Non-Traditional Medical Students

This topic is near and dear to me because I was a non-traditional medical student and now I am an orthopedic surgeon! I am not even sure if non-traditional student is the correct or accurate term. I think this is supposed to encompass all those individuals who did not go straight from undergraduate to medical school. It is those individuals who maybe took a year off or 7 years off (like I did!) between undergraduate and medical school; Or maybe it is the individuals who wanted to make a career change into medicine at a later stage in their life. Whatever the case is, you are not alone and you still can be a great physician. I am a little biased but I think having those “real life” experiences before you go into medical school is not only beneficial for you but for your patients when you get into practice.

I want to share my experience. I graduated from college and always wanted to become a doctor. I knew the next step after undergrad was going to be medical school. But there were some other things in my life that I wanted to do or attempt to do before going into medical school. I knew the training to becoming a doctor was long. In my case, I was an elite athlete coming out of college and I wanted to take my athletics to the next level. That next level was the Olympics. I knew that medical school was always going to be there. It was not going away. I also knew that I was never going to be 21 again and never have this amount of energy and athletic prowess. So this was my chance. I decided not to take the MCAT after graduating college because I wasn’t sure where this athletic journey was going to take me and I’m glad that I did not take it because I would have had to re-take the exam when I decided 7 years later to go to medical school. In short, I fell short of making the Olympic team in Track but I spent an amazing 7 years traveling the world and competing against the top athletes in my field. I can confidently say that I have no regrets.

So I decided to apply to medical school at the age of 28. I knew that I had to take the MCAT to get into medical school but what I didn’t know is all my credits from college did not count. So you mean to tell me I need to take those biology, chemistry and physics courses again! This made me nervous because I was not studying during my hiatus from school. I was training and running track and I had a job like everybody else. So I did some research online to look at my options. I needed to take the MCAT so I started looking at Kaplan and Princeton Review. They were the top MCAT reviews when I was starting. And I was looking at some programs that maybe I can take some of the basic pre-requisite courses for medical school.

Well, one of my friends mentioned post-baccalaureate programs. Huh? So I did quite a bit of research and there were tons of programs but I was able to narrow it down to 5 programs in the country that were specific to pre-medical requirements. The program that I chose actually had a component of MCAT review within the course. So I thought this was perfect! I can take 1 year and do this program, study hard to take my MCAT and apply to medical schools. So I moved from one side of the country to another to attend this post-baccalaureate program. It was one of the best decision that I made in my life.

And if you are wondering what to do to get into medical school and maybe you took some time off or changing your career then please consider going to a post-baccalaureate pre-medical program. I know it’s another year but it is so worth it and will increase your chance of getting into medical school. If you go on the AAMC website they have a list a programs but make sure it says the pre-medical program. Some of them incorporate MCAT reviews and others do not. You will have to do your research. Also if you need some additional resources there is a book by Alicia McNease Nimonkar titled ” The definitive Guide to Post-baccalaureate Programs” that is helpful as well.

If it is your dream to become a doctor and you feel that you are too old, have no knowledge of basic sciences, changing career, too far out from school please don’t let that stop you in your quest. Some of the best physicians that I know were non-traditional students.

Good luck. Stay safe. Please email me with any questions.


Your Med Mentor

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