What to Know About Applying to Medical School as a Nontraditional – Michigan Medicine

Then you need to find these courses. Some people find a post baccalaureate program that will hit all these requirements. If you work full-time like I did, though, and cant enroll in a full-time postbac program, you can collect these classes from colleges in your area. Depending on your location, you may have an undergraduate institution close by that will allow you to enroll as some type of lifelong learner to take the courses there without formal degree plans from their institution.

Another option, and what I did, is to find the courses scattered around different junior colleges in the area. This was the only way for me to meet the requirements by taking them around my full-time work schedule (early in the morning, late at night, on weekends). Some people worry that will look bad but when asked on the interview trail, it was a source of pride for me to explain that if I had to manage multiple schedules and travel hundreds of miles at odd hours to take these courses to pursue my medical dreams then that was exactly what I was going to do. I think most schools ended up seeing it as proof of commitment.

First, the AAMC is the absolute best resource and starting place to create a list of critical deliverables for your primary application, such as your undergrad transcripts, MCAT scores, personal statement, extracurricular activities and letters of recommendations, as well as dates when the primary application, secondary application, MCAT/CASPR, interview timeframes and commit dates are due.

Second, having a pre-health advisor and mentors are key for maximizing your responses. If you dont have a pre-health advisor like I didnt, you can request one from National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (volunteer.advisor@naahp.org) and get matched with an advisor who has volunteered to help nontraditional students. My advisor, Gina Camello at the University of Southern California, was critical in helping me wrap my head around the process, requirements and refining my personal statement through many, many drafts (Thank you, Gina!). Other mentors who were critical came from my involvement with theAmerican Medical Womens Association. So many physicians who charted this path before me have been so generous with their time and wisdom on how to be successful in getting into medical school and beyond.

It seems like a long time, but theres much to do and gather. The best thing you can do is get organized and know what needs to be completed by when and give yourself lots of buffer time. Things like getting official transcripts sent can take much longer than you anticipate. If youre going to ask for letters of recommendations from specific individuals, give them enough time and information to be successful in helping you. I studied for the MCAT for eight months. It took six months of drafts before my personal statement was succinct enough to be worthy of application, and I had considered myself a prolific writer before this.

A high quality application takes a lot of time and introspection so make sure you get highly organized and give yourself enough time to complete things because theres no shortage of stories of people who dropped out of the application process because it was coming down to the wire for submitting items, and the pressure was too much.

I think its important to find out what about your life experience is unique, whats your differentiator, and how does that apply to what your vision is for your future medical career.

Admissions teams highlight repeatedly that applicants who really know themselves on this level and can show dont tell stand out as the most serious candidates. This means having specific life stories and examples ready that can back up the points you want to illustrate. Anyone can say yes, I am resilient, but having a real world scenario where you proved that will be taken much more seriously. If you are a nontraditional candidate, by linear time definition alone, you may have an advantage in having had more opportunities to attain these skills and experiences.

Theres a common quote in medicine that if you can see yourself being happy doing anything else, you should do that instead. I completely agree.

Medical school is hard: mentally, physically, emotionally. But there is a Nietsche quote that, He who hasa why []can bear almost any how. And I think this is true for medicine. Your why has to be so strong to be able to keep you going through a profession that requires so much from you. For a while I had this dream but thought I was too late or too old now. I was reminded by Earl Nightingale that time passes anyway, you may as well be doing what you love. I knew that at the end of my life if I didnt try I would deeply regret it because I know I have something very important to contribute to medicine. I also was held back for a while thinking that committing to medicine would mean sacrificing family and going into financial debt. However, so many mentors (especially through the American Medical Womens Association) reinforced that many successful physicians also have rich family lives.

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My calling for medicine had grown so loud that when I was finally ready to apply I was willing to give up any amount of time, family or money to see this through. As it turns out, you dont have to be this extreme. Ive learned that life is a great balancing act and with the right strategies, planning and preparationyou can have all the things!

There are many jobs that help people so that is not enough of a reason for any admissions officer to feel confident about a candidate. You need to articulate specifically why you want to be a physician vs. another role.

This is why its important to spend some volunteer time shadowing or on medical missions so you can really be sure this life is for you. A good format to answer why medicine in conversation or your personal statement that I was exposed to is to break it down into: 1. When your interest was piqued about medicine; 2. The further development of that interest; 3. Your final commitment point.

When you apply later in life, admissions teams want to make sure youve given this tremendous thought and that your diverse life experiences have informed the natural culmination to this decision.

First, applicants should know what the requirements are from different schools because some will want science professors, some will want non-science, etc. These are key to know and identify as early as possible, especially if you will need to (re)build these relationships.

If you have spent a majority of your time in a professional career or other venture, you should absolutely consider getting letters from people in these spheres. I had letters that covered career, volunteer work, science instructors and longtime mentors. If you have been out of school for a while and your letters are as diverse as your experience, thats also okay! I would also try to identify people who can speak to a range of your attributes that youd like to demonstrate. Maybe your director at work can speak to your innovative qualities, your volunteer manager can reflect on your ability to execute, your science teacher can reflect (beyond your science aptitude) on your teamwork with classmates, etc.

In my humble opinion from observing the process, what is competitive to one school is a liability for another. What that means is that certain schools want to be known for certain values and have curriculum, opportunities and faculty who represent those interests. The most important thing is fit, not to win them all. For example, with my technology background and vision for the future of technology/medicine, not all medical schools valued or had support for that direction and thats okay. For me, good fit meant being at an institution that valued diversity, inclusion and pioneering new health technology, which is exactly what I found at the University of Michigan. Other schools may have seen my background and thought what can we offer someone who is passionate about technology if we dont really invest in that for our students or faculty?.

A great way to know if a school is going to want to invest in you and the uniqueness you bring is to do research on the projects their faculty are involved in because I think it shows what the institution values. If your dreams are surgical and a majority of their projects are mostly around primary care, no matter how eloquently you describe being inspired by the graceful gesticulations of reconstructive surgery, it may not be a match.

The other positive tip about researching projects at the institution is that perhaps you find a lab or team you want to work with if accepted, and at the interview you can speak more concretely about that particular school and your plans. That shows admissions that you will hit the ground running if admitted and have done research about their school that makes them feel that their institution is really special to you and not just a copy, paste, change name, someone please accept me. You are going to spend the next four plus years at this institution so its very important that you have done enough research about the school to know that you actually want to go and could be successful and contribute there.

Again, sort of depends on the school and what they value. Forward-thinking, tech-inclined schools will be excited about your passion for and experience with new technology or methods. Rural schools may be more impressed with your experience on topics that affect their patient populations more severely, like health care access or perhaps substance abuse. It can be a good idea to see what kinds of things the school gets research funding for because that may tell you what traits they care most about.

SEE ALSO:Reality Checks: Michigan Medical School Students Open Up

As a general blanket statement, most schools will highlight research, diversity and service. I think ultimately, though, the pre-med life experiences that ends up being most attractive are ones that are:unique(so you will have a different perspective to share),altruistic(so you are internally, mission driven) andauthentic(which shows you are introspective and resilient).


What to Know About Applying to Medical School as a Nontraditional - Michigan Medicine

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