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Can You Become a Doctor After Age 30 (Or 40, Or 50?)

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How late is too late to get started in medical school? If you’re 30 or older and considering making the switch to a medical career, this question is top-of-mind for you. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, 52.7 per cent of students who started medical school in 2021 were 23-25 years old. While most of them (68.5 per cent) took at least one gap year between graduation and starting medical school, they were still young enough to never have attended a high school reunion, let alone a college reunion.

However, 5.6% of new medical students in 2021 were over the age of 28. So while it is rare to see more seasoned students entering medical school for the first time, it’s not unheard of. At PostBaccProgramGuide, we are all about helping people take the road less travelled to medical school. This includes people who want to become doctors even if they’re in their 30s, 40s, or beyond. Here are some things to consider if you’re looking to chase your dreams a little later in life.

It Does Happen

First, take heart that people do become medical doctors later in life. Consider just a few examples from the news in the past three years alone.

Dr. Carl Allamby, formerly a Cleveland-area auto mechanic, entered a pre-medical post-bacc program after a biology class turned him on to the idea of a medical career. He graduated from medical school in 2019, at the age of 47. Dr. Anthony Desoasido, a former nurse, was 40 when he began medical school in Nevada. He graduated into his residency when he was 44—just as the COVID-19 epidemic was hitting. Dr. Sarah Merrill, 41, graduated from medical school this year, and celebrated her achievement with her nine children. She’s entering a neurosurgery residency. Dr. Michael Butler graduated from medical school in 2021, at an age when most people are thinking of retiring—62. He is currently a family medicine resident in New Jersey.

All of these doctors were well over 30 when they started (or re-started, in the case of Dr. Merrill) their medical school journeys. They are living proof that you can make it happen, too.

It Can Be More Complicated

Going back to college later in life takes lots of extra planning. Going back to medical school takes even more. The intensive study that medical school requires means you are unlikely to be able to work and take classes at the same time. You’ll need to figure out the following tricky questions:

  • How will you pay for living expenses and education?
  • How will you share family and household responsibilities while maintaining your study schedule?
  • What happens if you need to move to attend a first-choice medical school or for a residency?

In each of the cases above, the late-life doctors worked with spouses and other family members to keep the bills paid and the household functional while they studied. For example, Dr. Merrill held a meeting with the family about whether she should accept a place at the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Arizona—they were living in Pennsylvania when she applied. Fortunately, they were all behind her decision, and Merrill’s mother was able to move along with the family to help with younger children.

Be Prepared to Be the Oldest Person in the Room

Being a mature student means accepting that you’ll be classmates with people 10, 15, or more years younger than you. This can make socializing and working in groups awkward, but younger people may find your life experience helpful.

Plus, you are likely to have developed more resilience when it comes to handling setbacks. Older adults who have started a business or raised children are usually better able to juggle stressful situations and remain emotionally balanced in the face of setbacks. This is one aspect of being an older student that medical schools tend to value—their life experience.

You May Need to Re-Take Classes

If you graduated from your bachelor’s degree program more than five years ago, you may need to re-take certain science classes before medical schools will consider you for admission. You will also need to study for (and score well on) the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Take a look at the websites of the medical schools you are interested in. See what time limits they place on prerequisite courses. If it’s not obvious, e-mail the program admissions director and ask for information. You can also look around the internet for advice from older medical students about how they met admission requirements for their programs.

Consider a Post-Bacc Program

If you are coming from a career that isn’t already medicine- or science-related, you may want to consider enrolling in a pre-medical post-bacc program. In addition to helping you make up prerequisite classes, these programs offer tailored application advising, MCAT prep support, and career path guidance you may find it hard to locate on your own. Many post-baccs also offer the opportunity to complete clinical or research experience during the program, and some offer “linkages”, or preferential admissions consideration, at specific medical schools.

Post-bacc programs specifically for career changers are out there, and by spending a year in such a program, you can better equip yourself to make your mid-life leap into a medical career.

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