The answer to the question, "is starting medical school at 30 or older too late?" is not simple. There are many different variables that a medical school applicant should consider that are independent of the fact that medical school is an extremely challenging period in every student's life. In this article we will address academic and non academic items that prospective students interested in med school should consider.
Here are eight frequently asked questions about this topic. Click on the quick navigation links below for the answers:
Do medical schools actually accept older students?
Yes, medical schools do accept older students. According to medical school admissions specialists, it is certainly possible for someone age 30 or over to be accepted into med school. However, some people may incorrectly tell you that you are too old and that it is too late to apply to med school or you're at a handicap as an older applicant. Admissions committees at med schools disagree instead believing that your application contributes diversity to the med school class. You've matured and gained experience throughout your gap years. Maturity and experience gained from time spent in the workplace set you apart from other applicants, even if they may not be considered part of most medical school admissions algorithm.
What types of med school can an older student attend?
Inside the United States there are two separate types of medical programs that older than average applicants should consider. Allopathic programs are the most common and upon graduation confer an MD degree. Osteopathic schools of medicine are another type of medical program. They however confer the degree of DO upon graduation. Both programs allow individuals to practice medicine in all 50 states and the to ability to obtain residencies and fellowship in every specialty. In addition, many students including older students may choose to apply and attend one of the offshore or international colleges for med school.
1. Allopathic Medical Schools:
The most common program and med school pathway is that of an Allopathic physician, commonly known as an MD. An MD is a licensed physician who extended his or her basic medical science coursework through at least 7 years of post-baccalaureate/premed coursework, including an internship and residency. After residency, MDs must pass board examinations to become certified in a specific specialty. According to Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), allopathic physicians collectively spent $102.6 billion on their education; over 4.8 million man hours in educational training; and graduated 14% more doctors than there available residency slots in a year.
2. Osteopathic Medical Schools
Osteopathic medicine was created in the U.S by Andrew Taylor Still, MD and his son, Charles Lindsey Still MD. It was founded as an alternative to allopathy (modern mainstream medicine) as they believed most doctors were not treating their patients holistically or effectively using allopathic methods alone. Instead of looking for an immediate cause of illness and then treating it with medication, Osteopaths are trained to look into the possible underlying causes of an illness. This could range from dietary issues to emotional symptoms manifesting physically. Osteopathic doctors work to treat the whole patient holistically with a treatment plan that addresses both these root causes and more immediate ones such as diet and exercise
3. International and Caribbean Medical Schools.
Approximately 25 percent of all physicians practicing in the US today graduated from either Caribbean medical schools or foreign medical schools. When you're deciding on a career as a physician, it makes sense to look at the job market first and foremost and see what types of jobs will be available when you graduate. While there is competition no matter where you choose to study, graduates from US-accredited international medical schools usually have no problem getting certified by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) and passing the United States Medical Licensing Examinations (USMLE). The AAMC also states that US medical school graduates comprise over half of the 44,000 international medical graduates (IMGs) who entered a residency program.
Many international medical schools work with their students and graduates to obtain licensure in the US. If you're looking to work abroad, then working with a foreign school might be your best bet so that you can get accreditation through that country and pass its licensing exam. Most countries have licensure exams for foreign doctors who wish to practice there, but it's much easier if they've been trained at a college accredited by an organization like the World Federation for Medical Education (WFME) and/or the Council on Recognition of Foreign Qualifications (COREQ). Both of these offer reciprocity agreements for students in programs between specific nations.
What attributes help make an excellent applicant?
If you're over 30 and want to go to medical school, you could still be an excellent candidate. The following checklist is composed of steps to become a competitive applicant for medical school.
- Received a good MCAT score
- Spent time shadowing doctors
- Having an excellent work ethic
- Completed all pre-requites courses within the last three to five years
- Determined why you want to be a physician
- Received good letters of recommendation
- Spent time in leadership positions
What else should I consider prior to attending medical school programs at 30, 32, or even 35 and older?
There are several additional items for older prospective students to consider about attending medical school. The first is the financial impacts of going to med school and the possible effects on family, marriage, significant others, and kids. It is vital to ensure everyone in your family is supportive and fully understands the time and money commitments necessary to attend medical school.
