Is it Okay For Career Changers to Go To Community College?

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ADG 241: Is it Okay For Career Changers to Go To Community College?

Session 241

The student is quite concerned about taking prerequisite courses at community college thinking it might negatively impact their medical school application. They are also asking if shadowing one or two doctors per semester is enough clinical experience.

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Question of the Day:

Q: “I have a few questions about pursuing a non-traditional path to medical school. Originally, I studied English and only decided to switch to medicine eight months ago, a few years after graduating. Currently, I’m taking prerequisite classes at a community college. However, I’ve been told that these might not be as well-regarded as those taken at a university. Is this generally the case with medical school admissions?”

A: Taking a non-traditional path to medical school can pose unique challenges and questions. Among them is the concern about taking prerequisite classes at a community college rather than a university, and how these might be viewed by medical school admissions committees.

The answer to this query isn’t a straight yes or no – it’s potentially the case that community college classes may be viewed differently. However, context matters. 

For instance, your current situation as a career changer is one variable. If you had excellent grades in your undergraduate degree and are continuing to perform well at community college, it’s unlikely that many would question your academic ability.

“If you have a reason why you’re taking at community college, then you may have to explain why.”

The Undergraduate Performance Factor

On the other hand, maybe you struggled during your undergraduate studies and are now doing well at community college. Some may question whether this change is due to a shift in your academic capabilities or simply because the classes are easier.

This perception that community college classes are easier is not necessarily accurate. In many cases, the same professors who teach at four-year universities also teach at community colleges. They often moonlight at community colleges to earn extra income. Therefore, the assumption that community college courses are easier is unfounded.

Ultimately, if taking classes at a community college works best for your schedule and financial situation, don’t let the potential perceptions deter you. Just be prepared to explain your choice if asked, but remember that your journey to medical school is unique to you. Your non-traditional path doesn’t make you any less deserving of a place in medical school.

Online Prerequisites in the Post-COVID Era

Q: “I’ve been enrolled in several community colleges, primarily to take some online courses over the summer due to scheduling constraints. I’m unsure if this could negatively impact my application and would appreciate your insight on this matter.”

A: Many students share the concern that online prerequisites are generally not favored by medical schools, and this fear is heightened in the post-COVID era.

However, some medical schools, like Johns Hopkins, have adapted their policies to acknowledge the efficacy of online learning. They’ve concluded that if medical school can be taught online, undergraduate students can certainly learn subjects like physics in the same manner.

This has resulted in a policy where online courses are accepted regardless of whether they were taken pre or post-COVID. Despite this progressive shift, it’s unfortunate that the general consensus still leans towards viewing online courses unfavorably. It’s advisable for students to check the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) or individual medical schools’ websites to understand their specific policies.

Exploring Research Opportunities as a Late-Starter

Q: “I understand that I’m so as a nontraditional student, I do not have a science background, I have a humanities background. And as I’ve been continuing my studies, I’ve realized that research might be something I’m interested in, potentially doing an MD/PhD. But I’m wondering if it’s kind of late to the game, and if not, where should I start?”

A: An MD/PhD is not simply for those who think they might be interested in research. It’s a path for those who have substantial research experience and are certain they want to pursue a career as a researcher. 

The Importance of Research Experience for MD/PhD Candidates

Unfortunately, many students applying to MD/PhD programs don’t fully grasp this. They may have an interest in research and a few hundred hours of course-related research experience. But without proactively seeking out additional research opportunities and accumulating hundreds or even thousands of hours of research, their applications may fall short.

The allure of free medical school through MSTP programs and the like often attracts people to MD/PhD programs. However, if you’re truly interested in an MD/PhD, it’s recommended to invest time in gaining extensive research experience before applying.

The Unique Career Path of MD/PhD Graduates

“The MD/PhD Career is different than the MD or DO career.”

It’s also important to understand that a career with an MD/PhD typically differs from a career with an MD or a PhD alone. As an MD/PhD, you’re essentially saying, “I want to be a researcher who also sees patients maybe one day a week or half a day a week.” Your career would be primarily focused on research in a lab.

It’s unlike most medical school graduates who primarily aim to provide patient care, with research being a secondary interest. So, while you may want to conduct research as a clinician, remember that this is different from an MD/PhD career trajectory.

Dental Experience Counts: Dispelling Misconceptions About Clinical Experience for Medical School Applicants

Q: “I’ve worked as a dental assistant for two years before deciding to attend medical school. There have been mixed opinions on whether this counts as clinical experience. Some people believe it does, considering the patient care and assistance in surgeries I’ve provided. However, others argue it’s not technically medical.”

A: Those who suggest your dental assistant experience doesn’t count as clinical experience are incorrect. It certainly is clinical experience. They might be implying that it’s not the most relevant clinical experience because it’s dental, and you’re now aiming for medical school.

However, it’s still valid clinical experience. I would advise you to include it in your application as such. Also, ensure you’re gaining recent clinical experience in a more medical, non-dental setting to enhance relevance.

Dispelling Misconceptions Around Consistency

Balancing Teaching, Studies, and Clinical Experience

Q: “Currently, I’m maintaining my career path by teaching at a community college, which helps cover my tuition. It’s a practical way to work and stay in school. However, the drawback is that I’m not gaining much clinical experience. I no longer work at the dental office due to time constraints. I’ve been trying to shadow doctors regularly, but since starting my classes about eight months ago, I’ve only been able to shadow one or two doctors each semester. Is this sufficient, or should I increase my efforts?”

A: From a shadowing perspective, your efforts are commendable. There seems to be a misunderstanding about what consistency means.

When students hear they need clinical experience, they often think it necessitates a full-time job, which is not the case. Even five hours a week can add up over several months; for instance, five or ten hours a month equates to 120 hours a year. We need to dispel the notion that if you’re not dedicating 40 hours a week, you’re not committed or won’t be taken seriously.

Your main role is as a student, and while you should engage in other activities, they don’t have to be full-time jobs.

Overcoming Anxiety About Inconsistent Volunteering History:

Q: “My volunteering history has been causing me some anxiety. During my undergrad, I volunteered quite frequently. However, about a year after COVID hit, my volunteer activities dwindled. I’ve done things like highway cleanups or volunteering at soup kitchens, but nothing on a consistent, weekly basis. Last year, I spent about six months at one place before moving on, continuing this pattern for a while. 

Due to this nomadic lifestyle, I’ve not been able to accumulate consistent community service hours at any one location. I’m trying to build these hours now, but I worry that another move might give the impression of inconsistency, as if I’m hopping around every four or six months without really settling anywhere.”

A: It sounds like you have an arbitrary ideal in your head that volunteering only counts if it’s 1000 hours at the same place over three years. That’s not the case. If you have reasons for moving around, those are valid. Your continued engagement in community service despite frequent moves demonstrates your dedication. Don’t fixate on this ideal you’ve created; there is no ‘perfect’ way to volunteer.

“Get out of this mindset of this ideal that you have in your head… that there’s this perfect thing that you should be doing because it doesn’t exist. The only thing that you should be doing are the things that you want to be doing.”

The important thing is that you’re doing what you want to do. Yes, you should gain some clinical experience and do a bit of shadowing to show medical schools that you enjoy being around patients and are comfortable in a physician’s role.

The fact that you’re contributing your time to community service is fantastic, even if it’s in different places due to your moves. They may joke that you’re ‘running from the law’, but ultimately, they won’t mind.



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