What could I do if I leave pre-med?
October 27, 2013 2:49 PM   Subscribe

What other options are there besides pre-med?

I would love nothing more than to go into the healthcare field - honestly, it's the only field that I can imagine myself into. The problem is that I'm losing so much hope in my grades - I have a 3.41 cGPA, and a 3.0 sGPA in a top 10 school and when I see my physics grade right now I can't help but lose so much hope. My midterm grades are fine, but my quiz grades are below average and I can't see raising my GPA much higher this semester.

I'm seriously considering leaving pre-med but I would love to stay in the field. Are there any suggestions on what I could be able to go into that I'd also be happy in? Vision has intrigued me for a long time so I could consider optometry... anything else?

I am majoring in Cognitive Science, by the way, with a concentration in Cognitive Neuroscience.
posted by JYuanZ to Science & Nature (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It would be helpful to know what is drawing you to health care. Is it a general sense of wanting to help people? The prestige/social standing that come with being a physician? Do you like working physically with people? Are you fascinated by disease processes? Are you excited by the prospect of rapid change and an uncertain future?

It sounds like you're in a competitive school in a tough major. Are there things you can do to bring up your grades? What is causing you to get below average quiz grades? Does your school offer tutoring or some other kind of assistance that could help you?

I'm asking a lot of questions, but without more information it is hard to know how to direct you. There are a lot of options in the health care field - pharmacy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, audiology, speech/language pathology, rad tech, various types of nurses, administrators, etc.

If you can swing it, it would be good to arrange to shadow some professionals in these fields to get a better sense of what you would really enjoy.
posted by jeoc at 3:07 PM on October 27, 2013

Physician's Assistants seem to be doing well right now.
posted by COD at 3:18 PM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nursing, podiatry, dentistry, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, medical research, research, community health care, lab technician, imaging, nurse practitioner, physician's assistant.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:26 PM on October 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am a biology professor and academic advisor, but I am not your academic advisor. If I were, I would make similar suggestions to those above of the many, many other healthcare careers out there. I would also point you to basic or biomedical research, lab or clinical, whether as a technician or as a researcher yourself, as a great way to help people in a more abstract way.

I would also say that a 3.4 GPA will be judged as very good anywhere except on med school applications and that Cognitive Science is actually a great, multi-disciplinary liberal arts degree, providing you with a broad background to do whatever you want, once you figure out what that is. One of my labmates in grad school for Ecology had a BS in Cognitive Science from Stanford. Her quantitative and programming skills, as well as the ability to make connections across disciplines, really came in handy in our field.

Finally, I would encourage you to talk to your own academic advisor and career services office because they can give you much more specific advice than I can without knowing your program or seeing your actual transcript.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:47 PM on October 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

There are lots of health care jobs out there, and hospital administration is also a growing friend (and consulting related to such work) but why do you want to leave pre-med? If you could explain that, then we would have more information to steer you towards something that you would like better.
posted by deanc at 4:06 PM on October 27, 2013

Response by poster: The thing about medical school is that I'm not daunted by the volume of the work - I have friends who maintain a great social life and I look up to some of them - it's that I'm just not sure if I'm cut out to be a physician. Part of the reason why I am still pre-med, I think, is because I feel like it's what's expected of my parent (not specifying gender), who was named the new dean of a foreign medical school not too many weeks ago. Normally I consider myself to handle pressure without trouble, but considering how I feel that many people, including a multiple of accomplished scientists, are expecting the dean's son to do so well, I feel like it's a huge obstacle to overcome.

But besides that. I still embarked on the pre-med route because I want to help people. Prestige isn't a factor for me and I would still consider the position favorably if the salary was slashed in half (mind you, I'd also need the tuition to be slashed too haha). It's a very naive answer, but that's how I feel right now. I wish I had the maturity to have a better response.

