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Hi there fellow non-trads, I could use a little advice.  I will be applying in the 2015/2016 cycle as a 3rd year Undergrad.  Keeping in mind that I have to continue working full time during this year as well as carrying a full course load, is there anything I should be doing throughout this year to make my application stronger?  I'm feeling a little lost about what my main focus should be.  I know my GPA is important and I've begun preparing for the MCAT, but I work in a very non-medical field, with no real experience in a medical or research environment, on top of all that I'll be 40 by the time I apply..... is it hopeless?

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IMHO, in general, pre-med students want strength in four areas:

  • GPA
  • MCAT Scores
  • Non-academics (Extracurriculars / Volunteers / Work Experience)
  • A strong application (Sketch and Essays)

Unfortunately as an older applicant, it's difficult to become as well rounded as someone fresh out of highschool due to other pressing time commitments. However, you do have a significant advantage in that you've presumably built up a lot of life experience / work experience that is atypical for pre-med students. If you play to your strengths, you can definitely have a shot at getting in.

If you're comfortable listing your GPA breakdown by year, we can try to suggest appropriate schools / MCAT goals for your situation. UofT is a wonderful school for non-trad students as they holistically assess every applicant (unlike some other schools who only assess GPA/MCAT initially). Some schools put heavy emphasis on GPA/MCAT then assess other traits later, but unfortunately that typically works against non-trads (whose strongest aspects are typically their life experience, which go unassessed).

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Thank You for your feedback,  so far my GPA is around 3.9, my dream school would be Queens although I'd be thrilled with any Ontario school.  It's true that I have very atypical work experience as I currently work as an Artist and Teacher (Self-Employed), I guess I'm most concerned that a lack of any medical background will stand out as strange.

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Thank You for your feedback,  so far my GPA is around 3.9, my dream school would be Queens although I'd be thrilled with any Ontario school.  It's true that I have very atypical work experience as I currently work as an Artist and Teacher (Self-Employed), I guess I'm most concerned that a lack of any medical background will stand out as strange.

 

Please don't think that non-medical ECs aren't still strong ECs. Increasingly schools value non-trad experiences, so the time you've spent doing fairly unique things (for med school applicants at least) are still quite beneficial. I'm guessing you've had years of experience with pursuits like that, which is where being an older applicant can actually be an advantage. With a solid GPA and a strong MCAT, your chances will still be decent at several schools - you don't need a deep medical background in your ECs to get into many schools as long as you can demonstrate responsibility, productivity, achievement.

 

That said, it is also important to demonstrate that you have a genuine interest in medicine, as much for yourself as for Med School Adcoms. Having absolutely no experience in health care or biomedical research does beg the question: Why do you think being a physician is the right career for you?

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As I said, you don't necessarily need strong medical experience, you just need something. Any sort of volunteering with health care-related organizations or charities; joining medically-related societies, interest groups, initiatives, or projects at your school; even personal experience taking care of loved ones. Anything can really count, but there should be some indication that you've explored the field of medicine at least a bit and are comfortable with the life-long career you're pursuing. As you say, hospital volunteering is usually more of a customer service-type activity, so it's not always the best way to gain real experience in health care, but it does still show that you have an interest.

 

I asked the question "Why do you think being a physician is the right career for you?" because it's honestly confusing why someone with no exposure to health care would want to apply to Med School. Pretty much every school will ask you a question similar to that at some point in the application process, so I hope you have, or at least develop, a good answer to that question. More importantly, I hope you have an answer to that question for yourself, because becoming a physician is a long path and it takes strong motivation to keep going. You haven't said much about why you want to apply to Med School - not that you need to - but based on the limited information you have given, I'm not sure what's pushing you to take this path and if you give Med Schools the same information, they might not be sure either.

