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!


Just one of the halls used for GAMSAT September 2010, taken just after the exam. An ocean of tables, an ocean of the competition

The September 2011 GAMSAT exam was yesterday. Poor buggers.

I’m glad I didn’t have to go and sit that again.

I sat the GAMSAT twice in 2010, the second time I’d already received offers from med schools but it was too late to get a refund so I thought ‘WTH I’ll do it for fun.” In retrospect I was probably mentally imbalanced.

The first time, I sat the Irish GAMSAT which is held in March each year and is still valid for UCAS applications for two years at UK medical schools also. [Swansea no longer accept Irish GAMSAT so better to confirm with the schools. Edited 22Jan13] . Venues are Dublin, Cork, Limerick but for an extra fee you can take the test in London, Melbourne, Singapore and Washington.

With the September GAMSAT, results go out in late November online by which time you’ll already have submitted your UCAS application (med school UK applicants) and used up your four precious choices of medical school. Sitting the Irish GAMSAT in March means firstly you’ll know your score before selecting the schools and secondly you can use it as a dry run for a second attempt in September – if needed. It’s not the cheapest strategy but if you want to get into med school – well I guess you’ll do anything.

It’s a great opportunity to talk to fellow applicants too. Graduate and matures are in the minority when applying to med school and it can become a reclusive experience so it was quite reassuring to chat to other grads and oldies in the queue and during breaks.

Last September, GAMSAT was held at the vast halls of the Royal Horticultural Society, London – in addition to several other venues. Seeing the massive queue of fellow applicants each clutching bottles of water, pencils and a calculator plus all those desks and chairs inside stretching away into the distance substantiates how many other people exist, besides you, who want to get into med/dental school – I remember thinking: “Can everybody stop applying to medical school please, you’re making it really hard to get in”

Many medical schools use the ‘UK Clinical Aptitude Test’ (UKCAT). The results are given to you right after the test so you can therefore gear your application to a particular medical school which emphasizes a strong UKCAT – (or not).

Medical School Here I Come

So I’m in!!

Amazingly, I was fortunate enough to receive three offers;  two unconditional plus one conditional offer of a B in AS-Biology. So all that effort at evening school to learn the basic sciences paid off. Plus I didn’t give up my job for nothing. Phew, what a relief! Cup of tea now please.

Yesterday was the day the A-level exam results came out. I’d already accepted my place several months ago but I can identify with everyone else who got in. It’s an amazing feeling. Well done guys!

The first time I did A-levels was 20 years ago! 20 years ago!  I didn’t do Chemistry or Biology and as a graduate I’m eligible to some schools but the number of medical schools I could apply to were significantly reduced. There are colleges offering Chemistry and Biology A-levels at evening classes so to improve my chances, off I went to night school, completing each in one year on an intensive course. Tough while working at the same time but doable if you’re motivated.

After getting in, my next thoughts were “What have you done? Will you really manage financially? You’ve given up your great job!” At my age, I had to and did think it through carefully but you spend so much time and effort and concentrate so fully on the application process, it’s easy to lose sight of everything else.