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April 30, 2009 8:57 PM   Subscribe

Probably a common story: I graduated with a liberal arts degree and a mediocre GPA from a mediocre college a few years ago. Now, after working for a few years, I've grown a lot and I've realized that I'd prefer a "hard science" career - and I'm seriously considering med school.

The problem, of course, is the liberal arts degree and the mediocre GPA. My grades in science classes weren't good either. If it helps, I graduated in two and a half years - but it probably doesn't help.

Since I can't make my GPA go away, what's the best way to counteract it? I need to take the med school prerequisites, that's a given - but should I do them in a post-bac program or should I do another bachelor's degree entirely (a bachelor's degree meaning more credits and a greater effect on my GPA)? I've taken bio and chem, and didn't do great (B and C, respectively) - should I retake them? Is there anything I can do outside school to improve my chances - stuff like EMT certification? Finally, is it possible to do all this while maintaining my 9-to-5, full-time job?

Thanks for the help!
posted by anonymous to Education (14 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
A close friend of mine is a med student about to graduate, though, and she originally graduated from a small liberal arts school with a degree in economics. After working odd jobs for awhile, she decided she wanted to be a doctor. She took the med school prerequisites at a combination of community college and university. She has said, on more than one occasion, that very little of what she learned as an undegraduate (in science classes) is directly applicable to modern medical practice, which for most specialties involves far more memorization and application of "algorithms" (really heuristics, but whatever) than problem-solving. So, I'm pretty sure doing another BA/BS would not pay off in terms of time and money. I once seriously considered med school myself, and in all the pre-application lectures I went to (and the admissions sites I looked at) qualified students with non-science degrees were encouraged to apply.

Now, her GPA was good to begin with, but I think if you got excellent grades while taking the prereqs, got a good score on the MCAT, and have some community/volunteer service to show off on your application, you should be able to get in. As for working while doing it, I'm not so sure about that. It probably depends on the nature of your job and how hard you're willing to work -- long nights and weekends of studying, assuming you can schedule all these classes in the evenings. Working part-time instead would surely be more reasonable.
posted by Maximian at 9:31 PM on April 30, 2009

I just applied for med school, but I went the traditional route. I would suggest calling a med school admissions office and talking with them. Most admissions offices are quite friendly and willing to give advice. Maybe call your own state med school.
posted by esnyder at 9:33 PM on April 30, 2009

The short answer is that, provided the depth of the GPA hole you need to climb out of isn't overwhelming, you can totally go to med school if you're willing to commit to a tough couple of years of transition.

I'd strongly encourage you to visit the forums at studentdoctor.net, which is a de-facto standard resource for pre-meds of all stripes (no one will admit to reading SDN , but everybody does). Specifically, hit up the Postbaccalaureate forum. There's a lot of great information there, and most of your questions will likely be answered if you spend some time trolling the archives. As you'll see, your situation isn't terribly unique. You might investigate "special master's" programs in particular, as they're more tailored to those who need to bring up their GPAs.

I did a one-year postbacc program myself, so I can probaby answer specific questions about that route if you feel like dropping me a Me-mail. Good luck!
posted by killdevil at 9:57 PM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

You actually can make a GPA go away. Some (Most? All?) universities offer "Academic Forgiveness" provided a prospective student has been out of school for a requisite number of years. In my case it was five. You talk to several Deans and act sufficiently ashamed of yourself for not taking academics seriously in the past and "POOF!" your entire collegiate history resets to zero. Tabula rasa. It's not automatic, though. You must make the Dean believe. (And avoid the temptation to inform him that it's better business for the school if you have to retake all those core classes and $pend an extra two years on the rolls... ) Check with the Admissions Office of the school of your choice on the particulars of their policy.
posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 10:25 PM on April 30, 2009

Depending on how dedicated you are, consider applying to med school on one of the Caribbean islands for the first two years. A family friend of ours decided he wanted to be a doctor in his mid-twenties, after a so-so academic history, ended up living on a Caribbean island while attending med school there and loving it. He did his internships and rotations in NY, is now a surgery resident in one of NYC's major university hospitals.
posted by halogen at 12:16 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Non American, non medic take on this: medical qualifications seem to be effective across international borders much more than most. Given that the course you are considering embarking on is going to take considerable time, effort and money whichever way you approach it - consider the possibility of studying in another country.
posted by rongorongo at 1:52 AM on May 1, 2009

As a supplement to halogen's post, Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica has been spamming me with information since I took the MCAT. I've been thinking about it as a backup plan in case my more traditional applications fall through.
posted by xiaoyi at 2:30 AM on May 1, 2009

Okay, first of all if you want to pursue a "hard science" career I wouldn't really consider medical school but a PhD in, well, a hard science. I think in your situation it would be easier to get into the PhD program, assuming you put some work into it.