 

You asked if your situation was hopeless, and it's definitely not. If you keep your GPA solid and get a strong MCAT score, you'll be in decent shape. Medically focused-ECs would certainly help, especially at EC-heavy schools like Queen's and Ottawa. Age really doesn't hurt your chances of getting into Med School. Where I think it matters though, is getting through it. Even if everything goes perfectly, you'll be at least 46 by the time you're able to practice independently. You'd hardly be the first person that age to do it - there are a number of successful physicians who started later in life - but it takes quite a bit of dedication. I just want to make sure that you've thought about what's driving you down this path, and that it's enough to get through it all  :D

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My first interest in Medicine began when my husband was admitted to the hospital for a few weeks with a serious illness.  At that point I had an interest from the perspective of helplessness, I hated playing a passive roll, probably more of a place of frustration.  I began to do a lot of research into his illness which led me to realize what a fascination I had with physiology.  With no intention of pursuing Medicine I decided to return to University as a Biology undergrad .  My interest in medicine has only grown since then, it's a strange pull that I can't really explain, which I realize would make for a horrible explanation in an interview.  Also, you are right that the actual practice of medicine is something I know vey little about.  If it is ethical to do so, I would love to have the opportunity to shadow a medical professional to get a better idea of their daily life.  Has anyone had this opportunity?  Or know how to approach a Physician with such a request? 

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My first interest in Medicine began when my husband was admitted to the hospital for a few weeks with a serious illness.  At that point I had an interest from the perspective of helplessness, I hated playing a passive roll, probably more of a place of frustration.  I began to do a lot of research into his illness which led me to realize what a fascination I had with physiology.  With no intention of pursuing Medicine I decided to return to University as a Biology undergrad .  My interest in medicine has only grown since then, it's a strange pull that I can't really explain, which I realize would make for a horrible explanation in an interview.  Also, you are right that the actual practice of medicine is something I know vey little about.  If it is ethical to do so, I would love to have the opportunity to shadow a medical professional to get a better idea of their daily life.  Has anyone had this opportunity?  Or know how to approach a Physician with such a request? 

 

So it sounds like you have some decent motivation, which certainly counts for something - wanting to help people like your husband is an admirable goal! Still, there are lots of ways to become involved in health care and help patients, so I agree, a strange pull probably isn't a good enough reason to pursue becoming a physician, for Med Schools or for your own career planning.

 

Shadowing a physician is something many premeds do, and while it can never capture the full scope of what it's like to practice in medicine, it can be fairly eye-opening. Your school likely has a premed society and they're probably a good place to start to find physicians who might be willing to have undergrads shadow them. Beyond that, it's using whatever contacts you have, finding physicians and simply asking them. Networking's kinda the name of the game when it comes to medicine - well, most careers really  :P

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I guess I'm most concerned that a lack of any medical background will stand out as strange.

 

The "cookie cutter pre-medical student" mentality is thankfully (for the benefit of people like us) dying out. I'm an applicant with a lot of teaching experience in Mathematics, but relatively little medical experience. I applied last year and was unsuccessful (though I was very optimistic about UofT), so since then I've been volunteering at a local hospital and doing some other things to try and boost my chances.

 

There is no real "strange" things anymore! By taking the MCAT, you demonstrate competency with the pre-requisite science material, and by being successful/perseverant in whatever it is that you do (academics, in the work force, etc), demonstrate other beneficial and desirable qualities.

 

Remember - you don't have to be a doctor already, that's what medical school is for. You have to demonstrate that you are the type of person who will succeed and grow to be a great physician.

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You appear to have developed a fascination with the mysteries of the human body as a result of a disease of a loved one, and this became your motivation to pursue a change of career to medicine. This is entirely legitimate. With your life experience, you should be able to demonstrate the CanMEDS competencies and traits that adcoms are looking for. I wish you success in the pursuit of your goal.

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Thanks everyone, this certainly gives me some hope that I'm not chasing an impossible ideal.  MathToMed did you receive an interview at any of the schools you applied to?  And if you did, did you feel your teaching experience was seen as an asset to the panel?  I feel very strongly that my years of teaching experience would be very beneficial, but that may be only my biased opinion.

