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The Nontraditional Medical Student: A Different Path to Med School

Session 27

The Nontraditional Medical Student: A Different Path to Medical School

In today’s episode, Ryan talks with Liza Thompson, a former director of the postbac programs at both Goucher College and Johns Hopkins with over 20 years of experience. She currently runs Thompson Advising, an advising company for medical school applicants and postbac applicants.

Liza is an expert when it comes to nontraditional students and postbac programs which are the focus for today’s episode. We cover the basics of postbac premed programs, the different types of postbac programs, do-it-yourself (DIY) postbac programs, and most importantly, why highlighting your nontraditional path in your application is key to your success.

Here are the highlights of the conversation with Liza:

Liza’s background in postbac premed programs:

  • Started working with nontraditional premed students 20 years ago
  • Coming across older students who are the typical career-changers back then
  • In the last 7-10 years, the applicant pool to postbac programs has shifted toward younger students.
In the last 7-10 years, the applicant pool to premed postbac programs has shifted toward younger students.Click To Tweet

What is a postbac program?

  • A program designed for people who have already completed an undergraduate program (or most of one) but haven’t taken the required premed classes or scored poorly in them
  • Formal postbac programs offer students the coursework needed to get into medical school
  • Some programs have “linkage agreements” with various medical schools, so students can fast-track their way to medical school.

Who is the typical postbac student?

There are two kinds of typical postbac students:

  1. Career-changers who didn’t know they wanted to be a physician in their undergrad career
  2. Premed students who stumbled through undergrad and need to improve their GPA

What is a nontraditional medical school applicant?

  • Coming from many different fields and many undergrad disciplines
  • Usually older than a typical medical school applicant
  • Humanities majors who have degrees in arts, history, English, psychology, economics, religion, etc.
  • Many career-changers have been in their previous careers for 10 or more years
  • For various reasons, such as experiencing the illness or death of a loved one or a world event such as 9/11, they decide to go to medical school

3 Traits of Non-Trads:

  • Typically Older
  • Typically Non-Science Majors
  • Typically Prior Successful Career

How medical schools view nontraditional students:

Nontraditional premed students must get experience in clinical settings to prove to themselves that they are suited to the profession and they're comfortable with patientsClick To Tweet
  • Those who have been successful in their previous careers are viewed very favorably.
  • Those trying to find the correct path for themselves can be just as successful.
  • They must show motivation to get through very different coursework from what they’re used to.

[Related episode: 10 Acceptances to Medical School! This Nontrad Did It!]

Getting shadowing/volunteering experience as a nontrad:

  • Contact your local hospital volunteer office.
  • If you work daytime hours, find a place you can shadow at night. (Hospitals are open 24/7, clinics usually aren’t.)
  • You need shadowing/volunteering experience to really find out if this is something you like.

[Related episode: How Important is Volunteering as a Nontrad Premed?]

Where do you get the information or advising you need?

Types of postbac programs:

Formal postbac programs

  • Structured curriculum where you get everything you need to get into medical school
  • Usually one-year intensive program
  • Advising and MCAT prep
  • Many have linkages to medical schools
  • Record-enhancing postbac programs vs career-changer postbac programs

DIY postbac programs

  • Cheaper than the formal programs
  • Allows you to take the courses at your own pace
  • Evening classes are often available
  • Advising not included (but you can probably use the undergrad premed advising office)

Certificate Granting Postbac Programs

  • They give you a certificate once you finish your coursework (but med schools don’t really care).
Medical schools don't care if you have a certificate from your postbac or not.Click To Tweet

The biggest goals of postbac programs:

  • Complete the premed courses required to apply to medical school.
  • Challenge you in the sciences to prove that you can handle medical school coursework.
  • Prepare you for the MCAT.

The downside of spreading out your postbac over a period of years:

  • Spreading it out over a number of years doesn’t prove to medical schools that you can handle a heavy courseload
  • One-year intensive programs prove to medical schools that you can handle a busy academic schedule.

What postbac programs are looking for in applicants:

  • Strong academic record at the undergrad level
  • Whether you’re a fit to their environment
  • Passion and dedication (doesn’t need to be related to medicine)
  • Strong history of community service

Highlighting the nontraditional path:

  • Medical schools look for diversity. Whatever you did earlier in your adult life sets you apart in the medical school application process.
  • Think about the skills you learned from your prior career that you can transfer to medicine.
  • Pull everything together in a well-crafted personal statement.
Medical schools look for diversity. Whatever you did earlier in your adult life sets you apart in the medical school application process.Click To Tweet

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