Trying to figure out whether to pursue medicine


I have been listening to the Old PreMed’s podcast and the PreMed Years podcast, so I decided to join the group. I am trying to figure out whether or not to dive fully into medicine. I am a non-traditional student with an interesting background (like most of you)-- but my primary concern is the feasibility of getting into medical school given my poor undergrad GPA.

Looking for some advice, and maybe some encouragement, so I thought I would share my story. Here goes:

I went to UCLA for undergrad and graduated with a BS in Biology- undergrad was a tough time for me, my parents were deeply affected by the recession in 2008 and I was very anxious about money and loans. I worked at least 1, sometimes 2 or 3 part time jobs during undergrad and basically just burnt myself out. I started as an engineering major, switched to environmental science, briefly ecology and finally landed on biology. I ended up taking math through linear algebra and calculus based physics and chemistry. The environment was very competitive and I struggled in my classes, I was immature and didn’t know how to ask for help and ultimately ended up feeling like I just wasn’t good enough for the University or smart enough for the classes. This caused a vicious cycle of poor grades and failed classes due to a lack of confidence and anxiety. It was a bad time for me, and I ended up finishing with a 2.69 GPA and no idea what to do next.

Upon graduating, I found a part-time job teaching pre-school for a year and started to explore my options. I had never considered what I wanted to do after college as I spent most of my time just trying to survive my classes and save money. This was the first time I considered medicine as a possibility, I looked into some post-bac programs, but most of them required a 3.0 GPA. The same issue came up when I looked into other medical fields (PA, NP etc). At that point I was not willing to take classes on my own dime as I already did not have a job and 30K in loans. However, I learned from a friend that some smaller universities employ Master’s degree candidates as Teaching Assistants. I found a small state school in the mid west that was willing to accept me into their Master’s program with a full tuition scholarship and a teaching stipend. Over the next two years I completed a Master of Science in Environmental Health with a 3.89 GPA.

At this point, I revisited the idea of medical school. I soon found out that Master’s GPAs don’t average with undergrad GPA (boo), so my application would still be pretty weak. I found a job first as an administrative assistant in a lab, and now I am a research fellow in a basic science laboratory at the National Institutes of Health. I have done two posters and an oral presentation in my 10 months here, am will likely have 1-2 publications by the end of the academic year. I have also been retaking (slowly) undergrad classes at my local community college and the NIH Grad school, which offers basic science classes taught by NIH faculty. I have taken Linear Algebra (B), Organic Chem 1 (B) and Organic Chem 2 (A)-- so my overall GPA might have improved a bit from the 2.69. I have shadowed a few times, volunteer in the ER and volunteer as a museum guide.

I was wondering if you have any advice for me. How many classes do I need to take/retake? I am worried that my GPA is so low from undergrad, I would need to take an insane number of credits to make up for it. I have all the pre-recs taken from my Bio degree so I don’t need anything specifically- though I could retake Biochem, Cell Bio and Micro Bio – all of which I got C’s in the first go around.

As an additional problem-- I have a boyfriend that I am planning to marry in the next 1-2 years and need to stay within a limited geographic area for schools.

Thank you everyone for your input, it’s hard to get good advising when you are a complicated student like myself.

You seem pretty serious in your level of commitment since your undergrad. If you have some question as to whether it’s worth it, I would do some volunteering/shadowing to either confirm it or rule it out. If you are certain this is what you want, then it is absolutely worth it and really, congratulations on getting this far!

Thank you! I think my main worry is the undergrad GPA. At this point it would be very difficult for me to get it up to a 3.0 or higher overall-- even with taking and retaking pre recs. I’m worried about getting filtered out before anyone even looks and my overall application. I know there’s no magic numbers, but I was wondering if retaking the most pre Rex’s and getting a good post bac GPA is enough even though my overall will still be pretty low?

They talk about this in the podcast a lot. Even if your gpa doesn’t meet the computer’s initial algorithm, your app will still be looked at. The personal statement and experience is a big part of it. And your master’s gpa is pretty exceptional. Take what you can, but don’t let it deter you.

There is nothing you will gain from worrying. The undergraduate GPA is a part of who you are and from your masters work, a student you no longer are. The fact that you did well with upper level science courses shows the adcoms that you are changed. The best thing you can do, rather than speculate is getting information from the schools themselves. Some schools offer open houses and the admissions people may talk to some prospective students. Others will have you make an appointment. Either way, getting the information directly from them is a start. Though realize that not every school is the same. In addition, if you retake classes, your grades will be averaged. There is no more grade replacement. So if you get a C and then retake and get a B, there probably wont be a huge change there. Consider retaking the classes you have failed or received a D in. You may find that you may need to do a special masters program. Some schools have them and use them as feeders into their medical school. But I would start with the most local medical school near you.

The next question is, have you taken the MCAT? A good GPA with a poor MCAT will not help you. If you have not taken the MCAT, then do not worry about it until you are done with your GPA repair. Unlike the MCAT, which has an expiration date for the score, the grades will be used for a long period of time.

Good luck

Thank you @gabelerman. My goal is to take some more hard science courses and maybe retake the classes I struggled more in (I’m a couple years out of undergrad and could use a refresher in Biochem for instance, even after getting a B- first round). I’m thinking about taking Biochemistry and Pathophysiology online this semester at University of New England. I am comfortable taking 1-2 classes a semester as a sort of do-it-yourself post-bac, but don’t think I want to commit to a full-time post bac or SMP due to the cost. I have about 30K in loans still from undergrad and don’t want to take out more for post bac and would be unable to support myself if I wasn’t working.

How much “GPA repair” do you think I need giving the fact that I already have a Master’s? On the podcast, I remember hearing that the last 20 credits of science classes are sometimes used as a litnus test-- I can get that by taking 2 classes per semester this year like I did last year. If I have, say, a 3.7 or so in those classes, would that be seen as “good enough” even if my GPA doesn’t budge too much overall? I know this is all speculative, but I haven’t had the best luck when I’ve tried to contact universities directly :/.

EDIT: Have not taken the MCAT yet, I’m planning to take it in the Spring and tentatively plan to apply for during the 2018 cycle. At that point I will have 21 units of “Post bac” work, 2 years full time research experience, and my 3.8 Master’s GPA working for me-- which I hope is enough.

EDIT 2: The only outstanding D’s I have on my transcript are for Multivariable Calc 2 and Neuro-pychology-- neither of which are required classes, and both are difficult to find offered in an evening or online format, so I’m not currently planning to retake them.

Also- my university also averages retakes so a lot of my poor undergrad GPA is from failing Ochem the first time, then getting a B for example.

EDIT 3: Sorry for all the posts, but I just did the calculations, and it would take 61 semester units of 4.0 to get my UG GPA above a 3.0, so basically two years of full time school with absolutely no mistakes (which frankly just doesn’t seem feasible).