Nov 28, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Most people envision the “typical” pre-med student as having progressed directly from high school to college. However, the truth is that many pre-med students take alternate paths to pre-medical studies. Whether you initially pursued a different career or took time off to start a family before deciding to become a doctor, your unique background doesn’t have to be a downside. In fact, it’s possible to leverage your non-traditional status to your advantage -- particularly if you keep these five strategies in mind.

1. Accept that you can succeed.

Attitude is everything -- especially when it comes to bucking convention and succeeding as a non-traditional pre-med student. Says Premedly, “Non-traditional premedical students who achieve great things – like gaining admission to medical school – generally believe they can achieve and be just as successful at the “traditional” premed. For the non-traditional student who becomes frustrated in their attempts to prepare for admission to medical school tend to think their ability is limited and therefore lack a mindset to grow and be successful in their pursuits. “ Your takeaway? Lean into success by committing to positive thoughts and self-talk.

2. Play to your strengths.

Like many people, you may have preconceived ideas about what makes someone suitable for pre-medical studies. The catch? These aren’t necessarily correct.

Says U.S. News & World Report, “Nontraditional applicants bring a special set of qualities to medical schools. Admissions committees often find pleasure in reviewing applications from individuals who have not only succeeded academically, but who also have a unique set of life experiences to contribute to the medical profession….Work, travel, graduate education, family responsibilities and the other endeavors of nontraditional students often contribute richly to diversifying the student body and culture of a medical school.”

By looking at your candidacy from the perspective of a medical school applications committee, you can reframe what you perceive as cons into pros.

3. Schedule study time...and stick to it.

Many non-traditional pre-med students often have obligations beyond those of their conventional counterparts. Because of this -- whether you’re working or raising children -- your hours will also be different. Rather than attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole, customize a daily schedule aimed at meeting your individual needs, study habits, and time constraints.

Advises KevinMD, “Making a comprehensive schedule for school, work, and family time is the most effective method to ensure that you are keeping a proper balance.  Preferably begin by selecting classes during times that you are most active and ready to learn.  If you are a morning person, plan to take classes as early as possible.  If you are a person that likes to sleep-in, schedule your courses later in the afternoon.  By scheduling school during mental peak performance time it will allow you to maximize learning comprehension and the ability to retain new information.”

The more you deviate from this schedule, the more you give the impression -- to yourself and to others -- that  your studies are optional or secondary to other things. Think of it this way: Showing up at work every day isn’t optional, so why should your study commitments be?

4. Find a way to involve your family and friends.

Think your family and/or friends are obstacles to success as a pre-medical student? Think again. With the right approach, your personal network can actually become a tool for success. Whether you enlist your husband to quiz you before your organic chemistry midterm or volunteer for a leadership role at your child’s school in order to add some star power to your medical school application, welcoming your family into your life as a medical student can support invaluable work-life balance.

5. Surround yourself with encouraging people.

If you’re lucky, your family members are also your biggest fans. However, this isn’t to say you won’t encounter people who object to your choices.

As one nontraditional medical student told Accepted, “You’re bound to have some friends and family who can’t understand your sacrifices and may even doubt you while being a premed. I’ve had some flat out tell me I should give up. Always be true to yourself, and make sure to build a good support network of like-minded friends and mentors who understand your lifestyle and the hurdles you’ll certainly face as you chase the medical degree.”

One last thing to keep in mind? While you may feel like an outside among your fresh-faced fellow pre-med students, you may not stick out as much as you think. In fact, growing numbers of people are opting to “pivot from where they are in their lives and reinvent themselves are pre-medical students pursuing a career in medicine,” according to Premedly. By following these five tips, you can position yourself for a successful shift back to student life and a bright future as a physician.





Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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