Where to begin?

Hey all. I’m really happy to have come across a group of nontrad students also interested in medicine. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

I am a 30-year-old work-at-home mom (I have a beautiful baby boy I adopted, who is 8-months-old tomorrow!). In my early 20s, I began working as a medical transcriptionist to fill the need for a job with flexible hours while my husband worked nights as an editor of a newspaper. I was fortunate to transcribe for 2 teaching hospitals (Temple and UPMC) for several years and my passion for medicine grew as I learned more about the field. After much thought and deliberation, and with the support of my husband, I made the decision to pursue becoming a doctor.

Mere months after we made this decision, I began having chronic back pain at the ripe old age of 25 and was diagnosed with an L5-S1 disc herniation and spinal stenosis along with left leg radiculopathy. Long story short, I have recently had an L5-S1 fusion and for the first time in years, my function is finally improving.

Anyway, despite my own struggles with my body failing me, the thought of becoming a doctor has never left me. I am not naive to the fact that my pain may never be in control enough for me to pursue my dream, but I see a glimmer of hope and I would hate to waste another moment when I could be doing something to get me closer to my goal, but where to begin?

I would also like to mention that I was a homeschool student through high school, but did sit for my GED simply to make job hunting/school applications easier. I want to emphasize that I did not drop out of school and I feel pretty confident in my intellectual abilities regarding medicine. I have very little info about medical students who were homeschooled or have a GED. Anyone else out there?

Do you have a bachelor’s degree? According to the Temple website, “Completion of a minimum of 90 semester hours from an accredited US or Canadian college or university is required for admission. Students who have not completed a baccalaureate degree but who have demonstrated exceptional academic capability and evidence of unusual maturity may apply.” (http://www.temple.edu/medicine/admissions/p rospective_students/md_ap plicants.htm)

If you don’t have a bachelor’s I would suggest you start by taking the 90 minimum semester hours of classes. Once you get the ball rolling, you’ll be able to figure out the rest: taking pre-req classes, getting letters of recommendation, and studying for the MCATs.

What’s your concern about having a GED? That medical schools won’t look favorably at a student who was homeschooled in high school?

No, I don’t have a bachelor’s yet. I absolutely understand this is something I need to obtain before applying. I have been getting my ducks in a row to return and finish, part of which was my spine fusion since I’ve been so functionally limited the last 5 years. My real concern is what I should be doing in addition to finishing my bachelor’s to be competitive.

I am concerned that being homeschooled and having a GED could be disadvantages, but these concerns could be unwarranted. In my opinion, there’s a stigma that comes with having a GED that may be unfavorable.


I am not that much further along the path than you are. I am still about a year away from getting my Bachelors degree.

Shadowing is something which is useful, not only because it will strengthen your application, but also because it will hopefully provide motivation. My understanding is that most schools like to see that you have spent some time shadowing a physician.

For me it has also been a great way to stay motivated while I am taking my undergraduate classes. The clinic where I am shadowing also has 3rd and 4th year medical students on rotations so I get an opportunity to talk with them about their experiences. It is interesting to hear the Dr and the student discuss certain patients and I feel that I am getting a good insight not only into the working life of a physician but also that of being a student.

I don’t think you can start shadowing too early in the process as the more you see of the day to day reality of medicine the better.

I understand your concerns. For what it’s worth, I attended high school outside of the United States and none of the schools I interviewed at brought it up.

You can also try asking the admissions at Temple medical school (http://www.temple.edu/medicine/dean/adminis tration/index.htm). The names and contacts are listed on the website.

Either way, I think it’s amazing that you’re continuing on your journey to medicine despite your health issues. Keep at it and good luck.

I understand your concerns, as I also have chronic back issues not as severe it sounds like but including disc hernation, lumbar radiculopathy, and spinal stenosis. I am pretty functional generally but had concerns about being able to tolerate my surgical rotation. I’m planning to use Lidocaine patches to manage during that month. Can’t afford it generally but been saving up for then. I started out by meeting with my doc and discussing what a reasonable plan would be and what some coping strategies might be, and suggest you do the same discussing medical school specifically.


I had the same surgery done at a ripe age of 19 and at the time was told that I had another disk that was failing, but was not in bad enough shape to be fixed, but might have to be in a future. Before the surgery, I was in so much pain that I could not sit through more than 10 min of my classes without tears running down my cheeks and there were no medication that my doc could give me to keep me pain free. It was the worst 6 months of my life.

10 years later, I still have on and off back pain especially if I have to sit for 10+ hours at work. I do skiing, backpacking, hiking, biking, white water rafting and just have to learn to manage my pain with yoga and medication (which I only take over the counter ibuprofen). My doctor is shocked when I tell him about my backpacking adventures (carrying 45LB+ pack up and down rocky terrain and sleeping on the ground). Oh, I pay for this when my back is killing me and pain radiates into my leg. But I cannot let this pain stop me from doing something that I truly love - seeing the sunset over the mountains or smelling the coffee in a crisp morning air or running into a moose on my path.

Do not let your pain stop you!

I would think your staring point should be picking up the phone and calling university admission offices to figure out what you need to do to get admitted into a decent undergraduate program. I would imagine you need to take SAT or some other standardize test.

Look at medical school admission stats for your undergraduate school of choice. You might also want to concentrate on schools that have early admission programs or undergraduate/ med school bridge.

Hi, all. Thank you so much for your input and encouragement. It’s been really good to hear from and to read the stories of others who are on a similar journey.

Kate, I had read a bit about your story in the past few weeks. You are an incredibly inspiring woman! It’s good to hear that you’ve made it as far as you have while dealing with pain issues too.

Although I’ve been thinking about becoming a doctor for several years now, I haven’t mentioned it to my own physicians, partly because I felt like that was a lot of pressure to put on my surgeon when we didn’t know if anything was going to help and partly because the dream felt so fragile it was just terrifying to talk about! I think you are right, Kate, that it’s time to get them on board with making a plan. I know both my spine surgeon and my PCP are going to be thrilled and encouraging.

I cracked open my books again this week and have resumed studying. My next question is, does my undergrad school matter? My local university wouldn’t be my first choice (seems a bit on the easy side, more of a party school), but attending somewhere else would probably mean a further delay in my studies. Do I just make the best of it?

Thanks again all. You’ve been a huge encouragement to me.