I want to be a doctor!

Yes, I’ve finally decided what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe.

My husband says I’ve been watching too much House. Perhaps. But the fact of the matter is that I think I actually want to become a doctor. So I’m appealing to the masses here at the dope to give me a real world idea of what I may be in for.

I’m going to be 34 in May. I’m having a baby in July. I figure if I get my shit together I can apply next year for admission to med school in fall of 2010. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from UC Berkeley in 1997. I took 3 semesters of physics, several years worth of chemistry, and a year’s worth of biology in doing so, so I think I have all the basic requirements for undergrad work. My GPA was around 2.9, I think. I have excellent test-taking skills and am very confident that I will do well on the MCAT, especially given that I have a year to study. I have been working in mostly science-related jobs since college. Currently I work in an environmental testing lab.

My husband thinks I’m slightly crazy, but I feel excited at the thought of a new career using my brain and helping people. I get very frustrated dealing with idiots, but generally patients are more like customers - the people I work with will be relatively intelligent. I know I probably wouldn’t be a practicing MD until I’m 40, but I don’t feel discouraged by that - I’m bound to work another 20 years after that, at least. I think the internship will be the most challenging part of the entire venture.

So, thoughts? Am I nuts? What more can I do to increase my chances of being accepted? Warnings? Dire predictions? Experiences? Suggestions?

A few things, not comprehensive I’m afraid.

(1) Getting in. Your GPA will be a barrier. Not insurmountable, but I had a 3.4 from a top-notch school and was still marginal. Sorry to be blunt, but the first round of med school application is very much a numbers game. If you ace the MCAT it might get you over the barrier to get interviews.

The period of applying to med school was the most unpleasant period of my life. You have never been treated like shit as much as you are about to be if you go through with it.

Oh and added in edit window: Applying is extremely costly. You have to pay out the ass just to fill out the first round of forms, then more money for ‘secondary’ applications (read: scam), then travel expenses for interviewing. I’d say set aside $5000 to maximize your chances by applying to a lot of schools.

(2) Med school. It’s pretty much assumed by the school that you have no other responsibilities in your life. Juggling home and school life will be a sucky experience. You’ll be living on meager cost-of-living loans, so unless hubby makes the big bucks you won’t have money to compensate for the lack of time.

(3) Residency. Med school to the power of 10. My wife’s in it right now, internal medicine (which is pretty cushy compared to other fields), we have a toddler, and life is pretty stressful all the time. It’s so much a young single person’s gig; it just leaves no room for the unexpected in your life, and as a wife and parent that will never be your lot. And still shit for money. (In case you’re wondering, I finished school and am now in research – I got an MD/PhD).

And most important…
(4) Being a doc. It is not one tiny little bit like they show on House. Well maybe if you’re at the top academic program in the country and you’re the senior member of the team (after many years paying your dues), but you probably shouldn’t make plans on this basis (I’m sure you’re not).

My wife estimates that about 90% of her time is spent dealing with bureaucratic BS, paperwork, and general ass-covering. And the kicker for me was that there were always, at every moment, 10 times more things to be done than you could do. It never lets up. And this will just get worse as the health care crisis spirals.

The final straw for me? People die if you have a brain fart. There are safeguards, but not as many as you might think. I simply can’t handle that.

But…my wife still loves it. The few moments when she can sit down with a patient and explain to them, as nobody else has, what’s happening and what to expect, are magic to her. And she is just brilliant at it.

The main advantage is that once you’re done you have a lot of freedom to shape your work life the way you want to. If you enjoy the work while you’re doing it, and then carve out free time as you see fit, it can be a pretty nice life.

Hope this helps. I don’t envy you – or your husband…

Yes, the GPA isn’t stellar. I had a LOT of fun in college and the memory loss to prove it. Luckily my last two years I pulled my head out of my arse and my grades greatly improved. I know this is a problem. But I figure the “UC Berkeley” part might take some of the sting out of it. That and I figured that the maturity granted to me in the last ten years would help in the interview portion. Of course now I’m wondering if I’ll even make it that far!

Some friends have suggested I pursue a registered nurse certification or the like if I’m interested in medicine this late in the game (late? I just got here!). I’m not sure - it seems like a huge difference. Being the grunt (so to speak! no disrespect meant to nurses) on the front lines and being the person planning the attack are very different jobs.

You’re right that nursing and medicine are two totally different things. “Grunt” is not a bad term for nursing, I think – not just in its negative connotations. It’s true that a nurse’s job is basically to take orders from the docs. It’s also true that nurses are the ones who really know what’s happening with patients, they’re the ones who are there on the front lines in the trenches. That may be your cup of tea, just like there are military people who would rather be a ground soldier than an officer. But the difference, as you rightly perceive, is huge.

