Going Back to School to Pursue Medicine for Non-Traditional Students

“Medicine is a step that should be pursued with caution and only after careful consideration”. This was the advice given to me by one of my mentors before I decided for certain that I wanted to transition 180 degrees from engineering to become a physician. The path to becoming a medical doctor is difficult, long, and in today’s world almost hyper-competitive! The journey is challenging, physically, emotionally, and financially.  It becomes especially difficult if you are a mid-level employee with a stable job that pays you a steady income with a comfortable retirement and benefits package.

Becoming a full-time student entails leaving that comfy desk job along with its perks to pursue a career choice that will not pay you a significant amount on which to support yourself, let alone an entire family for at least 4 years of schooling followed by a 3 year minimum residency. Also, there will be no comprehensive health insurance comparable to health insurance plans offered by most private employers, retirement (401K) package offered during the time you’re back in school or in training. Add to this the cost of a 4-year medical degree; the cost of applying to medical schools, paying for interview expenses out of pocket for both admissions and residency process and no wonder the average medical student is indebted with ~$250K in student loans!  Also, we need to keep in mind that the average young physician may not be able to start paying off some of those loans until 7 years after they started medical school.  These factors can weigh heavily and pose as deterrents for older non-traditional students who have been out of school for some time. Having kids or being a single income parent or divorce’ imposes further financial limitations. I personally thought long and hard, made a systematic pros and cons list, then after some time, made the leap of faith.

First and foremost, any nontraditional student needs to be honest with themselves and do a thorough assessment of their motivation behind pursuing a career in medicine versus something similar in another industry. If the goal is simply to make more money or follow in the footsteps of rich parents or a successful relative who may have a private practice, those goals can be achieved much faster and perhaps more easily in another field. Becoming a physician more than any other profession requires a practical and realistic understanding of all the perils, not just at the initial phase but well beyond admission into medical school. If the objective is simply to feel content in helping others, there are plenty of other avenues to achieve that.

In my case, my uncle who did not start his residency until he was well into his 40’s made that decision easier for me by telling me to ask myself an easy question, “do I lose sleep over wanting to become a doctor and do I truly believe that my goals and ambitions cannot be fulfilled and realized by a comparable job or field?” If the answer is a resounding yes, then I should not think long about it and make up my mind without regret. He (as well as some of the physicians I have shadowed) also advised me not to look back or harbor uncertainty.  Rather, I should work as hard as I can towards achieving my dream. I was also advised to have a constant reminder that no one else but me decided to make this decision and embark on this arduous journey. Keeping this in perspective will help you stay self-motivated and enjoy your new journey to become a doctor. Adult life can be complicated and full of tough decisions; the decision to partake the challenges of medical school need not be one!

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Jude Ezeh

Very deep indeed! Thank you so much Sadia Zafar for sharing this with me!

3 years ago

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Sadia Zafar

Jude – congratulations on being student of the week, keep up the good work!!

3 years ago

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Sadia Zafar

oh and you’re very welcome 🙂

3 years ago

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Larry Bellot

I thought long and hard and felt much the same. Ultimately, the burning desire to fulfill my goal won out over any trepidation that I had. Good read!; honest and impactful!

3 years ago

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Sadia Zafar

Hi Larry,

yes the decision and transition is certainly harder for non-traditional students. you have to carefully weigh and consider several factors realistically and practically but in the end like you said, if the desire to pursue what you’re truly passionate about supersedes everything else then I say go for it!!

Thanks for your support, it’s much appreciated and good luck to you 🙂

3 years ago