A Super Nontrad Talks About His Path To Medical School

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Session 345

Robert is starting medical school at 44 years old. He dropped out of college the first time through due to other commitments. But he has now made it back to become a physician. He talks about his journey, deciding to pursue medicine at 40, getting married at 18, getting medically retired, and finally getting an acceptance at his top choice medical school.

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

[01:30] Interest in Becoming a Physician

Robert has always wanted to pursue a career in healthcare. This was influenced by seeing his grandmother who ran a skilled nursing facility. So he grew up around old people who needed care which he found very interesting. He felt like having a ton of grandparents.

Being a pragmatist, he thought that being a doctor seemed so daunting for such being a long process. He was interested in the PA route and it wasn’t until he turned 40 that he decided to commit to being a doctor.

At 18, Robert got married and needed to work to support household so baseball got kicked to the backburner. He did finish college but he found it so difficult to balance school and work with 2-3 jobs at a time.

He also tried to join the Air Force but he was told that he was medically unfit. When he was 16, he got hit by a drunk driver where he got serious injuries. He spent four years in outpatient therapy, trying to get full use of his left hand. But his hip injury was enough basis for the Air Force to make him unfit for duty. It was a double whammy for him being a fourth generation army.

The Army tried to recruit him again and they came back with the same finding that he was unfit for duty. But the recruiter asked him to see the doctor who did surgery on his hip and ask him to write a letter about him being capable.

Fortunately, the doctor was the former Chief of Orthopedics in the Navy. And he wrote a letter. The Army has a Delayed Entry Program (DEP), where they hold an introduction training once a month, teaching applicants military lingo and instilling a bit of military bearing. Then he got a call informing him that his medical waiver was overturned. 

[Related episode: PA Turned MD Talks About Why He Made the Switch]

[09:10] Scratching the Itch

Robert was asked to take the test called the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB). It tested the capability of learning a foreign language, which he did well in. Then they offered him a job as a tri-lingual interrogator. But he wanted a medical job.

At that time, the Army used to be the only service where you could actually pick your job. Robert signed up to be a medical laboratory technician. He then did his basic training and headed to Fort Sam.

So he started out with his basic combat medic training and then he went on with his advanced individual training. The Army offered 62 weeks of initial entry training at Fort Sam, Houston.

'Everybody goes through combat military training because when conflict breaks out, everybody needs to know how to be a medic.'Click To Tweet

The training was so grueling that two-thirds of his class ended up being a re-class. One of the reasons he picked the medical lab technician route was because of the really high rate of students being able to get into PA school.

It wasn’t his yearning to be a PA. It was more of him thinking about the number of years you have to go through in medical school. But he decided to apply to medical school anyway.

Robert saw how their rural doctor was doing and it seemed not interesting to him at that time. And he wasn’t even told the differences between doctors and other healthcare professions except for the timeframe. Based on limited information, Robert simply thought that PA was the best route.

[14:05] Love of the Army

Growing up surrounded by ex-military men, Robert says he can never get enough of the army stuff. But during training, he ended up with a foot injury that sidelined him for a while. It got to a point where it didn’t like he was going to fully recover from it.

'These veterans, they were the titans in my life listening to the stories that these guys told and that's what I want to do for the rest of my life.'Click To Tweet

Moreover, there were practical limitations in that he has always planned on being a career service member. The medical standards for officers were higher. For him to pass the next rank, he was required to undergo leadership training.

But one of their requirements is you can’t take a modified PT test, which is a type of physical exam where the test is modified based on your injury. So they end up giving you an alternate event. But Robert was not allowed to take a modified exam.

Instead, he went through the Medical Evaluation Board. But he realized that the process doesn’t solely evaluate the injury question. Rather, they did a full systems evaluation.

Then he was found to have other more medical issues including immune issues. Then he got service-connected ratings for a number of autoimmune issues and got medically retired from the military.

[Related episode: How Do I Transition from the Military to Being a Premed?]

[20:23] The Interim

At this time, Robert has become a stay-at-home parent, especially that he and his wife are raising two special needs kids. Technically, he was part of his wife’s company where they do stuff related to tech. But at the end of the day, his main focus was getting his two kids across the finish line and going into college.

In 2015, Robert came across a doctor who took the nontraditional route to medical school. His wife’s OB/GYN was an architect prior to being a doctor.

Based on data, once you’ve done something for a few years, you’re in the groove that you’re going to be at but you’re not going to be significantly better as time goes on. This became one of the hang-ups he had about medical school.

Robert’s advice to nontrads is that if you really want to do this, it’s not impossible to do it without the support of your significant other. But it’s so much easier when the person you’re most involved with is 100% behind you.

'It's not impossible to do it without the support of your significant other. But it's so much easier when the person you're most involved with is 100% behind you.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: Do I Have Enough Time to be a Premed and a Mom?]

[30:10] Going Back to College and Learning His Learning Style

Having had solid three years of college under his belt, he thought he could just take the MCAT and get into medical school until realizing he had to take his prereqs. He was basically three years away from even starting medical school.

After initially adjusting and figuring out his study style, Robert realized the memorization route was not going to work. There was too much information, plus three children to tend to – two of them with special needs, and taking care of the technical side of their business.

He knew he had to figure out a way to learn efficiently. He learned about the idea of the memory palace and the memory tricks.

