What is really true?

Hello everyone. I’m new to this wonderful site and this is my first time posting. I am just wondering if any of you could clear something up for me. I have heard from some non-traditional students (who are now physicians) that it is better to choose (better looked upon by med schools) an undergrad major that you are more likely to earn a high GPA in, such as English, rather than to major in, say, Biology and earn a slightly lower GPA. I am aware, of course, that the requisite science and math courses for the medical schools I am looking into would have to be added on to my course work. But for me, a 29 year old former nursing student who has procrastinated through 87 credits and does not have a great GPA at the moment, I’m wondering how true that is. I know that, in my case, I would earn high marks as an English major. Plus, though I hate to say it, I would have something to fall back on just in case this ended up not working out–it’s only wise to have a back-up!

I’m not looking for an easy way out but I am trying to find out my best course of action before I jump into a whole new undergrad (most of my science courses have already lapsed from my nursing major, which I never finished, anyway). If any of you have any advice, it is appreciated! Have a wonderful day.

Hi Alicia -

Welcome. It is true that it generally doesn’t matter to the medical schools what major you choose. You should major in what you love and do well. A backup plan is also an excellent idea.

However, you seem to have some damage control to do. In your case, a non-science major might not be the best option. In addition to taking or retaking the pre-reqs, you probably will need to take some additional upper level science courses (especially if you have previous poor science grades) in order to show med schools that you can handle them.

Keep in mind that your nursing courses mayb not be counted as math/science courses on the application. Also, the nursing chemistry/biology courses often are not the level that med schools want to see.

It’s hard to give specific advice without knowing more details of your past academic transgressions, but it sounds like you seriously want to consider taking more science courses than just the pre-reqs. If you can do that while completing the English requirements in a time period that is reasonable for you, I don’t think the English degree will hurt you. If you don’t have time/money to take the extra science courses along with your English degree, you may want to consider a different degree.

Good luck!

As pointed out above, it is unwise to strategically select your Ugrad concentration based upon maximizing your GPA. Select your educational focus by what really “makes your eyes dance”, to quote Judy Colwell. As tough as balancing work, life & academics are, a lack of interest will only serve to undermine your efforts to excel.

Implied in your post is a need to rectify past academic transgressions, do I read this correctly? If yes, then it is especially imperitive for you to select something that you can really sink your teeth into beause you will have to make an academic statement of excellence. I know this first-hand as my grades were horrific from my party-years as an undergrad.

What ever the case, the past has passed & there is not one single thing you can do to change it. You must reorient your focus toward the future & orchestrate your life such that you are able to maximize your opportunities to excel both in classwork & for the MCAT. You get zero bonus points for expedience, for being ‘older’ or any of a number of other external elements.

I am frequently asked if my life-experience, lg quantity of leadership/volunteerism/e xtracurricular involvement will somehow make up for academic or MCAT underperformance. Let me unequivocally state - No, they will not. However, if you can earn a solid, competitive GPA in your coursework as you move forward & solid, competitive MCAT scores, then all of these elements will become a huge feather in your application hat. Please note, my GPA emphasis is intentionally stated as “coursework as you move forward”. You cannot change the old grades, but you can excel from now forward. Use the old crappy grades tounderscore how strong your new ones are. A classic use of juxtaposition.

Finally, I am sure you are wondering, how high must my GPA &/or MCAT be? There is no magic combination that guarantees an acceptance - period. And, why shoot for a minimum? The concept is simply, but the implementation is tough…do the best that you are capable of doing, period. To fulfill this, it will likely mandate substantial reorientation of your life & priorities.

It is easy? No. Can it be done? Yes. Will everyone who sacrifices succeed? The harsh reality is no. Being a doctor is not for everyone. It is not even for everyone who feels that they have the deepest & most sincere desires of becoming a physician. I hate to sound arrogant or smug, but not everyone who seeks to be a physician is capable of being one. At one time, I used to frequently proclaim that is you want it badly enough, you can do it - I have done it and I, nor anyone like me, is not all of the different. However, now that I have been a doc for ~5yrs, I no longer think I was accurate in that claim. By no means do I mean to imply that Docs are somehow so special that rules do not apply or that we are semi-dieties or any of that other absurd stuff. No, the evolution of my opinion comes from having experiencing so many wonderful & extraordinarily tough things as doc that I know, I cannot even describe to you how much more than just smart & determined you must be to be an effective physician.

My ICU fellowship is serving to really solidify this mindset. In the OR, I now realize how isolated I was from the intensely demanding emotional aspects of being a physician I was. Yes, anesthesiology is replete with emotional costs & investments; however, my encounters with family & patients are short-lived & I am one of those anesthesiologist who really go beyond the norm to seek our pt/family trust. I lost 3 pts last night on call - 3 people I have cared for died. 2 were dignified withdrawals of care. The 3rd was also a dignified withdrawal, but only after a full resuscitation, complete with compressions. And, intermingled with that, I had to have the dreaded conversation, “I am sorry but your loved one is just not going to survive” with a lady who is just one of the sweetest people & with whom I have bonded in the 2 weeks I have cared for her loved one.