I think I'm having that typical college-kid identity crisis right now. Asking this question was the first step towards finding the answer, and the first step to finding a solution in response to the pressure.
posted by JYuanZ at 4:16 PM on October 27, 2013

Physical therapy/physiotherapy is a great option.
posted by headnsouth at 4:53 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's one thing to say that you're not daunted by the volume of the work associated with medical school, but you have to do the work and do it well. Right now you're doing the pre-med curriculum and struggling to keep your head above water. What does that tell you about how you will handle the volume/kind of work in medical school? Don't you think that maybe you should have a healthy level of daunt?

As you said, asking the question is the first step, and I feel pretty sure this is one of those AskMeFi questions where the answers don't really matter -- you personally needed to just ask the question and get it out there to make it real. It's pretty great that you are already able to admit that part of still being invested in this is because of perceived pressure from your parent and your parent's colleagues.

With a 3.0 sGPA and 3.4 cGPA you must be doing pretty well in your other courses. I'm sure you're perfectly bright and capable of achieving at something else, something that you like for your own reasons. I would strongly suggest talking to your academic advisor or the pre-health advisor about this. It's an old story and they have seen it hundreds if not thousands of times -- they know how to unravel this knot and they will help you.
posted by telegraph at 4:55 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about epidemiology and public health? It's a great way to help a lot of people at once. You can get there academically with a bachelor degree, MPH, PhD, or MD.

Listen, you're doing well in school. Few people have a complete perspective on the rest of their lives in college. You've got two major obstacles: other people's expectations and your own limited view. I've found it difficult to be happy while conforming to other people's expectations. I don't recommend that route. Get out and open up your view before you consign yourself to any one thing.
posted by Mercaptan at 5:00 PM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't tell from your question if you actually want to be a doctor or if you're just concerned about your grades. You need to get good grades to get into med school but it's not the end of the world if you struggle in undergrad. You can always do a post-bac.

My sister always wanted to be a doctor and struggled in undergrad. When she was finishing her B.A., she applied for med schools and got shut out. She took two years and got an MPH, then applied again and got in.

If you want to be a doctor, you can find a place to go to school and/or you can figure out a way to get your grades up to par. The question is whether you want to.
posted by kat518 at 5:42 PM on October 27, 2013

Don't go into a direct patient care role unless you are sure you actually want to do it. You cannot be sure that you actually want to do it until you have worked directly with patients as a patient tech, EMT -B, MA, CNA, etc.

You really don't want to get to the end of your medical education knowing that you hate being around sick people. Plus any direct patient care will help you get into med-school, if you decide that you actually want to go.
posted by 517 at 8:15 PM on October 27, 2013

I wanted to add that a friend who studied cognitive science went on to study a masters in speech therapy and is now renowned in his field of audiology and hearing aids, apparently pushing research and application to new levels.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:51 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

1) Take online courses to boost both GPAs. I was in a similar situation after one semester in my sophomore year, so I signed up for BYU IS courses and am now rocking a GPA very near a 3.98. AMCAS doesn't really note where the courses were taken, so it's a smart, affordable way to boost your numbers. You just sign up for the courses, pay your (low-cost) fee, and you end up with no indication that the courses were taken online on your transcript. You may have to take a hundred something courses like I did, but if there is a will, there is a way.

2) You'll need to get a near-perfect MCAT. Don't party for a year, get tutors, and get the numbers. This is a numbers game and you must play to win. You'll get in on your numbers alone.

3) Apply to clinically-oriented schools because they go for good stories. Aim for 50+ on AMCAS even after you get the GPA.

4) Apply after your senior year, so you have four years of grades under your belt.

5) DO NOT DO A FORMAL POST-BAC. Take one informally through BYU.

6) Do research, if you haven't already, and switch to an easier major if possible.

7) Remember that it's not over until the fat lady sings. If you don't at least try to improve your lot, you'll never know if you could. You CAN get an MD. If I can do it, you can too.

