Advice for the Non-Traditional Premedical Student

A relatively new trend has emerged among the throng of students who prepare for the long haul to earn the right to be called “doctor”. Every year, more adults who have already graduated college and even built careers for themselves join the ranks of hopeful medical school candidates, whether as a result of following a long forgotten passion or born from a desire to change their chosen path in life. They often find themselves without any guide or resources to aid them in their decision, adding unnecessary frustration to an already complicated situation. These tips should help cover the basics every non-traditional student needs to know.

First, make sure you have enough funding before you begin your endeavor. While loans aren’t too hard to locate in medical school, available funding for premed courses is far less plentiful and more difficult to find. Check with the university you’re planning to attend to see if they offer assistance for premeds, specifically postbac.

For those with more than one or two premed courses to take, one option that’s become more popular in recent years is the postbaccalaureate premedical program. Several universities throughout the US have begun offering these programs, one to two years in length, as a way for non-traditional students to finish their premed courses in a timely fashion. These programs usually include a committee whose purpose is to help prepare postbacs for the reality of life in medical school. Postbac premed programs can be more expensive and more strict (often requiring a minimum college GPA of 3.0) than the do-it-yourself method, but a letter of recommendation from one of these committees can have a positive impact on your application.

Next, consider plugging into a support group. The life of a non-traditional student can be isolating when it seems no one else is going through the same thing; being part of a group with similar goals can help lessen this feeling. Some universities have created such communities, most of whom also offer a postbac premed program. There’s also support online: Old Premeds (www.oldpremeds.net) and the Student Doctor Network (www.studentdoctor.net) are two large, friendly communities that offer advice and support to non-traditional premed and medical students.

If you’ve never done any kind of paid or volunteer work in a medical setting before, now’s a good time to start. Hospitals are always looking for volunteers, and if you explain your future goals up front they may be willing to give you experience in a clinical setting. The benefit is twofold: you have something to put on your application and you gain exposure to the field of medicine, which is handy to determine if you’ve made the right decision.

Finally, don’t discount everything you’ve learned up until now. You’re not a blank slate when you arrive at medical school – you’re bringing your work (and life) experience with you. Med schools know this, and expect to see it reflected in your application. Did you hold a position of authority at work? Did you volunteer at your local soup kitchen? Were you a soccer mom and a career woman at the same time? Look at your resume from an objective viewpoint and see what can be included on your application. For many non-traditional students, this is where they have a chance to impress the interviewer and earn a coveted spot at the medical school of their choice.

Changing careers can be a big but ultimately rewarding step, as the growing number of non-traditional students proves. For those serious about a life of medicine, the steps I’ve listed here will help you realize you’re not alone and assist you in making the transition from workplace to classroom.

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