The 40-Year-Old Intern


I’ve been reading this site for a long time, and I even attended the OPM convention in DC back in 2003, but I never posted my own story before:

In 2001 I was a poli.sci. grad living in Bangkok working (but not very strenuously) with a couple of Thai environmental/social justice NGOs as an independent videographer/editor and occasional very-low-budget sound engineer recording traditional hilltribe music. I couldn’t have asked for a more laid-back, fun, and sometimes exciting life. Except that I was getting older (then 31), I was in a serious relationship, and while I was living comfortably by Thai standards, I would never make enough to visit my parents in the US very often, let alone send my (future, hypothetical) children to Harvard.

One of my earlier jobs in Thailand was for this US-based charity, Operation Smile, as their Thailand-based manager for medical missions, in which volunteer doctors and staff from the US would fly in and repair as many cleft lips and cleft palates as they could in a week. I managed the logistics, fundraising, and helped get patients for upcoming missions, and during the week-long missions I was all over the place helping out wherever I was needed. It was fun and a lot of work, but I sucked at fundraising so I had to leave after only nine months. But the stark contrast and undeniable improvement in how the patients (mostly kids) looked after surgery, as well as their vastly improved social and job prospects, left an impression on me that lasted even as I was shooting video of villagers-vs.-riot-cops and hiking into national parks to record live traditional hilltribe music. Those docs made a huge difference in those kids’ lives, in less time than it will probably take me to finish writing this. I wanted to make that kind of a positive difference in people’s lives, and while I loved what I was doing and was probably pretty good (but not great) at it, nothing I shot or recorded was going to end environmental exploitation or save the Karen from encroachment by Thai development on their land.

So I left Thailand, took the pre-med pre-reqs, and moved to Chicago for med school. I’m a 4th-year now, and in about seven months I’ll be a 40-year-old intern. It wasn’t easy; in fact, med school was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m in so much debt now I owe the equivalent of a condo downtown (and by the time I finish residency it’ll be a more like a house with attached garage) but I don’t regret anything. I didn’t get into this for money or status; I did it because I thought it would be fun and because I wanted to feel like I really was making a difference in other people’s lives. And God willing, I will.

So, good luck to everyone on this forum who wants to be a doctor. Med school might not be for everyone, but if you’re willing to make up for academic mediocrity with grim determination and caffeine like I did, then don’t let age, of all things, stop you.


Rush Medical College, Class of '10

Thanks for posting your story. It’s great encouragement to hear that you’ve done it “at our age” but more important is to hear you say it’s worth it. Thanks!

Great post, thanks for the encouragement. I only hope I’ll be as young as 40 when I get into med school…

I’m going to turn 40 a month into my PGY-1 year! Crazy

Thank you for this post. It is very encouraging. Sawadee-ka.

Congrats on your success so far and good luck with residency. What are you planning on doing for residency?

Alas - like your experience with environmental work, there will be a lot of times when nothing you can do will change the outcomes… But just being there through the trials of your patients will mean a lot to you both.

good luck with intern year… from one who survived it at 49 ,… (and you though YOU were nuts!)

Thanks all, สวัสดี Betsy, and thanks swy55, I guess 40 is a little younger than 49. Residency plans are actually still fluid, even this late into 4th year. I’ll match into Family or Emerg. Med., but which one and where are still to be determined. I’ll let you know in three months.


Hi Cray,

Thanks for sharing your story. If I’m able to follow in your footsteps I’d be the 40 something yr old intern.

If you could answer this question - how difficult is it to get an internship when one is 40+? I know of a 56 yr old that did his MD in one of the Caribbean schools and is having a hard time finding a position (then again 56 is not 46…)


That might have more to do with the school than his age.

I agree with Jeffm. Attending certain schools (like in the Caribbean) may not be an advantage (independently on your age).