Starting medical school after the age of 30 is not easy. It’s a tough call that involves decision-making both at the individual and family level, not to mention considering the exorbitant costs associated with it.
Such a shift in mid-life is also likely to invite strong reactions from friends and family, both for and against. Whether the majority opinion is supportive or discouraging, should you do it? Will the rewards be worth your effort and sacrifice?
At this point, the experience of those who have gone to medical school after 30 or even later might serve as a helpful guide for your thought process.
People Who Dare Greatly
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average age of medical school applicants nationwide between 2014 and 2018 was 24. Those who applied at the age of 38 or later made up only 1 percent of all applicants. Joining them will certainly take much more than being good at science, but it can also bring you lifelong, genuine satisfaction. Just ask Theodore Roosevelt Jr.
Roosevelt’s legacy and influence are still so fresh and significant that he inspires courage and perseverance even more than a century after his death. The following quote can easily be applied to describe late entrants to medical school and how meaningful their struggles are, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again … who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
To paraphrase Roosevelt, these latecomers to med school are people who dare greatly. So let’s meet three of these exceptional souls now. They are proof that going to medical school after 30 or even 40 is not necessarily a fool’s errand.
From Engineer to Medical Student at 37
With a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, Luis Alberto Espina did for years what he was trained to do before he ultimately at the age of 37 decided to pursue a career as a doctor.
Despite what he describes a “daunting debt” to be burdened with, he went to medical school and then did his residency. What he sacrificed above all, meanwhile, was eight good years of his life. Not in the least regretful of the shift he has made, nonetheless, Espina is now a proud physician of family medicine in New York and New Jersey.
The driving force that kept him going against all difficulties, financial and otherwise, was how purposeful he felt of himself in his new being. And he certainly doesn’t recommend doing what he did just for money.
“When I’m at work, I never have to justify to myself what it is that I do … it is a combination of the most beautiful things you can imagine,” he explained in a 2019 interview. “When you close the door in that exam room, and it is just you and the patient, it is a dance,” he continued.
“It is a beautiful experience to care for your patients. I love being a physician … but if you do this to drive a Maserati, you would be better served doing something else,” he said.
In fact, wealth is not a guarantee at the end of medical school. A recent study that surveyed over 500 doctors practicing in the US found that two-thirds of those physicians were yet to repay their student loans. Of those who were still indebted, 80 percent owed more than $100,000 in remaining debt.
At 49, This Reverend Entered Medical School to Save Lives
Single mother of four Suzanne Watson has always wanted to be a doctor. However, like Espina, money was never the main motivation. She recognized a much higher recompense in that pursuit, relating to a very sad episode of her life.
Watson came close to realizing her dream when she entered medical school in 1991, but it didn’t go well then. She already had a nine-month-old baby and another on its way in her first year. Unable to continue her studies due to these family obligations, she dropped out and later became a reverend. When she lost her husband to depression-related suicide in 2002, her faith provided a much-needed refuge.
In time, though, she became convinced that she should do more to help others with mental health issues and decided to become a psychiatrist when she was 48. Putting in motion an extremely bold plan, she spent the next year studying for the Medical College Admission Test and then applied for medical school.
Looking back now, she jokes about the fact that she received the acceptance letter and her American Association of Retired Persons card the same week. She is, therefore, a firm believer not only in a divine power but also in the idea that you are never too old to follow your dreams.
As of the summer of 2020, she was a senior resident at the University of Nevada, Reno, and had just one more year to go before she finally realizes what she set out to do.
From Fixing Cars to Fixing People After Turning 40
Finally, Carl Allamby‘s story is likely to strike you as even more unusual. Born into an African-American family with only humble resources in East Cleveland, Ohio, he had to start working at a young age.
As a car mechanic, Allamby worked hard and managed to build his own auto repair business. However, at the age of 40, he made the move to medical school — already 25 years into his working life.
Like Watson, Allamby had four children when he joined a class of fellow medical students who were the same age as some of his own kids. That never discouraged him. What was somewhat challenging was the amount of information he says he had to “digest” daily.
With the two-hour commute and family duties of both a father and a husband, finding more time to study was hard. Yet, eventually, Allamby was happy to find his “rhythm,” and the process became easier thanks to the support he received from his professors and classmates.
The result, ultimately, is something that will keep making rounds in academic circles. From looking into the hoods of cars to the insides of people, he graduated from Northeast Ohio Medical University in 2019 at the age of 47. He next joined the Cleveland Clinic Akron General as a resident in emergency medicine and is set to graduate as a fully certified doctor at the age of 51.
Not everyone who starts medical school after 30 will succeed — but neither will everyone who starts medical school at 24. The ability to become a doctor will come down to your level of commitment, financial stability, and flexibility around your personal life.