Age should not be an issue when considering medical school. In fact, nontraditional medical students (those over 25 with real-life work experience) are often some of the best candidates for American and Caribbean medical schools, experts say.
The UMHS Endeavour spoke to an admissions executive and a professor at UMHS about why nontraditional medical students should consider medical school. The UMHS Endeavour explores the benefits of going to medical school after age 25 and also looks at information from U.S. News and World Report and Premed Life.
It’s Never Too Late to Pursue an MD
Many people already working for a few years, especially those in their 30s and even early 40s, may think they are “too old” to attend medical school, but this is a myth. An article in U.S. News and World Report, “Nontraditional Students Can Be Attractive Medical School Applicants,” outlines a number of reasons why those who aren’t “college age” and have some real-life work experience are good candidates for pursuing an M.D.
“Nontraditional applicants bring a special set of qualities to medical schools,” the magazine’s Katherine M. Ruger wrote. “Admissions committees often find pleasure in reviewing applications from individuals who have not only succeeded academically, but who also have a unique set of life experiences to contribute to the medical profession.”
Is medical school right for people who are a bit older?
“Absolutely,” said Marie McGillycuddy, UMHS VP of Enrollment Management. “There are many non-traditional medical students who are graduates of UMHS and practicing in the United States and Canada. We also have many nontraditional medical students who are currently attending UMHS. If you keep coming back to your original professional goal and desire of practicing as a physician, then UMHS is a great fit for you.”
Ms. McGillycuddy has worked in medical school admissions for years and has seen many types of people decide to pursue an M.D., including those already working in healthcare-oriented careers.
“Over the years I have seen many medical students change career paths,” she said. “Some were teachers, police officers, personal trainers, nurses and so on. I think it is quite admirable when someone can make a career change and fulfill their passion. In fact, students who have done this tend to be far more driven, mature and successful.”
“If, when you wake up in the morning and you are not excited and if, at the end of your day you do not feel fulfilled then make that change, make it happen and go after what is meant to be yours,” Ms. McGillycuddy said. “Here, at UMHS, we will provide you the tools and support you will need to be successful.”
Medical Schools Value Mature Students
Medical schools value the mature student. We spoke to Prakash Mungli, M.D., M.B.B.S., UMHS Chair of Department of Molecular Sciences and Professor of Biochemistry, about why nontraditional medical students do well during and after medical school.
“With my personal experience of teaching for more than six years at UMHS, I have found most of the non-traditional medical students excelled and moved on to become physicians and many of them have successfully completed Step 1 and are on their way to becoming physicians,” Dr. Mungli said. “The reason why nontraditional medical students are equally successful when compared to students who are fresh out of college is these students are much more matured and take responsibility for what they do. They carry experience with them, in way or the other; their experience will be useful during their medical school years.”
Older students already working in health-related careers often make a smooth transition to medical school, Dr. Mungli said.
“I have seen many nontraditional medical students with paramedical experiences like nursing, laboratory technology, emergency medicine, medical research, and other allied health sciences,” he said. “These students are already exposed to various medical concepts and terminologies. They have an experience of working with physicians and paramedics. These experiences will help them to understand medical concepts in a much better way because they can start to correlate things they learn in medical school with the experience that they have had before.”
Diversity is another reason many medical schools like to admit nontraditional students, but for a different reason than most think, according to the article “Why Medical Schools Like Nontraditional Students” on the website Premed Life. Just like many medical schools admit students of certain racial and ethnic backgrounds, people from different age groups with more advanced levels of work experience are vital, too.
“This is so important because if you have students from all different backgrounds then their base level of knowledge will be different from other students,” the article said. “Also, the way that people think is based on their environment, educational background, and so much more. The more ‘types’ of students there are, the more varied the discussion. Discussion is a vital part of the medical school experience because there are sessions in which you sit with your fellow peers in small groups and discuss ways to take care of a made-up patient.”
Two Types of Nontraditional Medical Students
Nontraditional students who apply to medical schools usually fall into two categories, Katherine M. Ruger said in U.S News and World Report: 1) People with an undergraduate degree outside of the traditional “premed” disciplines; and 2) “career changers,” those who are already working in a field that may or may not be related to medicine.
For college graduates who did not take many science courses as an undergrad, fulfilling the requirements for medical school can include taking “premed” courses and labs for inorganic or general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, physics and college-level math such as calculus or statistics online or at a local community college. Some may choose to enter a post-baccalaureate program.
“Depending on the original degree, admissions committees may want to see these candidates complete science coursework, particularly coursework that meets the institution’s requirements,” Ms. Ruger wrote in U.S News and World Report.
“Career changers,” people who are already working in various fields, from accountants to nurses, comprise the second group of nontraditional students pursuing an M.D.
Ms. Ruger noted that “career changers” should be forthcoming and honest about their real-life experience when applying to medical schools.
“Nontraditional medical school applicants should not be shy about referring to aspects of their lives that may be applicable in essays or interviews, and they should definitely not misrepresent aspects of their backgrounds,” she said.
Medical school requires dedication and commitment no matter what age you are. However, more “seasoned” applicants should see their life experience as an asset.
“With my personal experience of teaching to and interacting with nontraditional medical students while they were doing basic sciences at UMHS, St Kitts and after they moved on to do clinical rotations and residency, what I’d like to say is, with both hard work and smart work combined, nontraditional medical students excel in medical school as equally as traditional medical students,” said Dr. Mungli of UMHS.
Nontraditional Medical Students Important for Clinical Rotations
Having nontraditional medical students as part of a medical school’s student body is also useful when it is time for clinical rotations at hospitals. As Premed Life noted, “[I]f medical schools want to fill in different specialties, they want to attract different types of medical students. A diverse medical student group provides a rich array of different personalities who will all pursue different specialties in the future.”
Medical School for All Ages
In another post on Premed Life from 2017 “Why Being Nontraditional is Just Right for Medical School,” the authors eloquently explain why age should not be a factor when applying to medical schools.
“Whether you’re 23 or 40, you can, and should, pursue your dream of becoming a doctor,” the authors wrote. “While there certainly will be some disadvantages to being beyond the typical age, there are many advantages. As a 23-year-old, students have the energy and passion that may be harder to tap into later on in life. As a 35-year-old, students have a bit more life experience and knowledge that was nonexistent when they were just graduating college.”
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