Reality Check


I need a reality check.

I’m 44 yrs old and working full time, employed in industry. BS degree in physics, MS in industrial engineering, MS in electrical engineering. Currently completing Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Licensed professional engineer. Undergrad GPA: 3.2; grad GPAs: 3.9, 3.65. My GRE scores are abysmal (like most standardized tests, it disagreed with me).

I need to take organic chemistry, biology, genetics (and would love to take physical chemistry as well). Hoping to get started on these courses next fall. Really looking forward to them!

I am getting bored with engineering and would like to make a mid-career course correction. Seriously thinking about med school. Most medical specialties don’t interest me too much but would like to work on some of the new monoclonal therapies and do molecular cell bio research. But some fields, like epidemiology, interest me a great deal.

Am I being realistic here? Would a med school even consider my application? Assuming they would, should I go for an MD or Ph.D. or both?

What medical specialties (if any) do former engineers propagate toward?

How on earth do you guys pay for med school? Are there scholarships available for older people like me?

Any input would be greatly appreciated.


You ask a lot of questions in a small space. I suspect many may be answered by perusing the numerous other posts.

1- can it be done? yes - you would be at the high end of the age bell curve, but as a former quazy engineer who did it - I know it can happen.

2 - is it wise? that you alone will have to decide

a key practical question is do you expect to have enough career after you are done to make the effort worth it. That really depends on how long you want to work and what your health will allow

3 - MD - PhD either - both? you seem to have a strong research bent - I could not say for sure but to me that suggests PhD might make more sense

4 - engineer friendly specialties? Don’t know really - though Pathology and Radiology might appeal to the technical mind - consider also the time. I think Radiology is 4 or five years of residency AFTER med school - I did family practice. You will have to decide what floats your boat. For me the choice was driven by the fact that I am basically a generalist, as well as such things as length and geographic availability of residency - not to mention my own competitiveness or lack there of.

5) finances - scholarships are few and far between for anyone - at 44 don’t look to the army to pay your way - want to go do primary care in Aroostook County Maine - or some obscure corner of Alaska? you might get National Health Service to Pay your way. otherwise it is savings and loans - I would not count on getting loan repayment if you want to do research in genomics at a major Metropolitan hospital or Bio-tech firm.

6) your grades are ok - GRE doesn’t count for med school - but MCAT does and if you struggle with standardize tests you might want to practice some. GRE could be a concern if you go the straight PhD route.

hope this is a help - good Luck!

I have a PhD from a Chemistry and Biochem department at a Tech school, so tell me if I’m wrong with the other departments… But in my experience:

If you enroll in a PhD program you get paid to go to school. Even with NO fellowships, the going rate for a research assistant is around 22K. Your PhD advisor usually pays for your tuition and your stipend out of grant money. If for some reason, your advisor isn’t paying you, most departments will support you as a teaching assistant-- in which case you’ll make the same amount, and they will waive your tuition.

PhD programs are ALOT easier to get into as well-- no MCAT, just take the GRE. Most of them are so depserate for students (at least american ones), that they will probably work with you and tell you exactly which pre-reqs you will need, and may even support you (financially) while you are completing those.

It sounds like your much more interested in the research side and I think a PhD is the way to go–a PhD would be free and you can probably pick your school. Med school is a p.i.t.a. to get into (your UG GPA may seriously limit your options too), is expensive and the MCAT sucks:) I would only consdier med school if you REALLY wanted to see patients.

Your background could actually be really valuable in research-- you could definitely sell yourself. I would consider biomedical engineering programs if I were you (you will probably have less prereqs to take) and you can probably find a research group that bridges cell bio and electronics.

Thanks very much to both of you. I really appreciate your advice. Didn’t realize that there was even such a thing as a medical Ph.D. research assistantship.

To be honest, seeing patients is not all that important to me, although I certainly would not mind it. I’d rather work in a lab and/or analyze data, maybe at a university hospital or possibly a pharmaceutical company. I think the Ph.D. route is definitely the way to go.

I have thought about pathology and radiology. I will take your advice and investigate biomedical engineering also. (My engineering specialty is in signal processing.) Epidemiology really fascinates me–seems there is so much out there waiting to be discovered.

I have been to Aroostock county, Maine (a great but very wet place)! I absolutely love rural places and small towns, and have never felt comfortable in or near cities (and dread the thought of an urban medical school).

I have only recently discovered this forum, and I have to tell you it is amazing. Thanks again!