FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
- Am I too old to get into medical school?
- Do medical schools discriminate against older applicants?
- How can I get my family to support my decision
to go to medical school?
- How can I get my spouse to support my decision
to go to medical school?
- Will I have time for my family or to have
- Can I get into medical school with a GPA below 3.0?
- Will it really take 2 or 3 years to complete the prerequisites before I
can start medical school?
- Are there any medical schools that do not require the MCAT or the standard
- Should I take the MCAT in April or August?
- If I don’t get in the first time, can I reapply to medical school?
- How can I afford medical school if I have a family to support?
- Will problems in my past prevent me from getting into medical school
(eg, academic problems, bankruptcy, drug use, criminal record)?
- Should I consider Osteopathic or Caribbean medical schools?
- Do you have any regrets about changing careers later in
You should never let age be the deciding factor for anything you do in
life. If becoming a physician is what you really want, if you have the ability
and the energy, if you are willing to make the necessary sacrifices, and if
you have the ability to make sure you existing obligations (spouse, children,
mortgage, etc.) will be taken care of, then
go for it. A friend of mine,
Bruce Stafford started medical school at age 49, and just completed a
residency in Family Medicine in his mid-fifties.
There likely are some medical schools that may disqualify you because of
your age. But these programs are in the minority. If you have a strong GPA and
MCAT scores, and if you can demonstrate that your decision to go to medical
school is logical and well thought out, then most schools should consider you to
be a legitimate applicant. Just make sure you apply to a large number of
schools to hedge against the few programs that may frown on older
It’s not uncommon for family and friends to be unsupportive of your decision
to go to medical school later in life. Most of them have good intentions, and
are concerned that your decision was not well thought out, or that your existing
obligations (spouse, children, mortgage) won’t be taken care of. The good news
is that they will eventually support your decision as they see you excelling in
medical school and as they see that your existing obligations are well taken
Your spouse is at a disadvantage. She (or he) knows what your desires are, and that
you want her support. You need to do the same for her. You need to sit down with
your spouse and talk about her dreams. Find out what she wants most out of life
over the next 5 years, and come up with a way to make them compatible with
medical school. Make her goals your goals, and give them as much importance as
your objective to get through medical school.
The first 2 years of medical school are the most flexible. You’ll mostly be
involved in classroom learning. It’ll be intense, but much of your time will be
your own. The second 2 years are more clinical. During this time, when you’re on
a tough rotation, you won’t have much free time at all. But there should be a
number of not-so-tough rotations where you’ll have some time to be home.
During residency, your time will get even shorter. This depends on which
residency you choose. During these years, your time will no longer be your own.
You’ll spend up to 80 hours a week at the hospital (possibly a bit more at
times). Some months will be better than others, but you’ll be busy the majority
of the time. Most residencies are front-loaded, so your first year will likely
be your busiest.
There is no ideal time to start a family during your
training, and everyone’s situation will be different. During medical school, if
you want to take a year off to have a child, the best times are probably after
your 2nd or 3rd year. If you only want to take a few weeks off, the best times
are likely during your 3rd year and 4th years of medical school. Your residency
should have a policy for maternity and paternity leave, where you can take a
number of weeks off. You can also take a year off during residency, for example,
after your internship year.
The most important factors
for getting into medical school are GPA and MCAT scores. You need a 3.6 GPA
and a 30 MCAT to
be competitive, and probably at least a 3.25 GPA and a 27 MCAT to have the very slimmest of chances. There
may be ways to redeem yourself, which I talk about under the topic
Second Chance. The following is only a guideline,
but it should make you a competitive applicant. In short, you need to establish a 4.0 post-bacc
GPA (or very close to this) over 30 to 60 credits, get a 33 or better on the MCAT, strengthen your letters of recommendation, and broaden your clinical
When I started looking into medical school, I quickly learned that I
couldn’t just apply and go. At first, the thought of taking 2 or 3 years to get
in was very discouraging. And I think, for some, this can be a deal-breaker.
But for me, it came down to what I really wanted in life, and what I was
willing to sacrifice to attain it. The clincher for me was that, 10 years down
the road, it wouldn’t matter if it had taken me 3 days or 3 years to get into
Every U.S. medical school requires you to take the
MCAT and to complete your
undergraduate prerequisite courses.
For a nontraditional student who already has a bachelor’s degree, it will
likely take 1 or 2 years to complete the prerequisites, and another year to go
through the application process. The exceptions are some
post-baccalaureate programs with direct
linkages to medical schools, that will allow you to complete all prerequisites
and the application process in only one year.
In addition, some
foreign medical schools may have more lenient entrance requirement. But
67% to 75% of all international medical graduates (IMG’s) fail to get licensed to
practice medicine in the U.S. The failure rate is higher for IMG’s who were born in the U.S.
and attend medical school overseas.
The best scenario is to take the MCAT in April, before you apply to medical school on June 1st.
(Note that June 1st is the beginning of the application cycle, for acceptance
the following September, in 15 months). This way your application will be processed as
early as possible, which will maximize your chances of getting accepted.
If instead you take the MCAT in the middle of the application cycle, you’ll be at a disadvantage.
(For example, taking the MCAT in August, with plans to start medical school
the following September, in 13 months.) The problem is that your
application won’t be processed by AMCAS until your MCAT scores are reported,
which won’t be until late October. By then, most schools have selected the
students they will interview, and typically only leave a few slots open for
exceptional people who apply late. If circumstances outside your control require
you to take the August MCAT, that’s okay. But be prepared to reapply to medical school the
Reapplying to medical school is common. One-third of applicants each year
are reapplicants. But it will help if you can do some things to improve
yourself before you reapply. For example, before reapplying, you can take additional courses,
complete a graduate degree, get additional volunteer experience, or complete a
There are a number of ways to pay for medical school. The military will pay
your tuition and give you a stipend while in school in exchange for military
service. If you would rather borrow the money, your medical school will make
sure you get enough student loans to pay for tuition and living expenses while
in medical school. After medical school, there are several ways to have these
loans forgiven. The federal government’s
National Health Service Corp and most state governments will pay off your
student loans if you agree to work in an underserved area and/or an
understaffed specialty for up to 4 years. The
has several loan repayment programs
first-time MD grant recipients.
Talk to your
premed advisor about the need to discuss this problem on your medical school application. If you decide it needs to be addressed, then here’s what I
suggest. You should take 2 or 3 sentences to
briefly state that you had this problem, that this was in your past, and
list the specific steps you have taken to make amends. This should be done
without making excuses or blaming others. For example: “I had a substance abuse
problem for about 3 years, successfully completed rehab in 1991, and have
been drug-free since then. This experience inspired me to help others with
similar problems, and I have been working as a counselor at such-and-such
drug rehab center for the last 8 years.”
I have no regrets about my decision to change careers and go to medical
school. But there are definitely a number of significant sacrifices I had to
make, as did most people who made this same decision. For me, however, there
is nothing else I’d rather be doing in life, to the exclusion of everything
else. The privilege of helping people in a unique way, the challenges of
medicine and life-long learning, and the opportunity to answer important
research questions all make medicine the greatest field to be in. If you feel
this way too, then you should have no regrets.