MeMail me anytime.
posted by lotusmish at 5:18 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

All the health careers suggested above.

Also, if you are dead set on becoming an MD then you may also consider a longer route to medical school. Train in a related field as listed above, then after a couple of years of success in the actual career apply for medical school with your work experience to impress them. That perfectly good 3.41 GPA will not hold you back if you have a couple of years of excellent work experience to show your potential.
posted by BearClaw6 at 6:04 AM on October 28, 2013

I'm just not sure if I'm cut out to be a physician.

Well, there's nothing to indicate from what you've written that you have a shortcoming that would make you not cut out to be a physician, and you've expressed interest in other patient care fields, like optometry, so I can't say I really have much obvious advice.

If you ask me, being a physician is the easier career route than trying to climb the corporate ladder in health care administration. You don't seem like you have any academic shortcomings that would lead you into allied health. You like to work with patients and don't have any financial shortcomings or lack of imagination that would prevent you from considering a career in medicine.

One thing I would suggest is that you explore careers in office-based medicine. Talk to "everyday doctors" or people with niche specialties rather than basing your impression of what being a doctor is like merely on what the Dean of a medical school does in his career.
posted by deanc at 6:53 AM on October 28, 2013

BearClaw6: yes that 3.41 GPA will hold him back. As a premed admitted to and matriculating at a top 3 medical school next fall, I can assure you that numbers mean a lot. People outside the profession think that poor numbers can be overcome with "work experience" and "life experience" and that is simply not the case. There's a reason 60%+ of students who apply to medical school are rejected: it's a tough, grueling process. You need competitive stats to be eligible for admission anywhere.

The most important number, again, is the MCAT score. The second most important number is the GPA--the higher the GPA, the higher the leagues on the research ladder are open to you. For example, my 3.98 makes me eligible for WUSTL, Harvard, Penn, and Stanford. I got in one of these schools BECAUSE of my numbers. His 3.41 makes him borderline eligible for NYMC and Meharry...unless he does something about it.

OP: don't listen to these people telling you to become a bum in HA or a PT, RN, or DO if you want to be an MD. It's not about your Dad, it's about you. Go shadow a doctor or get some clinical experience during winter break; don't do it during the school year or else your grades will suffer.

Hire tutors, get your butt in office hours, and do whatever is necessary to salvage your grades. You CAN do this. Don't trade down career paths unnecessarily. I repeat, YOU CAN DO THIS!

Please don't give up on your dream! There are plenty of people who did what I'm telling you to do--extra courses on the side--who end up getting in. E.g., my best friend is a Cornell senior who had a 2.7 GPA until junior year. He ended up taking BYU courses online like I told him to and, by AMCAS time, he brought it up to a 3.67. He's headed to Michigan Med next fall. (Mind you, he got a 39S MCAT and I got a 44 MCAT. It can be done.)
posted by lotusmish at 9:18 AM on October 28, 2013

Response by poster: Is that actually a feasible option? I've always been told that if I take my pre-reqs away from my school and my grades from another institution are better than the grades I'm getting here, then that would look poorly I thought?
posted by JYuanZ at 10:16 AM on October 28, 2013

As an advisor, I generally discourage students from doing anything that makes it look like they took the easier route, whether that's taking organic chem at a nearby community college in the summer or doing what lotusmish is suggesting and taking easy online classes to boost their GPAs. Medical schools want to see that you can handle a full, difficult courseload without extra assistance. So I would not encourage you to do this.

However, lotusmish's experience suggests that it could be beneficial in some cases. I do not know enough about lotusmish or you to say whether it could be beneficial to you.

