We sat down with Dr. Tina Han, a current resident in General Psychiatry at the LAC+USC Medical Center, to learn more about her experience as a non-traditional med student. Like many of us, she faced a lot of hurdles in her journey to medicine. Dr. Han explained that there are many ways to highlight your experience and qualifications as a non-traditional applicant. As she currently progresses throughout her medical training, she looks back on her application process and remembers some very important things that added to her success. Find out what Dr. Han has to share with other non-traditional applicants below!
My road to medicine was filled with detours, and in some instances, muddled by self-doubt. I am currently a resident physician in Psychiatry taking care of some of the most underserved patients in Los Angeles, but it took a 6-year gap of self-reflection between college and medical school before I arrived at this point in my career. As a non-traditional med student applicant, I had many reservations about my application and at times, would talk myself out of the nerve-wracking process of applying to medical school. Today, as I progress through my medical training, I am grateful for the encouraging words of mentors, friends, and family that helped me achieve my goals. As someone who has been through this arduous process, I would like to share 3 things to highlight in your application for the non-traditional med student applicant.
A commitment to medicine: Taking a year or two off between college and medical school is increasingly becoming the norm for many applicants nowadays. More and more applicants are tackling research projects and obtaining more clinical volunteering experience so that they are well-informed once they decide to apply to medical school. As a career changer who had worked in the legal, non-profit, tech, and advertising fields, I had to demonstrate not only to medical school admission committees but also to myself, that I was dedicated to becoming a physician and ready to make the commitment. For three years, I immersed myself in the medical field whenever I had availability in-between full-time jobs and evening post-baccalaureate classes. I volunteered my free afternoons to clinical research projects and my weekends to volunteering in the Pediatric Emergency Department. This experience not only helped to confirm my commitment to medicine, but it also gave me valuable insight into the work ahead.
Work experience is a desirable strength: Even though my career trajectory before medical school appears unrelated to medicine, every position that I held, regardless of the industry, contributed in some way to the doctor I am today. As a corporate paralegal I learned early on the importance of meeting deadlines, being detail-oriented, and how to work some brutally long hours. Working as a grant writer and then a media planner at an advertising agency showed me the importance of clear communication skills as well as cooperative and multidisciplinary teamwork. These skills as well as many others are the building blocks for success in medical school and beyond and should be emphasized as a strength.
Why medicine? Why now? Every medical school applicant is asked the question, “Why medicine?” but for the non-traditional applicant, the more important question that must be answered is, “Why now?” What has changed? I was pre-med for my freshman year of college, but I was not ready at that time to make a commitment to medicine. I had other interests and experiences I wanted to explore. I used the time after I graduated from college for soul-searching and self-reflection. After working in a number of different industries and volunteering in the medical field, I was finally able to compile what I needed for my future career: I wanted to work with underserved populations, to contribute to a body of knowledge through research, and be a part of an innovative field that is constantly evolving. Medicine, for me, continues to check off all of these boxes and although the journey has been indirect, it has been the most rewarding career I have had.
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