Here's what you need to do: find a research lab(s) at a respected university near you. Email the principle investigators. Explain a little bit about yourself and ask if you could spend some time volunteering do to research in their lab. Tell them you eventually are seeking employment in a research lab and would like to try to gett a little experience under your belt and maybe if they like your work, a letter of rec.

At the same time, starting looking for research tech jobs at said university and be very convincing in your cover letter that you will take the job seriously and do it well. Once you score a university job you have 2 benefits: 1.) you are gaining direct, relevant experience in scientific work (even med school will want this), 2.) you will have the ability to take courses at the university each semester for free.

I would say that after about 2-3 years of you doing well in these hard science classes while gaining valuable research experience (and perhaps even earning a publication or two) you will be in an excellent position to apply for a MD or PhD program. If you want to go the MD route, I would spend the entire time you are working on this studying for the MCAT each week. If you want to go to PhD route, I would spend a lot of time trying to decipher what your research interests are and work on developing contacts in the field.

It sounds like a lot of work, but 2-3 years flies by, especially when you're busy.
posted by sickinthehead at 4:09 AM on May 1, 2009

P.S. also, you have to pay out of pocket for medical school. If you can get yourself into a PhD program in the sciences, you not only get your tuition and health insurance taken care of, you also get a yearly stipend (20-28k, depending on where you are and what you are doing) to live on.
posted by sickinthehead at 4:11 AM on May 1, 2009

Weren't we just hearing in the news that Obama was going to pay GPs more?

No particular Med School advice, but I have gotten into several highly competitive graduate programs (that I ended up not attending, that's another story) on the strength of strongly written essays and recommendations. I don't think anything is impossible.

Last year I decided to go to nursing school. My only college degree was in Music performance. I took all my prereqs in the last two semesters (finishing with my last test in a few hours). Looks like I might pull a 4.0 for the whole thing, not sure. Doesn't matter too much as I'm already accepted in a program. But when I say I hadn't taken a math or science class since I graduated high school in 1993, I mean it.

It's both harder and easier when you are older.

I didn't work through it though. That's part of the reason I started thinking about doing what I'm doing. I couldn't find work in all the arty low paying things I was into.

You might consider nursing, either as an RN or NP. Or physician's assistant. The buy in cost is much less and there are a lot of rewards. At least, that's what I'm told.

Good Luck!
posted by sully75 at 5:42 AM on May 1, 2009

Since I'm a UK person studying medicine in the UK I can't give advice on entry levels. However, I can tell you that medicine is not 'hard science' in any way. It's learning a huge breadth of stuff, talking to people, and problem-solving. You can choose to go more into the research end of things, but day to day it's following guidelines, knowing that symptoms A,B and C probably mean disease D and you should order test E.

Best of luck whatever you decide, but make sure it's what you're expecting before spending time and money on it!
posted by Coobeastie at 6:56 AM on May 1, 2009

Seconding sickinthehead. I was in a lab that took on a guy like this - a 40-something liberal artist in sales, and one day decided he wanted to see what science was like. He did eventually enter grad school, but started as an unadmitted volunteer.

Most labs won't want to bother -- after all, they'd be taking on only the steep part of your learning curve, when you aren't officially committed to the path in a conventional way -- but some labs might be willing to take a chance. Pick up a copy of At the Bench -- it gives a good idea of what to expect as a grunt in a bio lab.
posted by Methylviolet at 7:35 AM on May 1, 2009

I just wanted to say how awesome I think your decision is. While it may take 10 years to become good at anything, I think the route you've taken, really finding out what you want to do is great. I've heard that being an intern is better when you're young because of the workload and hours, but I think maturity and commitment may give you an equal advantage. Good luck!
posted by scazza at 8:05 AM on May 1, 2009

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