How old is too old to become a doctor?

As a practical matter, at what age is someone too old to begin training to become a physician?

IANAD but IMHO based on having known someone who did this.

Theoretically I suppose you are “never too old” but practically the grueling academic and residency requirements would tend to point to a persons early thirties or so being a practical limit to start med school. Unless you are independently wealthy, starting life as an MD at 37 (for example) with over 100,000 - 150,000 + in debt and then being expected to hew to the grueling schedule of a new doctor does not make for a happy camper.
Starting doctor salaries in the first few years are typically around 80,000 - 120,000. After you account for the cost of the various insurances, professional assoc. fees, college debt repayment (plus business start up costs if you are going into partnership with someone) etc. etc., you are making the equivalent of 65-80K per year in many cases. This amount can rise over time but not as much as it used to due to a number of factors including HMOs etc.

In addition an unmentioned but important issue is that the older med student often does not get the same amount of peer support from fellow students because they are in a different age and social cohort. Informal peer study groups that have access to old test materials etc are not always open to older students.

Medicine has become less one on one and a lot of it now is based on how many patients you can move through in an hour an still try to do a professional job.

So there you are near 40 with 150K in debt and a meat grinder professional schedule in what many MD’s are determining to be a difficult and largely thankless job vs other professional options they might have pursued. The rewards are there but they are deferred. Starting in your early 20s lets you be into the “more money, debts paid off, enjoy life a little” phase by your mid 40s instead of your mid 50s . If you are in your thirties and have infinite energy and lots of money go for it but don’t be naive about it. It’s tough. (and we haven’t even thought about how you squeeze family and children into this scenario).

The answer, of course, depends on a lot of factors: what education do you already have, family circumstances, financial independence, etc.

I know a lady who was an anesthesist, for example. She went back to school and became an anesthesiologist. (The former is a nurse, the latter a doctor.) She was in her 40s.

If you have the determination, age is not a factor.

The guy my parents bought their old house from went to med school in his early 40s. Of course, he was independently wealthy and will likely not have a lot of debt on graduation.

I also heard of a woman in her fifties who went to med school in Grenada (IIRC) because she always wanted to be a doctor. She went thru internship and residency and is now practicing.

It is possible, but like the others have said, it’s costly and often the support isn’t there.


I am a doc, and as the good Barbitu8 said, it depends on many factors. If money is not a big object, I would say it could be done in one’s 50’s. However the hours are grueling, especially in residency. You’re talking about at least 7 years (4 med school 3 residency) before you’re a practicing professional. So independent financial means, good health and an iron constitution are almost prerequisite. Strong family support or the complete lack of a family might also be necessary. A clear goal of just what type of medicine you want to practice, and where, would also be helpful.

Me, I’d never be able to survive another residency at the tender age of 43!

Good luck!

Qadpog… Is Medical school mostly a lot of memorizing?

Lots of memorizing, but also a fair amount of problem solving based on memorizing. At least it was 20 years ago, when I was in school.

FWIW, one of my best friends from college entered med school at age 42, after spending a few years bringing her previously won baccalaureate degree up to speed. She’s now 46 and a resident, with baby.

I’m about to start medical school at 36. Ask me again in a few years and I’ll tell you whether that was too old or not!

In Canada, where much of the cost of medical school is covered (indirectly) by the government, I think there is an unwritten rule that the graduate has to be able to repay his/her debt to the Country by working as a practising physician. So, if you apply to med school at age 40, say, the response would likely be “sorry - you’ll never be able to work long enough to justify our investment in you”.

In fact, there used to be an explicit statement with words to the effect of “only in exceptional circumstances will candidates over the age of thirty years be considered for acceptance …”. Given current sensitivities and sensibilities, I think such sentiments are no longer explicitly stated in the various faculty information sheets. They most definitely used to be, though.