Also, he was commuting everyday which was taking up a big chunk of his time. So he put up an ad on Craigslist as to who was willing to read his textbooks and other notes. These were then recorded on Google Drive so he could listen to the audios while driving or walking the dog, etc. Several people responded and the person who reads for him has been working with him for four years now.

Basically, he got rid of the old school mentality that he has grown with and learn to optimize his time. 

[37:24] The Hardest Part of Being a Premed and the Recipe for His Success

'Time management is the most critical.'Click To Tweet

Robert thinks time management as a very challenging thing, especially for nontraditional students. Even traditional students still have to work and there’s so much on their plate.

You have to balance academics with your work, extracurriculars, and family time. You have to make sure that you’re still making food on the table. Plus, you have to prepare for the MCAT. Most importantly, you have to stay healthy in the whole process.

Robert recommends that students should upgrade their time management skills as this is going to give the most mileage to the process.

[Related episode: Time Management for a NASCAR Driving Medical Student]

[41:20] The Importance of Having Mentors

Robert credits his strong support system for his success. He is also grateful for having great mentors along the way who kept him in line. Your mentor doesn’t have to be a doctor. It could be somebody at school, a professor, or your relative.

Have a good mentor, lean on them when you’re unsure, and be respectful of their time. Robert also stresses the value of preparation.

[44:55] Words of Wisdom

To those in their 40s who are considering going back to medical school, Robert recommends doing a ruthless self-inventory. Check if this is financially feasible. Especially for a nontrad, this is something you really should consider.

Robert is lucky to have a rockstar wife who has run the company for several years and he has also started investing in his early years. Moreover, really look at where you are academically from the past.

Robert applied out of Texas and had success with the DO schools. He believes in how critical having an upward trend is. For him, his upward trend was evident in the last 121 hours at school where he had straight A’s including all of his prerequisites. 

The last ten years of his academic record have been nothing but straight A’s. He had a median MCAT score of 509. He applied to around 15 of the least competitive AMCAS schools.

'I am a case example of how valuable is the upward trend.'Click To Tweet

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

[50:38] Applying Broadly and Interviewing

Robert submitted all his applications to the three services at the same time. with the exception of his GPA. In Texas, he had a 4.0 because of their academic forgiveness. He ended up with 15 invites. He went on 7-8 interviews and he had five acceptances.

Interestingly, a lot of the schools he applied to didn’t have secondaries. Robert also alluded to the fact that non-Texas schools tend to not look as favorably upon interviewing Texas residents who look like they might stay in Texas. This is because they know the cost of tuition in Texas is so low.

'Non-Texas schools tend to not look as favorably upon interviewing Texas residents who look like they might stay in Texas because they know the cost of tuition in Texas is so low.'Click To Tweet

Robert thinks you wouldn’t get as far and not apply broadly particularly with his age. He was interviewing at 44 years old. In fact, he was the oldest applicant in all the interviews he went on. Applying broadly was a strategy in the hope that he wanted to get as many interviews under his belt as he could.

When you start out on the interview trail, no matter how many mock interviews you do or how well prepared you are, there’s something different about sitting in the hot seat. By the end, you get much more relaxed and it would just feel like a conversation.

Robert things you shouldn’t apply to schools that you wouldn’t want to go to just because that might be the only acceptance that you’re getting.

His third interview was his top choice school out of all the seven interviews he did. So he didn’t get the practice he wanted to get before his top choice school and he described it as being an awful interview. He considered it as the worst of all his interviews. Even worse, you don’t get any feedback from it.

However, this was where he ended up matriculating. So Robert wanted to point out that people can tend to be the worst judge of themselves.

'The idea of applying to multiple schools solely for the purpose of trying to get those interviews under your belt is a bad tactic.'Click To Tweet

The school you go to doesn’t have to be your top choice. And while applying to multiple schools just to get those interviews may be a bad tactic, applying to only one or two is not a smart idea either.

Robert thinks the mock interviews have been so helpful. He also found the book The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview to be very helpful. He would ask his buddies to ask him questions from the book. He would then answer them and got honest feedback from them. And this helped a lot.

[Related tool: Medical School Interview Question Generator]

[1:03:30] What the Future Holds for Robert

Robert’s ideal practice would be a specialty that would lead him to a fellowship in Medical Toxicology and a job at the VA with academic ties. He has a particular interest in MedTox being a Gulf Era veteran. He has lots of buddies dealing with repercussions at their service in the Middle East.

He is concerned with the impact of military presence in war areas, particularly in combat zones and even in the civilian populations they’ve left behind. These people are suffering from the effects of conflict. And so Robert is curious about the causative agent that results in those issues. He seeks to be able to address that.

Medical toxicology is not a full-time specialty so he’s aware that you’ve got to do something else with it. Most toxicologists are emergency medicine doctors by trade which he finds quite challenging for his age. Regardless, medicine, in general, is something that interests him. At this point, he is keeping his mind open to whatever specialty he might land on.

[1:09:00] Final Thoughts: Out-of-State MD Schools

Robert made some great points about not getting any interviews at out-of-state MD schools. Many out-of-state MD schools are pretty hesitant with interviewing Texas applicants. Especially if you have good stats, they’re going to assume you’re going to get into a Texas school.

Especially with the new traffic rules this year, medical schools are very careful with who they’re accepting. They want to make sure they’re not under or over accepting because the way schools are getting a list in seeing who’s going where has changed in the 2018-2019 cycle.


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The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview

University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Wilderness Medicine Program (promo code MSHQ)