Am I Too Old to Go to Med School and Be a Surgeon?

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Session 104

If you’re thinking about going to medical school and becoming a surgeon, but you’re worried about how old you are, you need to check out this episode! (Hint: Age doesn’t matter!)

[01:17] OldPreMeds Question of the Week:

“I’m a 32-year-old mother of two, and I’ve recently allowed myself to actually entertain the idea of becoming a doctor. I didn’t think it was possible financially. But my husband is super excited about having me do this. He thinks we should be willing to do whatever it takes.

The idea of becoming a physician is the first career that I've considered that actually makes sense.Click To Tweet

The idea of becoming a physician is the first career that I’ve considered that actually makes sense, where I can actually see myself enjoying it. I like to work with my hands. And the idea of literally healing people with them is the most exciting thing about this prospect.

But I’m worried no one would hire me because of my age. The residency program I have my eye on is 6-8 years long.

I was not bothered by the length of time it would take to become an attending surgeon until I started looking into a formal postbac program. It is three years long. And I saw the year left of my undergrad. So the thought of having to wait closer to four or five years before going to med school instead of two or three is a real downer. I know some do a do-it-yourself postbac.

The thought of having to wait closer to four or five years before going to med school instead of two or three is a real downer.Click To Tweet

I’m concerned that the lack of extra bio courses could put me at a disadvantage academically. Would it be wise to take those classes during my glide year? Another thing that is annoying is that I have already completed a year in physics and chemistry. But the courses were taken so long ago, about ten years ago by the time I would apply for med school. I’m not sure they would count.

I know there are other old premeds, older than I, but do any of them go into surgery? Or is it just a pipe dream? Hope I’m just overreacting. I just need some encouragement or perspective.”

[03:00] Are You Too Old to Become a Surgeon?

At 32 years old, if you look at how long it’s going to take to finish medical school, that’s 36. Add a couple of years for the postbac, you’d be 38 or 39. No, it’s not too old to be a surgeon. But, maybe. There are going to be programs out there that will look at your age and think you’re not going to be able to hang. Or that you’ve got kids already, so you won’t be able to hang.

My advice is to start building a relationship with a program out there. During medical school, do your elective rotations at some of these programs and kick butt. Show them that you can hang and get a spot there.

[Related episode: Interview with a 56-Year-Old Medical Student]

Your Age Will Not Hold You Back

Surgical residencies are hard. They’re very time-consuming. They’re very emotionally and physically draining, and they are academically hard to get into. There are a lot of things that need to line up properly to get into this. But is your age going to hold you back? No, it won’t. Are you too old for medical school? No, you’re not.

The only thing that's going to hold you back is you.Click To Tweet

[Related episode: How Old Is Too Old to Start Medical School?]

Sacrificing Family Time During Residency

You need to sacrifice your family more than anything else. Your husband is going to have to be okay with this idea. Your husband has to be okay with you working 80 or 100 hours a week in the hospital. He has to be okay being a single dad for the 6-8 years of your residency. He has to understand what he’s getting into.

There are going to be program directors out there that will not look at you because of your age. And that’s just the fact. But there are plenty of other programs out there that don’t care. So as long as you’re flexible with where you want to go with programs you’re applying to, then do it.

Are you too old for medical school? No, you're not.Click To Tweet

[Related episode: Medical School Mom: Prioritizing School, Family, and More]

[05:40] A Three-Year Formal Postbac?

A three-year formal postbac is really long. Most postbac programs are a year or two. So three years is really, really long.

Dig around and look at other postbacs. Look at doing a do-it-yourself postbac. Take the prereqs that you need. Ace your MCAT. Ace your classes. Get into med school. And as you’re going through the process, figure it out.

Do You Need to Retake Your Outdated Prereqs?

For the most part, physics and chemistry being ten years ago is not a problem. It may be a problem when you’re studying for the MCAT—but you don’t have to retake it just because it’s old. Do some soul-searching to figure out if you can study physics on your own for the MCAT while you’re taking the rest of your classes, or whether retaking the class would help you with the MCAT.

[06:40] Other Fields than Surgery

You mentioned using your hands and healing somebody. You can do that in a lot of different fields other than surgery. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation is a good example. You do a lot of procedures, injections, and more to help people. And it’s not a surgical specialty.

Don't think that you have to be a surgeon to use your hands as a physician.Click To Tweet

So as you’re going through this process, keep an open mind. Find those specialties where you’re using your hands. Listen to the Specialty Stories Podcast where you can hear physicians talking about what they’re doing day in and day out. Then figure things out.

It will be challenging, but it’s not a pipe dream. Surgery for anybody is challenging. You just have a little bit of a bigger hurdle with your age and finding a program that will be okay with that.

Links and Other Resources