A Physician Assistant or Nurse Practitioner can perform most of the same things that physicians do with a lot less schooling and are certainly not doing much grunt work. I know PAs that run their own clinics and assist in surgery every day…the only difference is they have to be under the direct supervision of a doctor. It is a faster way for the OP to practice medicine if she wants to get to it without 7-10 more years of training.

I wrote above about other clinician options but you are most definitely young enough to become a doctor if that is your goal. At 43 I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up! I am certainly young enough to be anything I choose even with 10 years on you.

For your consideration:

I regretfully agree with **spazurek ** that a 2.9 GPA is unfortunately likely to be a barrier to getting interviews at many medical schools (hopefully you are misremembering and your GPA was higher.)

The classroom part of medical school is usually not too crazy, but once you start spending time on the wards with patients your life becomes progressively less and less your own. Your social life really contracts. This does not stop until the end of residency and/or fellowship (further specialized training beyond residency). Depending on the track you choose, this can be a fairly long time (med school + residency + fellowship for me = 10 years). Also, you will likely have to move for med school then later for residency and ultimately when you take your staff position; this adds to debt, stress levels, and creates childcare issues and spouse job/career path issues.

As staff (grown up doc), you are expected to do ridiculous amounts of paperwork and bureaucratic silliness. If you are working at an academic centre, research is seen as the be-all and end-all: teaching is expected but treated like an “of course you’ll do it with nobody valueing it except the trainees, despite the fact that properly preparing lectures takes up significant amounts of after hours time”, and clinical work (the seeing patients part) is gets squeezed to allow more research and admin time.

You may want to take a good look at many of the health professions that allow you to use your brain and help people; this is not just restricted to the MD track. Physiotherapists and occupational therapists, nurse practitioners, paramedics, etc. are a few among many of the possible career alternatives you may wish to consider.

I FULLY agree with the above (speaking as someone who is currently in the process of being treated like crap for the 2nd time around). Med school applying is a cruel cruel game. Most places tend to want students that will boost their scores, and they know they have a large supply of applicants. So they only tend to take the best they can take. Nowadays numbers in MCAT scores such as 30 are being thrown around as the “Golden number”, meaning if you’ve got at least that much, the med schools won’t just outright dismiss you without looking at the rest of your application. GPA’s unfortunately have the same sort of deal. I’ve got a 3.5 and it’s NOWHERE as good as all the applicants applying with 3.7’s, 3.9’s and of course the 4.0 students. You’ve got “life experience” which is a plus- however, most med schools again are a cruel cruel mistress. They know they’ve got more applicants than spots, and will try to help themselves first. So high MCATs and High Grades kids go first- in a place where the # of spots are around 100 or so. They can find what they want from the applicant pools, and easily fill up the 100 or so spots. It’s only later when they have to hope that those brilliant applicants will choose THEIR school over the others that the wait list even really comes into play for the students with lesser grades or lesser MCATs.
And the whole process is extremely stressful, with each application setting you back anywhere from 50-120 dollars per school. Not to mention the costs of taking the MCAT alone. It is a VERY tough process, and one that seems to only be getting tougher- Professors and counselors have told me that 2010 is going to be the landmark year- the year in the US with the greatest graduating class from highschool, and so all schools- college, Graduate, and Medical schools are going to see what the new “standards” will be (the trend seems to project that scores and grades will go up. So a 30 MCAT score in 2010 will no longer be as valuable as a 30 in in say 2000 (already the “golden number” is now around 30.5-31, and rising).

But I do wish you luck, any career path is a tough one to choose, and there are always obstacles to overcome. You just have to keep those in mind, and remember that if the rewards are greater than the risks, then nothing should stop you from trying to achieve your goals. I’m certainly slogging through the process myself, and I’m a bit cynical and worse for wear, but I know that I want to do this, and I want to keep trying. But it IS a very VERY Stressful 2 years to apply (1 year for MCAT prep and taking it, and then 1 year to interview and apply).

But best of luck, and if you really want to do this, I hope you achieve your goals. Just watch out and keep in mind the hurdles you will have to face. Like anything worth doing, it does take a lot of work.

A lot of med schools are now willing to look at older applicants who have had a career outside medicine. In these cases, college GPAs mean less.

But it’d be best to have a track record of significant accomplishments in your life/career that you can show to demonstrate your tenacity and intellectual flexibility.

