Too Old for Medical School?

‘How old is too old?’ and who can determine that? I came to the conclusion that ‘only you know if you’re too old’. My logic was that, assuming I worked till 65, I’d still be able to practice as a doctor for more than 20 years which is not insignificant and more if I worked till 70 – which looks likely considering what the UK government are doing to the NHS.

However, being twice the age of the usual applicant and with medicine being so competitive, I also worried what admissions tutors and interviewers would think.  Although there’s no upper age limit ‘officially’, I thought there might be hidden or unofficial discrimination.

I felt that the odds were stacked against me. In the end I worried needlessly. If age related discrimination exists in selecting candidates for medical school then I seem to have bypassed it. I hope the offers I received can reassure other mature grads and “oldies” who are thinking of applying. Age shouldn’t stop you applying. Finances, family commitments, what stage of life you consider yourself at or perhaps a loss of job status maybe, but not age. At one medical school interview I was asked a question indirectly related to age: “How do you feel about studying alongside people who might be much younger than you?” but that was it. In fact it was only the admissions tutors at some Access to Medicine courses who were less positive and who thought I was too old whilst no eyebrows were raised or eyelids batted at any of the medical schools.

In short, if you can show that you’re: 1) committed & motivated 2) realistic about the consequences involved and are not going through a “mid-life crisis” and obviously that 3) you have the potential to make a good doctor, then you’ll have a good chance of getting in. Age just won’t be an issue.

How I thought medical school admissions would see that points 1 – 3 were met:

  1. Long term voluntary work and/or healthcare experience and/or shadowing in a caring environment. I think this is important as the experience will; show you’re committed, help you to write a better personal statement, help you construct convincing answers in interviews as well as giving you access to members of the healthcare profession so that you can ask all the questions that you really should have. It will also show that this isn’t a career change made spontaneously and that you made the effort to place yourself in a healthcare environment to experience it for yourself. It takes time to build up experiences with patients and even to arrange volunteering so start early.
  2. Think about how you’ll finance the course, loss of earnings, what it means to immediate family, partner & children. You may currently hold a position of seniority, how would it feel to give that up and start right at the very bottom? It’s pretty scary you know! Consider how you feel about working notoriously long hours, that not all patients get better and how you might deal with making mistakes. Ensure you know the career pathway well and all the steps involved in becoming a doctor. Why not become a nurse?  How would you answer this question in a medical school interview?
  3. Craft an original but honest personal statement, communicate well, be shiny and charming at interview

Obviously there is the academic side plus you need a good score in entrance exams but otherwise don’t waste time worrying about age.

Here’s a nice report about Equality and Diversity in UK Medical Schools by the BMA. I’ve also put a few links to blogs from older medical students and news articles here

If you’re thinking of applying but haven’t –  what’s stopping you? If you’re a current medical student who is older than average I’d love to hear about your experiences!

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25 thoughts on “Too Old for Medical School?

  1. Well done on getting in to Medical School. It’s good to hear there is no age discrimination. Reading about your experiences as an HCE made me miss nursing! (Bizzarely considering what you were writing about!). Changing direction is not easy, many people will be critical, but learning something new is always exciting. Good lick & enjoy it all too.

    1. Thanks very much for your comments @studyingparent! Reassuring to hear that there are other “oldies” out there! Changing direction is definitely a leap of faith. Good luck to you too with your PhD!

  2. Of course I meant Good LUCK!!! There is no edit button on the comments – sadly, as my typing is a bit random sometimes!!

    1. Thanks newdadmd!

      There were a few times when I harboured some doubts about how well I was going to do in the exams but I realised that, the sooner I stop worrying and get on with studying the better.

      Totally agree with your posts about getting a handle on the study asap. I’m still debating whether to take a laptop/iPad into lectures or use the paper handouts. I find being able to search notes digitally for stuff is so useful but each method has its own advantages/disadvantages. I guess that’s a good theme for a post! Look forward to more posts from you!

  3. Hi!!! I’m currently a MD student and soon to be 45 years young..I enjoy the interaction with all the professors, which I feel have a deeper respect that I am a tad older and my true dedication to succeed. My kids are older now so I’m not chasing them out of the room to get in my days studies, or worried if I have to do an all nighter for an exam. Its nice to know that I’m not the only late bloomer out there. Sincerely, Happymdstudent 🙂

    1. Congratulations Mady! 45 years young is not too far around the corner for me! Must make it a bit easier now that your children are a bit older. I’m also glad there are other late bloomers out there too. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when we start our clinical rotations… Hope you keep in touch and all the best!

      1. Thank you! Yes school has been awesome and stressful all rolled up in one. The program in also allows us to work in under-served areas so I’m getting a lot of clinical already and in my second year. I too wish you all the best. I feel my classmates have accepted me now as one of them and age is no longer a factor. Truly enjoy your blog will continue to follow. Thanks. Mady

  4. Congratulations Mady! 45 years young is not too far around the corner for me! Must make it a bit easier now that your children are a bit older. I’m also glad there are other late bloomers out there too. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when we start our clinical rotations… Hope you keep in touch and all the best!

