For those considering a career in the world of medicine, you must already know that a glut of tedious studying, exams and residencies awaits you. But what if you’re not in the majority 75% demographic of your medical school class? What if you are among the 1% of those who are older and nontraditional? You will have some unique challenges to face, not only with the rigors of schoolwork, but perhaps also juggling a family and a former career. But with this career change decision comes advantages that only an older candidate can attain and bring into the field of medicine.
Let’s take a look at what those unique benefits are that would make someone who has changed career paths into the field of medicine a competitive applicant and a good doctor.
• Broader Experiences: There is something to be said about the notion of life experiences that bring a wealth of knowledge to the medical school table. Medical school entrance exams and mastery of difficult courses are often based upon certain metrics; mainly test scores, maintaining high G.P.A.’s and overall academic achievements. More and more, however, the idea of life experiences is being thrown into the equation. Certainly a woman who has experienced motherhood would have a much different outlook while tending to a pregnant patient than a woman who has never experienced childbirth or parenting. Likewise a former soldier who has witnessed the horrors of combat as a young man, who later in life decided to go to medical school, will not be immobilized by horrific wounds that a typical resident would be foreign to.
• Reasons for becoming a doctor: Many times a younger person considers the field of medicine due to his or her past exposures to doctors as well as patients, both positive and negative. Some younger students might be inclined to the idea of attaining a certain level of social status that earning a degree in medicine and private practice can bestow upon them. Another driving factor can be job security and a wealthier income than many of their peers. But the older medical student can offer a more humanitarian reason for pursuing medical school. Older medical students may know firsthand the devastating effects that a lack of quality healthcare has upon a low-income family from previous experiences and careers. Older medical students may also be more apt to have a vein of altruism in their desire to get their medical degree especially if they have witnessed the frustrations of poor health care with their own family. They might be more driven to change the healthcare system by becoming the change themselves.
• Locum Tenens: This term is roughly translated as ‘place holder’ and used in medical verbiage as a trained physician/doctor who steps in when the regular attending doctor is unable to. How could this benefit a more mature new doctor? An older doctor may have a spouse with an established career that might require relocation; therefore a doctor who has the flexibility to move with his or her spouse and family is more apt to seek out this healthcare option instead of being focused on trying to establish their roots in a practice. Often times doctors can choose to work off-hours to facilitate a dual income family where one parent can remain at home when the other leaves for work.
• Readily Committed: One benefit of age is the ability to see life through the perspective of a more mature lens. With age comes a certain wisdom and enlightenment unique to life experiences. Those who choose to enter the medical field at an older age may be driven by their own desire to become a doctor as opposed to familial pressures thrust upon them that some younger students may feel. If a student’s great grandfather, grandfather, and father were all surgeons, he may feel an inordinate amount of pressure to follow in their footsteps. In contrast, one who has put in the time into developing a career, raising a family and now is compelled to seek out the study of medicine for reasons of compassion and helping out their fellow man rather than family expectations, will be more likely to pursue their studies with the additional determination, dedication and desire.
At the end of the day, an older student could offer a very different perspective into medicine than the typical, younger student. If this sounds at all like something you yourself might be considering, then you should also bear in mind that there may be some age-discrimination factors at play; some hospitals may not think that a forty-year-old resident can offer the same stamina as someone almost twenty years their junior. Also, studying and juggling family life will be difficult at best. But those who are able to persevere will be rewarded with an amazing new career and a chance to serve humanity firsthand.
Adam Ghosh has over twenty years’ experience as a researcher in the medical field. In that time he has worked with allergists and vascular surgeons, and everyone in between. Now he supplements his early retirement by contributing to Weatherby Healthcare.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ProspectiveDoctor.