The Non-Traditional Medical Student – A Different Path to Medical School

Session 27

Session 27

In today’s episode, Ryan talks 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 points of discussion for today’s episode, specifically what exactly is a postbac program, the different types of postbac programs, and 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 have shifted to younger students

What is a postbac program?

  • A program designed for people who are either in the later part of college but later decide to go to medical school or people who are premeds that stumbled through undergrad and need more courses to build up their resume
  • Formal postbac programs offer students the coursework needed to get into medical school
  • Some programs have “linkage” agreements with various medical schools so they can fast-track their way to medical school.

Who is the typical postbac student?

  • Career-changer who didn’t know they wanted to be a physician in their undergrad career
  • Premed student who stumbled through undergrad and needs more courses to build up their resume

Who is a nontraditional medical school applicant?

  • Coming from many different fields and many undergrad disciplines
  • Usually older than a typical medical school applicant
  • Mostly humanities majors who have degrees in arts, history, English, psychology, economics, religion, etc.
  • Career-changers who have been in their previous careers for 10 or more years
  • For some various reasons (experiencing a friend’s or family member’s illness or death or witnessing a world event such as the 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:

  • Those who have been successful in their previous careers are viewed very favorably
  • Those trying to find the correct path for them can be just as successful
  • They have to get experience in medicine to prove to themselves that they are suited to the profession, they’re comfortable with patients, and dedicated
  • The need for motivation to help them get through really different coursework and serious clinical work

Getting shadowing/volunteering experience as a nontrad:

  • Contact your local hospital and volunteer office.
  • Find a place that will give you an option to shadow outside business hours so you can do it at night.  (Hospitals are open 24/7 versus clinics)
  • You need a shadowing/volunteering experience to really find out if this is something that you like.

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 program/ Career-changer postbac program

DIY postbac programs

Certificate Granting postbac Programs

  • They give you a certificate once you finish a coursework (Doesn’t matter whether you get a certificate or not. Medical schools don’t care.)

The biggest goals of postbac programs:

  • Challenge you in the sciences to prove that you can handle medical school coursework and get the prerequisites you need
  • To prepare you for the MCAT

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

  • One-year intensive program proves to medical schools that you can handle it
  • Spreading it out over a number of years might not prove to medical schools that you can handle a heavy load of classes

What postbac programs are looking for in applicants:

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

Highlighting the non-traditional path:

  • Medical schools look for diversity. Whatever you did before 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 personal statement

Links and Other Resources:

University of Maryland Science in the Evening Program

AAMC Postbac program list

Thompson Advising

Session 6 – Russell

Session 8 – Torray

Session 11 – Kate (56-year-old MS3)

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