  5. I just found this blog, and you’re really inspirational! I still have about two years more of prerequisites before I can even BEGIN to think about applying for med school (or PA school), and I’m quite a bit older than my classmates. I can’t count the number of people who tell me I’m too old to begin such an involved process. It’s only from going on the internet and reading blogs such as yours that I’ve even realized it’s possible, so thank you.

    1. Hi Prewhatever! Thanks for visiting! I’m twice the age of my classmates but it doesn’t seem to bother them – or me, so don’t let anyone else tell you you’re too old. Does PA mean physician’s assistant? Whether it’s med or PA school, you’ve just got to go for it! Your blog shows that you’ve journeyed to many parts of the world already so good luck and hope you get on the right road for your medicine/PA adventure!

    1. Vittoria, thanks for visiting. Medical school choice depends on a lot of things: Where you want to live and also the way the school teaches (e.g. traditional lectures vs PBL); some schools no longer offer dissection to learn anatomy but provide prosections or maybe plastinated specimens. Also certain schools have higher student satisfaction than others. I’d recommend visiting the medical schools that you’re interested in during their open days to get a feel for the place and talk to the current students. Good luck with your choice.

  6. Hi,
    You are such an inspiration to a lot of us!
    Can I ask you, did you have to sit any extra exams like UKCAT and BMAT ?. I read through some of your postings and haven’t found anything about thoise exams ?

    Do you also mind telling us a bit about how you finance your course to get some ideas ?.

    My wife is very supportive but I also want to know what kind of debt I’ll have to incur and what financial commitments we’ll have.

    Many thanks,
    Pierre

  7. Hi Pierre! Thanks for the kind words!

    I sat the UKCAT and GAMSAT entrance exams (https://tofumedic.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/gamsat-2011/). I did each of them twice using the first try as a ‘dry run’ in the year before applying. The UKCAT is like a sprint whereas the GAMSAT is more like a marathon! I haven’t written much about them because there’s already lot of info out there on blogs and forums about exam technique, practice questions and how to do well.

    I couldn’t comment on financial commitments simply because there are too many factors to consider and everyone is different but a supportive partner on your side is a huge advantage for you!

    Wish you all the best Pierre

  8. I am 47 years old.. is that too old? I have always wanted to be a doctor. I am now financially secure, very supportive husband and daughter. I qualified as a nurse and midwife, having worked on the labour ward for 6 years I left for another challenge. I worked my way up in the pharmaceutical sector, had my own succesful business consultancy business and now I want to study medicine. I did an MBA too. Am I too old? would I even get accepted?

    1. Apologies for the late reply. I’ve been thinking about how to answer your question, it sounds like you are a high achiever which is helpful. I still believe only you know if you are too old as it depends on what your objectives are. Also, only you have the best idea about what you are going to need to give up. What research have you carried out so far regarding schools and next steps?

  9. Hey, they don’t discriminate against the oldies in the medschool, but how about the residency placement? Isn’t that you’d get the least competetive places only? It would be interesting to learn about the “oldies” life AFTER the medschool. Was it really worth the trouble?
    Most oldies I know went to the least attractive specialties like geriatric psychiatry, so I’m wondering: was it their choice or the harsh life necessity.

    1. Hi Beatrice,
      Thanks for your interesting comment! I agree with you in that it would be interesting to know which specialties oldies end up in. Maybe not all oldies would do the same as the ones who you know? Maybe geriatric psychiatry was really attractive to them? If you find out let us all know!
      Yours,
      MSL

  10. Hey, your blog is fantastic!

    I have just launched a national blog focusing on widening access to medicine through our social enterprise Medic Mentor, with students and doctors all over the UK contributing posts. (www.medicmentor.org/blog)

    If would be great to have a contribution from a mature student.

    Article contributors will received a certificate signed by the medical directors, which you can use on your CV.

    Let me know if you are interested through the Medic Mentor FB page, Cheers! 🙂

    Ciaran

  11. Great blog and best of luck with finals (last year is the easiest!)

    I’m a 38 year old single mum to nearly teenage lads, currently doing Foundation. I’ve loved (almost…) every second, feel constantly excited and honoured by experiences I’ve had and patients I’ve met, and never looked back.

    Age has only been an advantage. Plus, the good news is it gets even better. I LOVE being a doctor even at the bottom of the ladder. I still grab my steth out my bag and think inside myself ‘omg I actually made it, I’m a doctor!’ almost every day 🙂 And I honestly think years of doing rubbish (and much harder in lots of ways) jobs like barmaid and mini cab handler and cleaner make it all the sweeter.

    For every medic I’ve met whose perhaps thought I shouldn’t be doing this, I’ve met ten or more who’ve cheered me on. Cheering YOU on now. Good luck x

    1. Dear FYMum, thanks very much for the comment and encouragement. It means a lot to me. I do hope final year is the easiest, it feels like I’ve been running a marathon, somehow made it round the last corner and am now on the home straight.

      Congratulations on making it to foundation! Life must have been extremely busy with medical school and the circumstances you described. If I had a hat on I would be taking if off to you!

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