The answer is obviously too personal for a blanket, one-size-fits-all response.
But just as 20-year-old premeds have to do before committing to the hard road of becoming a doctor, older premeds must take an honest inventory of whether they can commit to the challenge.
Recent statistics from the Association of American Medical Colleges show that nearly 10 percent of med school applicants are over 29. And while 30 year olds are hardly ancient, when these students have completed the rigorous journey to becoming an MD, they will be close to their 40s.
To help give some perspective for older students weighing the difficult decision to pursue a medical degree, StudentDoc reached out to Dr. Barbara A. Schindler, Vice Dean of Educational and Academic Affairs at Drexel University’s College of Medicine in Philadelphia.
Question: Older applicants can offer world-wise experience over what some might consider traditional textbook knowledge that lacks the element of human compassion. What makes the older, non-traditional applicant interesting to medical school admissions committees?
Answer: In addition to a level of maturity and seriousness of purpose, older applicants have experiences in the workforce that bring an added dimension to the diversity of the student body. As a result of working in the “real world,” older applicants have a deeper appreciation of the importance of team work and collaboration. They also tend to be more comfortable communicating with patients and faculty.
Q: What sorts of real-life experiences should applicants share with committees? What attributes are looked upon favorably?
A: Most life experiences, especially if they have solidified one’s commitment to medicine and the welfare of others, are important to share. Life experience in the healthcare field are vital to ensure that the applicant has given careful thought to and exposure to the real world of medicine.
Q: What makes older applicants less desirable?
A: Moving from one career to another over time can make an applicant appear to be “trying on” medicine as well. What will be next? Also, recent time away from education can raise the question of whether the applicant has the ability to take on intensive science course in medical school.
Q: In providing their medical school personal statements or in their application for medical school, what experiences should applicants consider a liability?
A: Spending time wandering around “finding oneself.” Also, unexplained absences from school or work.
Q: Some note that older applicants will not have as many productive years as younger students, and therefore are not worth the same investment. Is age seen as a liability?
A: It can be seen that way in some schools. Much depends on the applicant’s commitment and vitality/energy, and what the applicant plans to do with their medical education.
Q: While all applicants, regardless of their age, must demonstrate a reason why they want to become a physician, do older applicants need to go farther? Do committees need extra convincing that older applicants, some of whom might be looking toward a second or third career as an MD, are committed to the long road ahead?
Q: In your experience with older applicants, does the financial stress of medical school come into play?
A: It can. Some older applicants have spousal support or have put away enough money to support themselves or family. It can be a big issue if the applicant has a family that needs to be supported at the same time, resulting in increased debt.
Q: Often older applicants have older children and a spouse as they consider pursuing a degree that requires long, demanding hours in the library and classroom. How much should applicants consider this?
A: Everyone applying to medical school needs to put the demands of a medical education into the context of their personal and family lives. For many older students, families can provide significant support and balance in their lives.
Q: Could you talk about the post-bac admissions option for older students interested in filling admissions requirements. Do committees frown on post-baccalaureate programs or see them as a way to get the GPA up, coursework fulfilled, and skills refreshed?
A: Post-bac programs can play an important role in improving an applicant’s chances for admission. It depends on their educational needs.:
- If the applicant has never taken the pre-med requirements, they need to complete them in a post-bac
- If BCPM (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math) grades are poor, a medical school sponsored post-bac with courses taken by medical students can help
- Just repetition of undergrad BCPM courses to improve grades is not helpful without a significant number of higher level sciences course
Q: What piece of advice would you offer older applicants?
A: If you are passionate about becoming a physician, go for it. Just make sure you fully understand the demands and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices.