Taking the Non-Traditional Route to Medical School
Interested in the medical profession track but didn’t complete any sort of pre-med work in your undergraduate studies? Are you an older medical professional looking for a career change within your field or just looking for a career change in general and interested in pursuing a job in medicine? There are many medical students who take a more non-traditional route to becoming a medical professional. Medical schools want to keep the diversity alive within their walls, meaning that, as long as you are honest, there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to your application that might prevent your acceptance. Successful, academically accomplished applicants with some life-experience to bring to the table are a welcome change to the traditional medical school applicants.
What defines a non-traditional med school student? These may include students who are past the age when traditional college graduates apply for med school, who might be returning to school, or who may be looking for a career switch. Also included may be students who did not take a pre-med approach to their studies in their undergraduate program, such as many science classes. Starting later than most medical students can be daunting and confusing. Where do you start? Here is a little guidance on the steps you need to take for admission into med school and a future career in the medical field.
Reflect on your “why”
What is your “why,” your reasoning for wanting to apply to medical school at this particular time in your life, whether it be a major career change or that you are finally ready after taking some time off. Whatever the reason may be, take some time to reflect on this before you start gathering your materials for the application process. Med school is extremely time consuming. It might cut into your family or personal time, and it almost certainly will affect your ability to stay in full time employment at any job you may already have. Hopefully you will have the support of your family to pursue this goal. Make sure you talk it through with them first before taking any of the steps needed to apply. Medical school can be a rigorous time for anyone, and it’s been known to take both an emotional and a physical toll on its students. Be sure that you are able to handle it emotionally and mentally, as well as physically. If any of these reflections tends to give you pause, and you have considered the cost and time needed and you have any doubts at all, speak to an advisor at your undergrad school or at a medical school where you had considered applying. Check off those pros and cons, make sure you have a very clear understanding of what will be expected of you, and then make your final decision on if you are going to pursue med school or not at this time in your life.
Research medical schools
Entering medical school as a nontraditional student can be intimidating. While the school might not have any problem accepting your admission into their medical program, that doesn’t mean that the school might be the best for someone in your position. Make sure you are doing your research before starting the time-consuming process of applying. Visit the campus and talk with an advisor to get a feel for the program for non-traditional students such as yourself. If possible, ask if you can be connected with others who have taken the same route as you at that school so you can hear from them first-hand how the experience has been and have that aid in helping you decided which schools are right for you. On top of that, you will need to make sure the location of the school is somewhere that will work for you and your current lifestyle, as you will be spending at least 4 years there. Keep in mind that any school that you will have a somewhat lengthy commute to get to might not be worth it, as the schedule you will have to keep as a student might make commuting difficult to navigate and deal with.
Update your files
Files means any sort of important paperwork that will be needed when applying such as an updated resume, transcripts and test scores, and letters of recommendation. An updated resume is important because it will show your work ethic and the fields you have been involved in that may or may not relate to your medical training. Also, on your resume, you should list any continuing education, professional development, certifications, and volunteer work. Show off your passions and your hobbies, especially if you don’t have much of a background in science. Your transcripts and any test scores are important for schools to see to get an idea of how you’ve done academically. If you haven’t attended school in quite some time, it’s vital that your test scores are more recent. Research the medical schools that you will be applying to and make sure you can check off all the prerequisites. This might mean attending some required classes, taking refresher courses, or retaking the MCAT, if you haven’t taken it already. Your letters of recommendation should be current as well and reflect where you are at your current stage in life and now where you were 4 or even 10 years ago! The application process, including preparedness, can take awhile to complete, so ensure that you give yourself plenty of time to prep these documents and fulfill your requirements. Give yourself a realistic timeline within which to work.
When filling out the application for medical school, make sure your answers to questions, and especially to the essay, are current and fresh. You may have already answered similar questions or wrote a similar essay in the past, but not creating fresh ideas with your current mindset will show through, and it can hinder your ability for acceptance.
Find a mentor
When applying to undergraduate programs, you most likely had the help of your high school guidance counselor, past graduates, parents, or others who had once been in your shoes and could offer you guidance. Don’t let applying to med school be any different. Seek out a person or persons who can offer you support and guidance as you embark on this new journey in your life. The great thing about the internet is how many people you can reach with the click of a button. If you are having trouble finding someone located closer to you who can act as a mentor, you may be able to find someone by using the internet and joining groups. What’s more, you may even be able to find someone who was in your very shoes at one point, about to take the non-traditional approach to med school. They can help you check off everything on your prerequisite and application list and just offer your support in what can be a stressful time.
Get your foot in the healthcare door
If you are a student who is making a career change into the medical field, you should be sure to have some kind of healthcare of medical experience in your background before applying. You don’t have to have actual job experience in the healthcare field, but simple volunteer work will suffice. This will show your interest and your passion and seriousness in wanting to take this leap and make this change in your life. Volunteering or working in the healthcare field prior to applying to medical school will also help you to gain some insight into the career track you are about to jump on. You might end up deciding that it’s really not for you and if that’s a conclusion you are going to come to, it’s better to come to terms with it early on, before you go through the whole application process.
If you have done some reflecting, figured out how medical school can fit into your current life, researched and chosen the schools you want to apply to, have sought out help from advisors or others who are/have been in your position before, and have spruced up your application packed with current test scores, post-bac refresher courses, healthcare volunteer work, and glowing recommendations from anyone who can vouch for you in a professional or academic sense in recent years, then you are well on your way to quite possibly becoming a part of the ever-growing population of non-traditional medical school students. Best of luck to you!