Once again, meeting with your academic advisor, a career advisor, or a dedicated pre-med advisor if your school has them would be much more beneficial than advice we can offer without knowing significantly more about you and your personal circumstances.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:02 PM on October 28, 2013

It will look poorly to Harvard and WUSTL, because those schools are inundated with people who didn't screw up. The vast majority of med schools outside of the top 2, including my beloved Hopkins, won't care what you did to get to where you want to be. They will admit you based on your MCAT score and your AMCAS GPA, not your school-specific GPA. Outside of the top 30, you can basically get in anywhere with a 3.7/37...even if you attend a top 10 school and "slummed" a bit to get those numbers. Places like Penn, Stanford, Cornell, Georgetown, Michigan, and Chicago are especially understanding of upward trends and Northwestern, in particular, is very kind to people with "interesting" paths to medical school. If you end up with a 3.8, they're not going to look down upon you if it took you 137 extra classes that were mostly fluffy and killed your MCAT to get there. They're going to say, "well, this person had a rough start, but they proved themselves by signing on for ten times the normal college courseload AND earned a higher MCAT score than 80% of our matriculated students. We're going to give them a shot and have them come in for an interview." Once you get to that point, the interview is what will determine your fate.

Premed committees are bitchy in general and have this inflated sense of self-worth about their institution's premed program and think that other institutions, like OMG BYU, are less able to provide a high-quality experience. Remember that these people didn't have what it takes to be accepted to any medical school; this is why they're premed advisors instead of actual physicians. It doesn't matter where you go or what route you take. They will be hesitantabout supporting you if you tell them this is what you plan on doing right now because it's relatively uncommon to take a new path different from what others have done: SMPs, post-bacs, etc. If you want this badly enough, you'll find a way to make it work. Premed committees will support you after the fact. (BYU will actually give you the option of getting a committee letter from their HPA, so if you don't like your school's committee, check it out.)

I highly recommend keeping your mouth shut about taking courses elsewhere, especially if you haven't gotten straight A's in your courses on campus. I never actually told my committee anything; I just sent in my packet before my committee interview and attached my transcripts from my home institution and BYU. At the time, I'd taken Gen Chem 1 and 2 with labs at my home institution (A- average) and did all other requirements at BYU (A average); I'm currently taking P-Chem at my home college just to get the committee people off my back. There's no need to waste an extra $50K/year in tuition at HYPMS with a 5th year, or to spend another $60K on a post-bac at Hopkins or Georgetown when you could get the same job done on the cheap without slumming it up at a community college.

Med school committees are filled with ridiculously busy people; they want people with good scores and grades without slogging through their transcripts because there are thousands of people applying for only a hundred or so spots. AMCAS makes it easy for them with three tabulated GPAs at the bottom of the screen: cGPA, sGPA, and post-bac GPA. The overwhelming majority of schools look at those three numbers, plus your MCAT, to gauge whether you're worthy of a secondary. Once you get through the secondary screening, they'll determine if they want to interview you; if you do well at the interview, THEN AND ONLY THEN will they look at your courses and details and everything. They won't see what courses were taken where or when, but they will see course codes and course titles. If you did well at your interview, had your letter writers emphasize your upward trend in grades, and killed your MCAT, you WILL GET IN. There is a light at the end of this tunnel: it's the lightbulb in your desk lamp and your study chair that you will lock yourself in until you get those damn numbers.

The difference between the pre-meds who make it and the pre-meds who give up is their determination to be both excellent researchers and compassionate providers. Don't be a loser pre-med who gives up at the sight of some minor adversity. So, you didn't get great grades when you started out. You have a chance to improve, so show them what you can do.
posted by lotusmish at 12:31 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

hydropsyche, the easier route would be graduating with a mediocre GPA from a good school and then doing the standard SMP/post-bac route.

Taking 100+ additional college-level courses to boost your GPA is the harder route. Try doing that much work when you're studying for the MCAT and trying to have some semblance of a semi-normal college existence, what with workouts and staying in touch with h/s friends. The work isn't necessarily difficult, but the sheer amount of it makes it challenging. If OP is determined enough, he will make it work.
posted by lotusmish at 12:35 PM on October 28, 2013

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