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IMHO, in general, pre-med students want strength in four areas:

  • GPA
  • MCAT Scores
  • Non-academics (Extracurriculars / Volunteers / Work Experience)
  • A strong application (Sketch and Essays)

Unfortunately as an older applicant, it's difficult to become as well rounded as someone fresh out of highschool due to other pressing time commitments. However, you do have a significant advantage in that you've presumably built up a lot of life experience / work experience that is atypical for pre-med students. If you play to your strengths, you can definitely have a shot at getting in.

 

If you're comfortable listing your GPA breakdown by year, we can try to suggest appropriate schools / MCAT goals for your situation. UofT is a wonderful school for non-trad students as they holistically assess every applicant (unlike some other schools who only assess GPA/MCAT initially). Some schools put heavy emphasis on GPA/MCAT then assess other traits later, but unfortunately that typically works against non-trads (whose strongest aspects are typically their life experience, which go unassessed).

I disagree that it's harder as a non-trad to "become well-rounded"- I think we already are. Being well rounded is built up by life experience. That's my opinion. 

 

Your life experience WILL be assessed, but sometimes not until after the GPA/MCAT is. In fact, some schools have a full section for employment that is separate from the extracurriculars section. 

 

Thank You for your feedback,  so far my GPA is around 3.9, my dream school would be Queens although I'd be thrilled with any Ontario school.  It's true that I have very atypical work experience as I currently work as an Artist and Teacher (Self-Employed), I guess I'm most concerned that a lack of any medical background will stand out as strange.

It won't stand out as strange, well, it will, but I think in a good way. Your GPA is great, keep it up. 

 

Please don't think that non-medical ECs aren't still strong ECs. Increasingly schools value non-trad experiences, so the time you've spent doing fairly unique things (for med school applicants at least) are still quite beneficial. I'm guessing you've had years of experience with pursuits like that, which is where being an older applicant can actually be an advantage. With a solid GPA and a strong MCAT, your chances will still be decent at several schools - you don't need a deep medical background in your ECs to get into many schools as long as you can demonstrate responsibility, productivity, achievement.

 

That said, it is also important to demonstrate that you have a genuine interest in medicine, as much for yourself as for Med School Adcoms. Having absolutely no experience in health care or biomedical research does beg the question: Why do you think being a physician is the right career for you?

+1- it's all part of your application, and that's why I don't agree with the first reply to your post. 

 

"Why medicine?" is a really great question to ask. As a non-trad, it will be harder in some ways for you to get in and be accepted. I don't know what the makeup of my class will be but I'm in my mid-thirties and suspect I will be in the oldest ten students. I've had to ask myself many times just to make sure I was still pursuing it for valid reasons (well, valid for me). I encourage you to think about this question, or even, as I did, practice answering it in the mirror as though you were in an interview. 

 

Thanks, that is a valid point.  What do you recommend as strong medical experience?  I've looked into volunteering at hospitals etc. but it seems like most positions are not medical in nature, more of a 'customer service' type of role.

 

As someone with a lot of "customer service" experience, I'v thought a lot about this question. What do you think being a health care worker actually is? I'd argue a lot of it actually IS customer service. 

 

With your life experience, you should be able to demonstrate the CanMEDS competencies and traits that adcoms are looking for. 

I agree with this. It seems to be what some adcoms are explicitly looking for, and others don't state it outright but it can still help, IMO. 

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I agree with lokiki that with more life experience behind you, you are much more well rounded than a kid fresh out of high school. I'm surprised this even needs to be said.

 

We had one person in her 40s in my class. She did just fine and is now super happy in a primary care residency.

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I disagree that it's harder as a non-trad to "become well-rounded"- I think we already are. Being well rounded is built up by life experience. That's my opinion. 

 

Your life experience WILL be assessed, but sometimes not until after the GPA/MCAT is. In fact, some schools have a full section for employment that is separate from the extracurriculars section. 

 

I agree with lokiki that with more life experience behind you, you are much more well rounded than a kid fresh out of high school. I'm surprised this even needs to be said.

