Many medical students enter medical school right after completing their undergraduate degree, with an average age of a student matriculating into medical school in the United States being 24 years old. Not everyone, however, chooses medicine as their first career, and there are numerous examples of successful doctors who did not begin their careers until later in life.
Becoming a physician later in life may initially seem daunting, but changing to a career in medicine part way through your professional life can be rewarding and offer several advantages. While becoming a doctor at 40, or even older, will create some challenges, the years of experience and wisdom that you have developed will benefit your new career goals.
Am I Too Old for Medical School?
Many people who are considering medical school later in life wonder, How old is too old for medical school? Is it too late to become a doctor? While there is nothing to stop you from starting medical school at 50 or older, there are some important factors to consider for those who are starting medical school later in life:
- Length of educational process - Medical school is four years, but residency will be another three to eight years. Keep in mind that after you are accepted into a medical school, it will be at least seven years before you are independently practicing.
- Financial considerations - Medical school is a big investment. Those who matriculate into medical school later in life may have more resources to rely on during school. But you should consider how much time you anticipate practicing as a physician, as well as the return you anticipate on your investment.
- Health and wellbeing - Medical school and the residency that follows are rigorous, often involving intensive study and long hours. Someone who is starting medical school later in life should consider their own personal health and what they have to give to their studies and a potential career change.
Becoming a doctor later in life can be challenging, but those who are willing to put in the work and achieve this noble goal will find medicine to be a rewarding career.
How to Become a Doctor Later in Life
Becoming a doctor later in life will be in many ways the same as it would be right out of an undergraduate degree, with a few age-specific considerations. It is against the law to discriminate against a potential student based on their age, but there are some unique issues that age will create.
Understand the Admission Requirements
Before you even begin the process of enrolling for classes or taking any kind of entry exams, you should understand the requirements for entry into medical school and the path for becoming a doctor. This will help you to avoid activities that will not help you in your goals and will enable you to better direct your attention to the activities that you really need to become a doctor.
Complete Premed Classes
Becoming a physician later in life will be more feasible if you already have an undergraduate degree or higher in a scientific field. Most medical schools require that you have at least a bachelor-level degree and that you have completed certain courses in chemistry, biology, and other sciences.
You may have the required degree, but need to complete certain courses to be eligible to apply for medical schools. Different medical schools have different requirements, so be sure you understand what classes you need for each medical school you are applying for.
Take the MCAT
Your score on the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®) is an important factor that medical schools consider when admitting new students. While there is no passing or non-passing score, the better you do on this test, the better your chances of admission are.
Someone who is becoming a doctor later in life has often been out of school for several years. There are many MCAT preparation courses or review courses that may be especially beneficial to mature medical school applicants.
Get Medical Experience
If you do not have any background in the medical field, you will want to gain some kind of medical experience, both to strengthen your application and to get an idea of what being a doctor is actually like. There are many ways to do this, from volunteering at a hospital, to shadowing a doctor, to getting a clinical job in a hospital or medical facility. Most medical schools will want to see some kind of healthcare experience in your past.
Apply to Medical Schools
Once you have completed your MCAT, you will be ready to apply to medical schools. Medical schools are notoriously difficult to gain admission into, so you should apply to several. There is no correct number of applications to submit, however, admission into medical school is very competitive. Forbes conducted an interview with a med school prep counselor who recommends applying to 20-25 medical schools.
If medical schools are interested in your application, they will invite you for an interview. The percentage of applications that result in interviews will vary based on your overall application, including your MCAT scores and the other components of your application.
While a lot depends on your interviews, those becoming a doctor later in life will normally have a richer experience and be more comfortable in an interview environment than young applicants. Your age can work for your benefit in an interview by showcasing the experiences you have had throughout your life and impressing your interviewers with your accomplishments.
Get Accepted Into a Medical School
Once you have completed your interview, you will hear back from each medical school whether your application has been accepted or rejected. Not being accepted may mean that you need to apply to more medical schools, but may also mean that you need to consider how strong your application is and what you can do to improve it.
Getting accepted into a medical school is a momentous milestone in becoming a doctor and probably the hardest one to overcome. Once you have been accepted into medical school, your future is almost entirely dependent on how hard you work rather than the strength of your past experiences and education.
Get Into a Residency Program
Once you graduate from medical school, you will need to get into a residency program. Residency is a process in which new doctors practice under a doctor who has already completed their residency. Residency will vary from three to eight years, depending on the specialty, and will be one of the final steps towards becoming an independent practitioner.
AUCMED | October 14, 2021