I’m a little bit burnt out on medicine right now, so I am in no position to encourage anyone to go into the field. But I will say that there are still unique, rewarding, fun opportunities in the field out there.

Sadly, many current students come out of training so saddled with debt that they tend to pick specialties that pay well, just so they can get out of the debt hole before they retire. It discourages too many good docs from going into primary care, where they are desparately needed, but where the bureaucracy of health care now tends to focus its maximum frustratory/obfuscatory skills

I guess I’ll chime in and add my $0.02. I’m also a bit burned out from trying to run my own practice and literally taking home less at the end of the day than the nurses at the hospital (ICU nurses here can make 90k!). Since my overhead is about $6000 a week, if I want to take a vacation day I have to factor in $1200 in lost income.

So-here’s the deal. You will not enter medical school until you are 36. You will need a minimum of 7 additional years before you can practice. In my medical school class there was one person with children (young teens) and two who had children during the school course. These two ended up having to take longer than 4 years to finish med school. Every person who entered our medical school class married was divorced by graduation. Unfortunately, the cause was usually the fact that the spouse could not understand what medical school was like. I do know of couples who survived medical school but it wasn’t easy.

Remember that in medical school and residency you will still be staying overnight every third to fourth night. Although currently you usually go home earlier the next day then we used to, you may be too tired to do anything but sleep. At forty, it’s a little harder to work 30 hours straight then it is in your 30’s. Your husband will be the sole parent when you are at work. It’s not a job with a lot of coffee breaks where you can call somebody just to chat. You can’t walk out of a liver transplant because your husband has a question about the baby.

Your having life experience is actually a point in your favor. However, remember that there is huge competition to get into medical school. The schools can take an arbitrary cutoff of grades and MCATs and still have more than enough student available to balance the class for diversity and interests. You may be weeded out before the interviews. Alternatively, you may end up flying to every school on your list for an interview and then still being rejected. I would suggest possible taking some refresher courses over the next year. If you take something like biochemistry and get an A, it will not only boost your GPA, but also give you a leg up in coursework.

Frankly, if I were advising somebody I’d recommend becoming a PA. The training is about 2 years and you can do a lot of the things doctors do without spending over $100k on education.

However, if you love it, really love it, then do it. There are rewards that make up for the rest, and someday I might actually think of some. Now I’m off to the hospital (at 10 at night) to see one of my most loyal patients. I just begged, borrowed and pledged my firstborn to get his teeth fixed, so that I can control his diabetes because he has no money for dental work and no way to travel to a dental school for free treatment and he can’t travel well on public transportation because he can’t read or write. But I’ve kept him alive and healthy for the past 10 years, even though he has admitted to me that he lies to me about how much he drinks, and yesterday he told me I was the only doctor who really understands him. So like I said, there are some rewards. :smiley:

I’ve got no desire to work in health care, but I’m oddly fascinated with some blogs written by doctors. Reading them for any length of time gives an inside look at what life is like for their profession, and many of them are not afraid to mince words about what they think of the vocation and its ups and downs. I think a few well written blogs would be more accurate than “House” if you’re looking to see what you’d be getting yourself into. The common theme I’ve seen is extremely long hours, tons of frustrating bureaucracy, and very little autonomy.

I’m in a similar situation to Ghamina - decided I wanted to get into medicine fairly late (I’m now 31). I have at least two years to finish my bachelor’s, and then four years of med school. My GPA is pretty good (3.8 at this college, 3.3 at my previous).

A couple of things: I know you’re busy, but try to get yourself into a situation where you’re actually dealing with patients. When I decided I wanted to go to med school I got a job where I am actually doing hands-on patient care (phlebotomy). Because some people are assholes, and some people get worse when they’re sick; it’s just a fact of life. Some people are wonderful, and that makes it worth it (I once got a kiss on the cheek from a guy who escapted the Bataan Death March). I do it for work, but some sort of volunteer work would work: it looks good on your applications, and it gives you a sense of how you deal with people in those situations. I have been punched in the head by Alzheimers patients, thrown up on, sworn at, etc.

I second what someone else said about taking some science refresher courses - if you can get high marks in those, it might sway an admissions committee (science GPA is important). There are people here with much more experience in admissions than I have, though (I’m so freaked out by that!).

My advisors told me not to even think about applying to out-of-state state schools, so you’ve got the California schools or private.