If you're married or have a significant other or a family, it's essential to make the decision to go to medical school together. Spouses and significant others need to understand that attending a medical university is similar to working a 60+ hour work week. However, it costs an enormous amount of money to attend med school instead of earning money at a normal job. The average debt at the conclusion of four years of medical school is very extensive and it will take many years to recover from the incurred debt. For some individuals, family or significant others can help to pay for the extensive costs of medical school. However, this is not the norm and isn't always possible for every student.
Additionally, all family members need to realize the prospect of relocating frequently as another sacrifices that may need to be made. Relocating for medical school is only the first step. After school is complete, residency must be completed. The application for residency is an algorithmic process which requires doctors and residency locations to make a rank list. This often means newly graduated doctors will have to move again for residency. After three plus years of residency physicians may have to move another time in order to secure a job.
Which year of medical school is the hardest?
Medical school is a challenging experience and it takes individuals through many twists and turns on the journey of becoming a doctor. Each and every student has felt exhausted during this demanding process. Many students may also be scared of failing out or not succeeding as expected. The question of which year in medical school is the hardest may seem very subjective in nature. However, we can answer this question based on facts and statistics.
There are several online sources to find information about current US and foreign medical students. One is the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP). The NRMP allocates medical students to their desired residency/fellowship programs for post-graduate training. This process occurrs during the last year medical school or residency. According to statistics the NRMP website there are approximately 6000 students throughout 28 medical schools with 4-5 incoming classes per year. According to NRMP and other online sources, the hardest year of medical school is first year.
Year one of medical school is the most difficult for many reasons. Some of these reasons include:
- moving to a new location
- adapting to an increased workload
- working to maintain a good GPA
- leaving family members behind
- adapting to new study habits
- creating new routines
However, medical students are exceptionally adaptable and learn to succeed and excel in the new environment of medical school.
What is the easiest type of medical doctor to become?
If you're a medical student or prospective medical student that is considering a speciality, you've certainly heard about the most difficult specializations to match into, such as plastic surgery or orthopedics, which have high wages and other perks. However, there are numerous advantages to picking one of the medical specialties that are considered to be the least competitive. These specialties are still very high in prestige and offer great personal satisfaction as well as being of great benefit to society. We found several sources that discussed the specialties that were considered the least competitive and have looked at results from Med School Insiders, The MD Journey and BeMo consulting.
- Family medicine
- Internal medicine
- Preliminary/Transitional year
How long is a doctor's residency?
According to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), all physicians must complete a residency training program after completing medical school and before practicing medicine independently. In order to become board eligible, each physician also needs to complete an approved residency program in their specialty area. After completing residency, Physicians then must pass board examinations. The length of residency may be important for older applicants because they may (or may not be) looking for the fastest way to complete their medical training. The list below highlights the shortest residency programs and the number of years required.
- 3 years - Family Medicine
- 3 years - Internal Medicine
- 3 years - Pediatrics
- 3 - 4 years - Emergency Medicine
- 4 years - Obstetrics and Gynecology
- 4 years - Anesthesiology (1 year transitional/preliminary plus 3 years)
- 4 years - Dermatology (1 year transitional/preliminary plus 3 years)
- 4 years - Ophthalmology (1 year transitional/preliminary plus 3 years)
- 4 years - Neurology (1 year transitional/preliminary plus 3 years)
- 4 years - Pathology
- 4 years - Psychiatry
For a more extensive table of residency durations please check here:
Why is the The University Of Medicine And Health Sciences a good fit for medical students 30 and over?
Prospective medical students of any age should consider all types of medical school programs that will lead to one's desired outcome; that of ultimately being able to work as a practicing MD or a DO in the United States or Canada. This is an area where the University of Medicine and Health Sciences excels. As a top rated Caribbean medical school, our prospective medical students are evaluated holistically for acceptance into our medical college programs, regardless of age.
- Each application is looked at individually and no one is filtered out based on a rote algorithm
- Admissions staff give special weight to students with life experience
- Small class sizes are beneficial for individualized attention
- Highly trained professors are accessible and care about your success
- Staff are dedicated to help students find residency placement
- Built-in Kaplan preparation course for the USMLE step 1 exam
- Exceptionally low attrition rates - 96% of the students that start UMHS medical school go on to graduate and earn their MD degree
Callie Torres is a Captain in the United States Air Force and a resident at Wash U/Barnes Jewish Hospital in St Louis. She is a freelance writer with many published medical articles as well as multiple peer-reviewed medical publications