 

No tooty, I don't believe that needs to be said, and if I did say anything contrary to that then it was a miscommunication. I still feel my points were valid, perhaps I've used the wrong words. I'll try to clarify what I meant:

 

My first point was that non-trads don't have the luxury of applying themselves to as many different tasks as traditional students, who typically have considerably less tying them down financially, and have fewer day to day obligations (raising children, working a steady job being the primary examples). While many positive character traits and "well-roundedness" can come from working a steady job for 10 years and raising 2.5 children, this is an aspect of the application many non-trads struggle with. When faced with something like the autobiographical sketch, a lot of people don't put these things down, since they feel it'd resemble something along the lines of:
 

 tumblr_lhrronyQLd1qbtchoo1_400.jpg

A traditional student has the luxury of adding a lot of different experiences which non-trads may not feasibly be able to do at that stage of the game, such as volunteering overseas, and at 4 different hospitals over the summer. If you're a non-trad and you haven't done these things, realistically (or at least typically) you probably won't prior to applying to medical school.

I did not mean to imply that these are in any way "better" extracurriculars, or anything like that. All I was saying is that for non-trads it's typically depth over breadth and in many cases, the exact opposite for those following the standard pathway. Unfortunately, with a 250 character limit on an autobiographical sketch item, it is exceptionally difficult to accurately capture the depth of raising children, or working hard at a steady job for many years. Raising children, or working for 15 years is not automatically seen as virtuous by the ad-coms, and so non-trads must work that much harder to present themselves as well-rounded.

This is what I meant to say in my previous post.

---------------

Second, regarding assessment of things beyond GPA and MCAT - you have to get past that stage first. Many non-trads (just browse these forums...) unfortunately never make it past the initial GPA/MCAT cut-offs. All of the character, and well-roundedness in the world won't make the ad-coms look at you if you're getting tossed out at first glance on the basis of, for example, bad (or even good, but not spectacular) grades. I mentioned UofT is a notable exception to this, but with many schools, frankly, if you get to the stage that they're actually looking at your file/activities with a fine-toothed comb, it's not because of said activities. In this regard, non-trads don't have much of an advantage over traditional applicants.

I still stand by my sentiment:  many non-trads' best features go unassessed (including the hard work and arduous presentation noted above).


Take home point - IMHO, non-trads have a lot to bring to the table, but they have to work that much harder to show this to the adcoms.

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Thanks MathtoMed, for the clarification. I can state that I did put down all my raising of children on my app, and I think most other parents do too, as it shows a ton of character traits. 

 

Calgary's sectioning of their app made it really easy, with their "top ten" format. I had it in my UBC app too. 

 

I think this is the case with pretty much all the schools. You have to look at were you spend your time, and what qualities it displays. I live in a rural area and I also think I included hunting, gardening, and wild food gathering on my app.

 

To the OP, I decided to only include things since high school. Many non-trads will find that they can't include everything anyways.  

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I'm not an expert in admissions, but anyone who can work fulltime and do a fulltime course load at the same time should have an EXTREMELY strong chance of getting in. The ability to juggle that must be intense, and I couldn't imagine doing it. I'd argue if someone worked full-time and had a 4.0 in 2 years and had no redflags, then they should get in.

Don't worry about your age. Many people start medical school in their 30s and some in their 40s. I think you should definitely pursue medicine.

I was able to get a cardiologist to allow me to shadow him. I simply emailed him and he emailed me back asking for an interview. The interview was fairly quick and he just told me to get in touch with his assistant so I could sign some documents to get started. I'd say send out some emails. But I live in Vancouver where there are obviously a lot of doctors and thus a much higher chance of someone saying yes. If you can travel to an urban centre (maybe an hour or two away), then that would be looked favorably on an application because it shows effort and commitment. I heard someone who used to be an adcom say this exact thing, that effort=points on an application.

Anyways don't get discouraged by anything and chase your dreams if thats what you really want!

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Thanks Canucks_14, I'd like to think balancing a full time job with a full time course load will be of some significance to an adcom.  It certainly isn't easy, I've added one day a week volunteering at a local Cancer clinic as it's something medically related and also somewhere I can be significantly helpful, I'm enjoying this quite a bit.  Not sure it will full fill any questions concerning 'clinical experience' etc. but it's about all I can handle on top of my current commitments.  Hopefully it will suffice!  :D

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