Other than that, an excerpt from an email I wrote today:
I’m still working like I’m going to go to med school, but I’m going to be about 40 when I get done with residency. I’m thinking I might go out into the boonies for a couple of years to a medically underserved community, since you can get a lot of debt forgiven that way. Things are sort of in flux for me though - I’m in the first relationship of my life where we might really get married and/or have kids and that might change things for me. I’m just trying to be open to the experience - keeping my eye on the big goal, but willing to change tack if it seems like the better choice in the long run (and not hang on to the original plan out of sheer bloody-mindedness).

Also consider the cost of school loans and the cost of carrying the debt around vs the opportunity cost of applying your trade and building wealth. You will be poor once you become a doctor (as a resident). Until you make attending, but by that time, you would have racked up so much debt. If you have a high paying specialty, and low insurance costs, the new phat paycheck might seem nice, you will also have over $100k in debt.

As others have said, the 2.9 GPA is a huge barrier to overcome. What is your life experience in? Environmental testing lab? I’m not sure that admissions people will look to friendly on that, unless it’s an actual lab type setting. I have friends who scored 12-11-10 on the MCAT with a 3.4 GPA and still had to go to school overseas. And, as others have said, the time commitment is really straining. At your 3rd and 4th years, you will be at a hospital all day and still going to class (at least once a week). And, you said you don’t like dealing with stupid people/idiots? The hospital community is filled with them, including your patients. There’s plenty of stupid to go around from the lowly orderly right up to the Chief of Medicine (some just manifest it in different ways than others and more often).

I haven’t done much research regarding overall costs. Right now we have no debt whatsoever, so at least I’m not starting out in the hole. Of course, we also don’t own a house, so we don’t have a lot of collateral for loans, either. I don’t mind spending money trying to get in - of course if I didn’t get accepted it would be a disappointment.

From all I’ve read here, the biggest concern for me is the welfare of my family. The factoid about divorce in med school is a big blinking red light! The stuff about job stress and long hours and dealing with idiots is not a worry to me - it would be true of any career. If I wanted easy, I definitely wouldn’t even be considering med school at this point.

Thanks to everyone for their input. If anyone can suggest any online resources regarding application experiences, requirements, MCATs, blogs, costs, whatever, I’d love to find out more.

Wishing you luck in your chosen path!

:frowning: :frowning: :frowning:

Kaplan’s Site for MCAT prep
AAMC Website (To sign up for MCATs and get some ideas).
MedStudents Resource Site (Perhaps the MOST useful site for me as an applying medical student. Really helpful guides, information, “where do I have a shot at” indicators, etc.

Good luck!

In the same vein, I’m very leaning towards going to vet school.

This isn’t a bad idea. You need two years to complete a B.A. in nursing. Then a two year master’s program and you are practicing as a Nurse Practitioner. That’s four much more affordable years. Your GPA isn’t good enough to get into a Nurse Practitioner program, but two more years of school to get into nursing will increase your GPA. My cousin was a Nurse Practitioner (before she married a cardiologist and became a SAHM) - she ran a clinic - she had a doctor come in once a week. My kids pediatrician isn’t a pediatrician at all - she’s an N.P. A Master’s in nursing is no cakewalk, but it is not going to be nearly as hard as med school.

FWIW, there are apparently very few med schools in California. I spent four years in a PhD program in a private NY med school, and although the largest group of med students was the New York contingent, #2 was the Californians. A bunch of them told me that although they’d have preferred to go to school closer to home, there are just far fewer slots relative to population in California than there are elsewhere.

The 2.9 is a barrier, but not insurmountable - I know because I did it. It took me three years of overloads in college with 3.8+ GPAs to pull it up to a 3.5, but I am now in an MD/PhD program.

While I was taking my pre-medical courses, there were a large number of post-bacs there with me, folks who decided later in life to come back to college, take their pre-med requirements, and apply to medical school. These ranged in age from 25 to over 40. I will reiterate what everyone in the thread said earlier: med school applications, by the numbers, are nearly arbitrary. They have such an oversupply of people with GPAs in the high 3s that some of their decisions seem a bit…off. For instance, one of the post-bacs I knew had a stellar GPA in the courses he was taking, and a 40 on his MCAT - but he was denied interviews in a bunch of places. I applied through the ancient principle that if you throw enough shit at a wall, some of it will stick. My application fee bill almost gave me a heart attack. I don’t think I could do all that while taking care of a family, and a job.

That said, it is possible to go through residency later in life. Foreign medical graduates do it all the time, while supporting a family to boot. They don’t lack for motivation, though. When you’ve been working the last 30 hours, haven’t seen your kids awake for nearly a week, and your hands are shaking, questions like “What the hell am I doing this for” start popping up. You’d better have a good answer.