How Old Is Too Old to Start Medical School?

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How Old is Too Old to Start Medical School?

You’re Not Too Old for Medical School.

If you’re above the traditional age for medical students, you might be wondering if you’re too old to start medical school. This is a common concern for nontrads, but it really doesn’t need to be.

How old is too old for medical school? There is no age limit for medical school. You can become a doctor in your 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s. In the end, medical schools want students who will make good physicians. Age is not a factor.

In this podcast episode and article, we will cover statistics about older medical students and share success stories to inspire you to explore a medical career regardless of your age.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

You’re Age Won’t Stop You From Becoming a Physician

Age is not a factor when it comes to medical school admissions.

Here are some facts and figures:

  • Every year about a thousand medical students over the age of 30 matriculate into allopathic medical schools, which is about 5% of the total number of students who start each year.
  • From that number, about 200 are over the age of 35.
  • Every year about 350 people over the age of 31 start in osteopathic medical schools.
  • Every year about 10-12 people over the age of 50 start medical school.
About 5% of all MD medical students who start each year are over the age of 30.Click To Tweet

Success Stories: Starting Med School After 50

One of the success stories we’re familiar with is Laisha Heedman, a nurse/midwife who recently graduated from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine at the age of 57. She has gone onto a residency in family medicine.

If you look at my podcast The Premed Years, I’ve interviewed many older medical students. Here’s my interview with Renee, a 54-year-old med student at the time. Here’s my interview with Kate, who was a 56-year-old med student when we talked.

[Related episode: Am I Too Old to Go To Med School and Be a Surgeon?]

Success Stories: Parents in Medical School

Another great success story is a medical student I interviewed on The Premed Years, Rebekah. She was a 35-year-old mother of three kids when she started med school. She told me about how she finds time to balance everything and still put family first as a med student.

I also interviewed Adrienne, an MD/PhD student, about her journey as an Army Vet and mom of 3 in medical school. She talks about the challenges she’s faced along her path.

Another resource to listen to is this episode of The Shortcoat Podcast. It’s a discussion all about how parents make med school work! Great insights here if you’re looking to go through this process as a parent.

Is There Any Bias Against Older Applicants to Medical School?

Applicants who are above 40 years of age seem to be less represented in medical school, but there’s no bias going on in the admissions process. Factors affecting how many older students apply may be the difficulty in preparing the application, getting the grades, and getting shadowing and volunteering when working full-time and raising children.

The percentage of applicants who get accepted to medical school stays about the same regardless of age range.Click To Tweet

Many people who have been successful in other medical careers such as nurses, midwives, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, or PhD researchers have also been successful at getting into medical school at age 40 and above.

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

What About Getting an MD/PhD or Going into Surgery as an Older Student?

Since the education track for MD/PhD is even longer than for MDs, we have a separate podcast episode addressing that question specifically: Listen here.

And since the training for surgeons is especially long and grueling, we also have a podcast episode addressing whether you’re too old to be a surgeon: Listen here.

The short answer is that you can still pursue these long paths as an older student. There are factors to consider, which we cover in the other episodes—but if it’s the right path for you, then your age will not be what stops you.

MD vs DO for Older Premed Students?

The applicant base for MD schools is about 50,000, while for DO schools it’s under 20,000. That’s a big difference. From an applicant-per-seat basis then, it’s more competitive to get into an osteopathic school than it is to get into an allopathic school.

That said, osteopathic (DO) medical schools do have a reputation for accepting more nontraditional students. Generally, my advice is to consider both MD and DO schools to increase your options.

At the end of the day, a physician is a physician. The specific letters after your name aren’t what matters.

“But Older Students Have Fewer Years Left to Work as a Doctor…”

Many people would assume that medical schools are hesitant to accept applicants in their 30s, 40s, and 50s because those people will have less time to practice as a physician.

But there are different variables to consider with this issue:

  • Burnout is one of the most common issues for physicians, and it cuts a lot of careers short regardless of age.
  • Prior work experience in healthcare helps you because it shows that you can handle the environment and that you are way ahead of the curve with what you know going in. Many older med students are coming in with some of this prior experience.

The Only Thing That Matters in the End (It’s Not Age)

In the end, medical school admission committees will not reject you due to your age. Even if certain programs judge you for your age, it will not be a problem across the board. It won’t hold you back.

Here’s the one thing they are looking for:

  • Will this person be a good physician who patients want to be treated by?

As an applicant to medical school, your job is to build your story and tell it in such a way that the answer to that question is clearly yes.

Links and Other Resources

Listen to Other Episodes

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