went through certain parts of her life very fast, and got tired early on. Some people do that. Energy issues affect different people in different ways–we each have to find out our own pattern for ourselves. Don’t be discouraged by those kind of comments.
But do sign up for some pre-reqs if that’s what you want to do!
Good luck,

Thanks Andrea,
Because there is never any guarantee that the Peace Corps will take you, I had a back up plan working with children in rural Mexico. Its time commitment is much shorter than the Peace Corps (3 months is the maximum that I would be allowed to stay). Also, it may allow me to start my pre-requisites. I found a very appealing post-bac program that starts this summer, but I may have missed the application deadline. Of course, I can start at another college and start the formal program next summer.
In the meantime, I have given notice at my work; and while I still have considerable obligations at volunteer gigs, it’s time to focus. As another doctor friend said to me yesterday when I presented my plan to him, “Either face the sh** [expletive] or get off the toilet!” (Sorry if I offended anyone with this language; I’m not one to swear, but it appears many doctors do!)

Nahani, it’s interesting where this conversation has gone in just a few days. I actually was inclined to urge you to go for the Peace Corps, probably because I always thought it sounded neat and never had a chance to do it - and won’t, at this point. But I think your new-found resolve answers your original question about whether you were truly “called” to do the Peace corps gig, or was it a way to further procrastinate?
I also think your FP’s view of age and sleep should be taken with, actually, MORE than a grain of salt. On my OB rotation last year, I was the 47-year-old on a team of early- to mid-20s students, and of the six of us, only I and the aspiring surgeon on the team did NOT complain about being up all night. Some of those kids were real whiners! Maybe it’s because I’ve had three kids, been up all night with sick kids, waited up for carousing teenagers, etc. etc. but ya know, missing a night of sleep hasn’t really impressed me as the worst thing I could ever do in my life. (shrug) Some people find it easier than others, but I truly don’t think age has as much to do with it as some people believe. (and yes I do know that intern year, when I’ll actually have real responsibilities, will be worse. I’m still just not that worried about the sleep thing)

Thanks for your kind words. To be honest, I would rather do the PeaceCorps first and then medical school; the PeaceCorps is something I’ve wanted to do since I was in elementary school. I only started seriously thinking about medicine much later. But, given the imbalance between my meager, spotty, meandering academic record and tens of thousands of hours of volunteer work, AdComms may see the PeaceCorps as simply more volunteer work – perhaps interpreting such as an indication that I am more interested in volunteering than in academics. Academics are by far the weakest part of my premed background. So while long-term volunteering has always been a strength, perhaps, I need to start focusing on my weaknesses. All the volunteer work in the world won’t get one into med school. Hence, it’s time to get back to the books.