“You’re going back to medical school? Why would you do that? Are you crazy?” Hopefully most people won’t react so strongly to your decision, but the question is probably still on their minds. And similar reservations are bound to pop into the heads of medical school admissions committee members reviewing your application. While the experiences and maturity that non-traditional applicants bring to medical school are highly desirable, you’ll also need to address these concerns to show that it’s not 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 most people your age are pursuing established careers, raising their families, and building their nest eggs, would you embark on years of grueling medical training? Given the low medical school acceptance rates, why should we accept you?” You must be prepared to answer this question – your personal statement can’t tiptoe around it – and to explain why medicine, at this point, is right for you.
Hopefully you’ve already given this matter a great deal of thought; if not, step back and think deeply about the questions below. This introspection will serve you well while writing your personal statement, not to mention as you begin your training to become a doctor.
In answering this question, applicants often say they’ve always wanted to become a doctor. This claim is dubious at the best of times, and for older applicants, it’s completely unconvincing.
Instead, think about the people or events that were the catalyst for your decision to change careers. Did you or a loved one experience a medical event? Were you exposed to health-related issues at work? Did you have a significant experience while volunteering?
Don’t discount any experiences as too big or too small. 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.
There are probably several reasons you want to change careers. Address these in a positive way that emphasizes the aspects you seek in medicine.
For example, instead of saying you hate sitting alone in a cubicle, explain how volunteering at a food bank made you realize how much satisfaction you got from 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.
Many people only decide to pursue medicine when finances allow, when the kids have grown up, or when other obligations subside. If this is the case, be very clear about it. Older applicants are often better off financially than debt-encumbered undergraduates, and many have experienced caretaking roles in a very real sense. These can all be further evidence of your maturity.
What Do You Have to Offer?
As a non-traditional student, you bring a very different set of skills and experiences to the medical school community. Don’t try to diminish the non-medical side of your life. Instead, inventory your skills and experiences from this time and show their value for you and your classmates. 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. 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 potential criticisms by emphasizing that, more than anything else, medicine is what you really want.
Using firsthand experiences, describe how you’ve learned what this profession 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, either in completing prerequisites as a returning student or tackling obstacles at work. Again, supporting your claims with concrete examples gives the admissions committee a better introduction to you and all your strengths.
Need More Help?
As you’re writing your personal statement, make sure you do the following:
• 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 to bring out your unique experiences and perspectives.
Choose Accepted’s Medical School Consulting Services and you will be matched with your own personal consultant, carefully selected to meet your needs as a non-traditional applicant. Don’t underestimate your competitive advantage. We’ll help you get accepted for who you are! Click here to get started.By Cydney Foote, former administrator at the University of Washington School of Medicine and author of three ebooks about medical education. Cyd has successfully advised medical school and residency applicants since 2001. Want Cyd to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• A Second Chance at Medical School: The A-Z of Applying to Postbac Programs, a free guide
• One Older Med Student’s Path: From Grief to Growth to Giving, a podcast episode
• 5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Applying to Medical School as an Older Applicant