Starting med school after 30 has certain challenges. As many of these will be unique to you, based on decisions you’ve made as an adult, it’s difficult to offer general advice. My own personal story talking about studying medicine later in life (31 to be exact), for example, might be very different to yours.
That said, I think there are some things that people coming into med school after 30 might find in common. These are the types of things that relate to having a life and a career doing something else. As well as personal traits and habits that emerge more as we get older.
Putting all this together, here are my top tips on how to do well in med school as someone over 30:
- Don’t Get Frustrated
- Make An Effort Socially
- Volunteer Leadership
- Offer Advice
- Capitalise on Your Ability to Say No
- Target Productivity Over Regret
- Use Empathy to Your Advantage
- Put Your Progress Above Everyone Else’s
- Use the Good Things in Your Life for Grounding and Focus
- Consider Other Life Goals Carefully
These tips are designed to offer more day-to-day advice during the years you spend as med student. They don’t focus on pre-med years or routes into medicine.
Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.
Don’t Get Frustrated
This one is first for a reason. Being older than most, you’ll sometimes find your life experiences (philosophies and outlook etc) can clash with those around you. Surviving this environment means you have to be forgiving.
There will be students out there who will always take the easy route in med school. Cheating, shirking responsibility, not showing up etc; these are sometimes par for the course. You just have to be ready to accept that behaviour – even if it doesn’t meet your more adult ‘standards’.
Personally, I try not to get involved. Seeing it go on, isn’t usually worth calling it out. The way I see it, it just takes focus and energy away from your own efforts and standards. Two things integral to the journey through med school as an older individual.
The same goes for people’s opinions and viewpoints too. A lot of the time they’ll be shared with very little life experience to back them up. You just have to be willing to listen and not overreact.
Trust me, it’s not worth the distraction.
Make An Effort Socially
Your partying years might well be behind you – especially if you have kids! – but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying social time with colleagues. An event here or there, even a coffee or quick drink; these are things that can help ingratiate you with peers. Something very important for your day-to-day well-being.
Communal sports are a good fit if that’s something you’re into. Not only do they help keep you fit (key to dealing with overwhelm in med school), they also help introduce you to new faces and further relationships.
If sport isn’t your thing there’s always other clubs and social interests to explore. You’ll be surprised by what other med students are into.
So important is this tip it actually transcends age. It’s also something I mention to all first year years looking to succeed in medical school.
Being older than your peers also puts you in a strong position to guide and help others. Volunteering for extra responsibility, maybe to be an academic point of contact for example, brings lots of benefits. Other students will come to you, thus helping you build better, more enriched relationships.
This is something I’ve learned in life by being open-minded. My past self would have no way looked to people in the US military, for example, as guiding lights in this regard. But they actually make lots of great points about the benefits of adopting leadership roles, as this INC article helps to highlight.
Another great way to put this in practice is by putting your hand up as the first person to use for demonstrations. As medical students often practice on each other, this can give you a front row seat on the best way to do medical procedures. Thus bettering your learning too.
This tip builds on the last. As a more experienced person, offering advice to others can be a powerful way to unite your group in med school. It can also help raise the spirits of those around you, making your journey easier in the process.
What I’m trying to say here is that med school is very much a team-based environment, rather than an individualistic one. Of course, I know many students see it the latter way however – which is a bit of a shame. But these stereotypes exist for a reason.
Still, you can gain a lot from offering advice (not just academic-based) to others. You’ll become more considerate of how you communicate in the process too. This is something critical to becoming a great doctor.
Advice can range from organisation tips to time management, health and relationships and everything else. Consider this blog my attempt to offer something back in the hope of it being useful!
Capitalise on Your Ability to Say No
The clinical years in medicine can put you under a lot of pressure. Once you’re in the hospital environment, you’ll know what I mean. Healthcare staff sometimes have something of an obsession with getting med students to do task after task (not excluding scut work).
Being someone who’s lived a little longer than most, you’ll most likely have more confidence in standing firm. Saying ‘no’ to certain requests, as you know, needn’t be so scary. At the very least, you’ll know the consequences won’t be that severe.
This is an advantage you’ll have over younger colleagues who feel the need to say yes. It’s also wisdom that can save you a lot of stress and time from doing some task you know has very little benefit. Unfortunately there are a lot of bureaucratic tasks like this in medical education.
Target Productivity Over Regret
There a lot of reasons not to study medicine. I’m not afraid to consider them in the crafting of this site.
Chances are though, as an older student heading into the field, you’ll have considered most of them. Still, that doesn’t stop them weighing on your mind. Problems don’t disappear with age.
My top tip here then is whenever you feel a pang of regret or self-doubt; focus on something productive. Ask yourself; what can you do in your studies or education that will help push you forward?
Remembering your why is really useful here.
Use Empathy to Your Advantage
Yes, going into medicine over 30 means you’ll not only learn to become a doctor but you’ll also observe yourself becoming a patient. It’s one of the main concerns I talk about here.
The empathy that comes with this however can make you both a better doctor and a student.
Not only can you better appreciate the concerns of the patients you might deal with, but you’re also be more aware of what to look and ask about too. These are things not apparently obvious to your typical early 20’s medic.
Put Your Progress Above Everyone Else’s
Caring about your journey in med school over that of anyone else’s is almost a superpower when it comes to surviving med school. Being an adult with plenty of baggage, you’ll be in a much better place to do this.
A lot like the first tip on this list, adjusting your mindset so that you remain distraction free and focused on your own progress, is crucial. Doing so makes everything so much easier. You’ll be able to bounce back from possible failure and not take things so personally.
Setting your own standards can sometimes elevate others too. Especially the more impressionable colleagues that might be looking for guidance and inspiration.
More on how you can help do this in the next tip.
Use the Good Things in Your Life for Grounding and Focus
Being a med student over 30 you might well be married, with kids or on the way to doing both. Others of you might be seen as possible bread-winners for your family and dependents back home in other countries. The circumstances differ.
What each can do though is serve as inspiration to fully commit to the process. As well as provide grounding and focus outside of the school environment when you need a well-deserved break. I link to think about dual-doctor families when I talk about things like this.
Aspects like these though are what I refer to as a ‘why‘ in medicine. Achieving a stable and financially rewarding career that can help me be a better son, husband and brother, for example.
Consider Other Life Goals Carefully
This one follows on closely from the last. Sometimes, being older, puts you in a more impractical situation in med school. This could involve thinking more carefully about future plans and goals.
Obviously being over 30 means you’ll likely have very different priorities to others much younger you. Sometimes these priorities can make things more difficult. It really depends on what they are, how old you are and your gender (maternity pressures etc).
Perhaps the best example here are things like medical specialisms. Maybe you want something a little more lifestyle-based if your children are your priority. All this is up to you of course, but it will require more forethought than most of your colleagues.
Going into med school over 30, just like going to med school at any age, is hardly a walk in the park-type experience. It requires commitment, dedication, hard graft and a lot of lonely hours spent cramming your head with facts in isolation. At least in my experience anyway!
Hopefully the tips above however, can help provide some guidance.
Image credit: @olga_kononenka at Unsplash