Tranditional vs. non-traditional
Traditional premedical students enter a four-year university directly after high school and begin taking courses for their major while also working on their required pre-med core sciences in order to finish their studies in a timely fashion. Most of these students finish their sciences by their sophomore year in hopes of taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), an exam that is required by all students to enter medical school, by their third or fourth year of their undergraduate education.
As a student that is going back to school in hopes of getting into medical school, your situation is a little bit different. You are a non-traditional pre-med student. What is a non-traditional pre-med student? The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) defines “non-traditional” as anyone who satisfies as least one of the following: “Delays enrollment (does not enter postsecondary education in the same calendar year that he or she finished high school);
- Attends part-time for at least part of the academic year;
- Works full-time (35 hours or more per week) while enrolled;
- Is financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid;
- Has dependents other than a spouse (usually children, but sometimes others);
- Is a single parent (either not married or married but separated and has dependents), or
- Does not have a high school diploma (completed high school with a GED or other high school completion certificate or did not finish high school)” (Choy).
Working while going back to school will present some interesting challenges but doing both is possible. Being successful will require one to maintain a proper level of commitment.
Going pre-med for the right reasons
Before you commit on going pre-med be absolutely sure that becoming a doctor is something that you are truly passionate about. If you are having trouble deciding you can seek guidance from family and friends that you trust. Listen to their advice but do not let their advice be the deciding factor. The decision should ultimately be yours. Don’t let age deter you from following your passion. Look at being older as a positive and not a negative. Employment experience is an incredible advantage to have over other students. Most pre-meds have never worked at a significant job. Your work experience is going to come in handy when applying to medical schools and when begin clinical rotations as a medical student. It’s wonderful that you’ve realized that your calling is in medicine; it’s never too late to begin.
The key to becoming a doctor is to maintain a level of commitment and desire. People who went on to become doctors didn’t have it handed to them; they were auspicious because they were motivated. Working and going to school can be exhausting so it is important to keep a constant focus.
It’s a balancing act
Making a comprehensive schedule for school, work, and family time is the most effective method to ensure that you are keeping a proper balance. Preferably begin by selecting classes during times that you are most active and ready to learn. If you are a morning person, plan to take classes as early as possible. If you are a person that likes to sleep-in, schedule your courses later in the afternoon. By scheduling school during mental peak performance time it will allow you to maximize learning comprehension and the ability to retain new information.
After choosing classes, it’s now time to fit your work schedule around it. Students who work more than twenty hours a week should ask for a reduction in hours. If fewer hours aren’t possible, work on days when not in school. Most employers are flexible to accommodate changing work schedules as long as there is adequate coverage. A great option, if your job allows, is to work on weekends while leaving Monday through Friday for school. It will give you ample to attend class and study. If you must work and attend class on the same day make sure that you make the out of it. This means going to class and actively paying attention and writing notes.
Now that you are juggling school and work be mindful not to neglect your job. Eventually, you can ask your supervisor for a letter for recommendation but we will discuss acquiring such letters in a later chapter. Lastly, make sure that you plan enough quality time with family and friends. They are supporting you on your quest of getting into medical school. They deserve your undivided attention when you are not busy with studies or at work. Confide in them about problems or struggles that you are having. Family and close friends are a great source of comfort. For those students with a spouse or in a relationship, do not neglect your significant other and assist them with anything whenever possible. Also, don’t forget about your four-legged or feathered friends. Pets need as much attention as the significant people in your life do. .
Healthy body, healthy mind
Do not underestimate the importance of eating healthy. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables will not only satisfy your appetite but it will nourish your brain which, in turn, will allow you to earn better grades. Fruits and vegetables are a great source of vitamins that will improve one’s ability to retain information and enhance one’s overall mood. By eating healthy, the brain will remain alert enabling you to tackle a strenuous study session or a tough exam. Consuming certain foods has been scientifically proven to help maintain mental concentration and stamina. Another important aspect of being healthy is staying active and exercising regularly. Exercising for thirty minutes a day will work out both your body and brain. Physical activity increases blood circulation throughout the body and it improves blood flow and oxygen into the brain.
Christopher A. Perez is the author of Getting Into Medical School: A Comprehensive Guide for Non-Traditional Students.