Tips for Older Medical School Applicants

"You're going back to medical school? What would you do that for? Are you crazy?" Hopefully most people won't react so strongly when you share your news, but the question is probably still on their minds. And similar reservations may pop into the heads of admissions committee members when they review your file. Here are some ways to show them that it's never too late for you to become a doctor.

The Big Question
Whether explicit or not, the big question on the admissions committee's mind is: "Why, when the vast majority of people are advancing careers, raising families, and building nest eggs, would you embark on many years of grueling medical training?"
As a returning student who chose not to pursue the traditional path from pre-med to medical school, you must be prepared to answer this question - your personal statement can't tiptoe around it. Hopefully you've already given this matter a great deal of thought; if not, step back and think before proceeding. This introspection will serve you well while writing your personal statement, not to mention as you begin your training to become a doctor.

What's Wrong With Your Job Now?
There are probably several reasons you want to change careers. Address these in a positive way that emphasizes the aspects you seek in medicine. Instead of saying you hate sitting in a cubicle all day selling stocks, explain how working as an ER clerk made you realize how much you missed personal human contact. Instead of complaining about being your firm's sole accountant, describe how working with volunteers at the local hospital gave you a taste for teamwork. And don't hesitate to discuss what you really like about your current career. In writing about both the positive and negative aspects of your job, focus on the events and decisions that have brought you back to medicine.

Getting Specific
Med school applicants often write about why they want to be a doctor. Mundane essays about helping people in the abstract or facing a medical condition can become extraordinary when infused with your personality - both the big events and the nuances that make you who you are. The following advice applies to everyone writing a personal statement:
  • Write a focused essay that goes beyond your GPA and MCAT scores.
  • Select specific examples that demonstrate your strengths and make your essay come alive.
  • Draw the reader into the story using anecdotes to illustrate your story and bring out your unique experiences and perspectives.
However, as a non-traditional student, you have the benefit of extra experiences and maturity. Review your personal skills inventory - chances are that what has helped you in your career to date can also help you in medical school. Whether writing about the communication skills you learned as a lawyer, the focus you acquired as an air traffic controller, or the patience you developed as a researcher, illustrating your assets in a personal and specific way will highlight your abilities and demonstrate what perspectives and life experiences you can bring to medical school.

Have You Got What It Takes?
The admissions committee may also have concerns about your ability to survive medical school. Have you been exposed to the medical field through volunteer work? Do you have the science background to understand your coursework? Do you have personal responsibilities that will distract you from medical school? Most importantly, do you have the motivation to compete with younger students?
While you don't need to answer all these questions in your personal statement (you can flesh them out more in your secondaries), you can preempt these criticisms by emphasizing that, more than anything else, a career in medicine is what you really want. Using firsthand experiences, describe how you've learned what a medical career involves and are willing to make sacrifices to achieve it. If you have other obligations, detail your plan to meet them while you're in medical school. Prove that you have the energy and motivation to succeed by relating other challenges you've faced. Again, supporting your claims with concrete examples gives the admissions committee a better introduction to you and all your strengths.