There is tremendous personal cost that comes with the white-coat, respect & responsibility.

Thank you for your reply. Now that I have had a chance too review things further, I agree that an English major is probably not the best option. I really do have a bit of damage control to do; I have 87 credits and I am ashamed to admit how low my GPA is–though it’s right there on my transcript and the university will see it in a few days when I go in for advising :o). It’s not great but after doing some research, (including reading from this site!) I do not believe it is irreversable. My nursing school credits will not count; the math is not at the level that it needs to be for med school and some of my science courses are about to lapse anyway. Unfortunately, though I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was a little girl, it has taken me about 10 years to come to a point where I am able to make a decision to go for it. Long story, I suppose.

Thanks again.

You would be correct, I do have to rectify my poor academic performance. And I am more than ready to move forward. I have a meeting with an advisor at the local university this Wednesday and I am planning to discuss their biomedical sciences program, transcript in hand.

Here’s a little bit of the story: I began college life as a biology major (pre-med) with no clue. I was on my own financially and had to attend a community college where the advising was, really, a joke. I sort of fell through the cracks in high school (another long story) and I didn’t have the first clue how to go about getting done what I needed to academically. I drifted aimlessly through three majors before settling on nursing because surely, I could not do medicine. I could not afford to pay for medical school… heh, no one told me about loans and I didn’t know to ask back then. Nursing was almost what I wanted but not exactly and I finally gave up, frustrated, a few clinicals shy of a degree.

The good thing about the years of nursing school (I had to attend part time so that I could work to at least pay for part of it) was that I worked in a hospital during the three years I was a student, and I still do. I’ve been a nursing technician for 6 years, the bulk of it in an ER in a level one trauma center (and ER is where I want to end up again). I’ve always been very curious and I’ve always asked a lot of questions…those poor ER docs probably thought they grew an extra appendage with me around! I do know that I’m smart and if I set my mind to it I can do this. But I also know I can get discouraged a little too easily. And I have also seen smart ER residents crumble in their first year so I know that it isn’t all about your ability to take in and regurgitate information. There’s got to be more to you than just your brain.

I am pretty passionate about this and I’ve always said, even as a tech., that I can’t imagine doing anything outside of medicine. I also think, plain and simple, that I am better suited to pursue this at 29 than I was at 18. No one would have wanted me in med school as a 22 year old and no one would have wanted me as a 26 year old resident at their bedside. I was just too immature, too cocky and too unaware of what I didn’t know to really be safe (as a physician or as a nurse). I can safely say that is no longer the case; I am much more grounded and much more teachable. I have more heart but I less raw emotion. In short, I think life has put me through enough to grow me up a bit.

Anyway, enough with the tangent. :o) Thank you for your response.

Oh, by the way, you mentioned majoring in something I could sink my teeth into. That is why I brought up English. While I love science, particularly biological sciences, English is by far my forte. It was always fairly effortless for me, I am one of those rare students who loves writing papers, I read the Classics for fun, it was my best section on the ACT’s… I am truly am an English nerd. While I don’t believe it would be the best course of action to select it as a major, I didn’t choose it simply on the basis of GPA potential alone. It truly would have been enjoyable for me.

Sounds like you know what you’re all about now, alicia - that’s one of the biggest and best things to know, I think . I like how you stated that you wouldn’t have made a very good med student/resident at 22/26. It’s very much in line with what I feel, just said with the eloquence of a writer ;). Were you actually working as a nurse (tech?) at 26? If so, were you unsafe doing so? It’s nitpicky, but that might be half a step beyond what one wants to explicitly state.

As someone else coming from a situation of “horrendous GPA that will not be raised no matter what I do now,” I appreciate where you’re coming from. Those who came before me (especially on OPM) have proven that it’s not impossible to overcome. Once I made the concrete decision to pursue this path, I’ve simply had to buckle down and do my absolute best at everything. I suspect that you will find yourself doing much of the same, and I hope you have as much fun doing it :).

To play the devil’s advocate for a moment, two little challenges:

1 - When you found nursing wasn’t quite what you wanted, instead of finishing, you simply gave up. If I’m a membmer an AdCom, how will you convince me that you won’t give up at the frustrations in my program?

2 - Would you rather be a physician or, say, a writer?

And welcome to OPM, alicia .

Oh. Good point about the nurse tech thing… I was writing this in the wee hours of the morning and probably not thinking as clearly as I should have been. No, I was not unsafe. I think what I meant by that was simply that I really was too cocky for my own good–maybe I should have just stopped explaining right there. ;o)

As far as quitting before I finished, well, it has to do with a lot of things. Money was a big one. I was in over my head by then (and I wasn’t doing loans at the time, just credit cards and cash) financially. I could go on explaining forever what my life circumstances were then but it boils down to the fact that my decision wasn’t strong in the first place; my heart wasn’t in it and I didn’t have the perseverence to finish.

If I chose to be and English major (to have something to fall back on “in case”) I wouldn’t use that to be a writer. It’s definitely a hobby, but not something I could do for a living.

Thanks for your response!