Posted by: oldmedicine | January 14, 2010

A Review of Non-Traditional Pre Med Online Resources

In our modern age, the first thing a computer savvy individual does when making a life decision is to Google it.  So, in the name of research, with a nod to my own early steps a few years ago, I typed the question “How does an old person go about getting into medical school?” into my search engine. Of course, Google’s transistor brain changes this query into “How does an old person go about getting into medical school?” and the search results are vague at best.  Try this search term instead: non traditional medical student applicant premed – these are all key words and will lead you in the right direction.

The top result for this search is Alex’s Illicit Guide to Medical School Admissions – edgy title, but not much meat. And who builds regular HTML sites anymore? Blogs are easier to generate, read, and search. Plus, the non-traditional section is “under construction.”  The official Old Medicine review – one star out of five – avoid, this site does not deserve its page rank.

The next couple results are all “Admissions Consultants.”  Immediately avoid these. The days of needing someone “in the know” to give you information on how to get into school are coming to an end, and unless your “admissions consultant” is the dean or president of the medical school you want to attend they most likely don’t have much pull to “give you the extra edge” in getting an acceptance.  All of the information you need on what to do to get into medical school is freely available on the internet, for free.  No need to pay someone two grand or more to search the internet and mail you a binder full of info you could have found yourself.  Spend that money on quality courses and MCAT prep.

Next, Premed101.  Good if you are Canadian, but since you probably aren’t, don’t worry about it.

Way down there on the page, requiring a scroll, is a meaty site – the Student Doctor Network Non-Traditional Applicant ForumStudent Doctor Network (SDN) is the juggernaut of pre-medical angst – by far the biggest site for both applicants and students, with a very nice interview feedback page that I highly recommend you check out.  Unfortunately, it can be hard to find information in the forum. To really understand what is going on, you have to spend weeks to months reading posts as people go through the various cycles of trying to get into medical school.  You may or may not be on the same timeline as the majority of SDN.  If you aren’t, you will find it difficult to find new posts relating to what you are going through.  Additionally, it is the nature of online discussion boards to recycle the same information over and over again – people post without actually searching through the old content (which on SDN goes back about 10 years) and you end up with a loop of annoyance which exponentially expands as the user group grows.

The general issues with online forums also rear their ugly heads on SDN.  Trolls (people who post just to piss others off) are an issue, although there is strong moderation depending on the forum.  Also, privacy is a concern – people who ask deeply personal questions about their ability to gain admission to medical school are often times discouraged by others with negative attitudes. Finally, you don’t know about the qualifications of the people talking – the person giving you advice could be some high school kid who thinks he knows the score because he is on the site all day.  So things said on SDN should be taken with a grain of salt – so much so that I have pretty much stopped posting there because I think there are better ways to communicate my experiences and be more of a help to others.

That being said, you should get an account on SDN and start reading the sticky (top of the forum) posts – they are helpful.  The absolute best thread on the entire site is 30+ MCAT Study Habits.  I read this entire thread (all 631 posts) before I started studying for the MCAT and then got to post my very own advice after I got my score back. This thread is evidence of the SDN’s power to help, if you are willing to dig and spend a lot of time reading.

I recently (i.e. after I was already admitted) found another site while I was doing the research for this blog: OldPreMeds.org (OPM), or the National Society for Nontraditional Premedical and Medical Students, Inc. (seriously).  This site is interesting for a couple a reasons. First, it seems to cater to an older crowd.  On their forums, you will notice that many of the users note their ages and that many of those ages are 40+.  Second, if you have already visited SDN, you will notice that the tone of the discussions is MUCH more positive – almost too positive for my cynical nature.  Take this post as an example – a user is getting destroyed in a post-bacc program to the point where her professor told her that she “wasn’t med school material” and has lost hope for ever getting into med school.  The replies are almost universally of the “oh you can do it, just keep up the good struggle” variety – or not much help.  I tend to shy away from that type of spiritual “anyone can accomplish their dreams” sort of gooblygook – in the end, getting into Med School is about a few things, none of which are religious or new-agey.  These things are experience, personality, volunteer work, and numbers (GPA and MCAT).

It is interesting to observe how these online communities develop.  OPM has a more specific focus than SDN, a smaller user base, and there is less “bleedover” from college kids into various forums on the site where they don’t belong (like on the NonTrad forum on SDN).  This situation that has its positives and negatives.  The positives are apparent – people will help you out and most likely you won’t get bombed by some asshole when you post about struggling with OChem.  One negative is that those same assholes who bomb you are part of an absolutely huge user community that includes everyone from high school students to attending physicians – something that OPM does not have. Another, that I will discuss more in a later post, is that OPM seems to have an outsize number of DO pre meds, students, and physicians – note (this is my attempt at Medical Political Correctness) that this is not negative because I think poorly of DO schools or physicians, but because it doesn’t represent the statistical population of medical schools and physicians (more MD’s than DO’s).

Nevertheless, OPM seems like a good community and I need to spend some time with it.  You should check out the Diaries section, where people write posts as they go from Pre Med to attending.  There are some great tidbits about managing med school with a family, financial issues, and how to relate to your younger colleagues – all things that us old people in medicine need to think about seriously.

To conclude, use the internet wisely.  No one, including me, has all the right answers. But an informed session of information gathering will point you in the right direction and lead you to ask questions and start processes that will lead to success.  I highly recommend finding an online community you trust, either SDN or OPM, and start to form relationships and find people who have credibility and who you trust.  Doing this will allow you to make wise decisions (like avoiding overpriced admissions consultants, online college scams, and rip-off MCAT prep) that you otherwise wouldn’t.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for the objective and balanced review of the “older pre-med” sites. I am one of those oldies who has been in the industry in clinical diagnostics and pharma for years (while raising my family). Now, it’s my turn to finally make this med school (or PA ) happen. I’ve taken my science pre-reqs–I have 2 left (physics and calculus). All of the others I’ve taken over the last 9 years at UCLA (my gpa is 3.2). I haven’t taken the MCAT but have considered starting to study for it using the Kaplan book. I also think it would be helpful to attend the Old PreMeds Meeting in Chicago–it would be great to meet like-minded folks who don’t look at you like you’re crazy to do something lke go to med school at my age (55).
    Thanks again for the encouragement and I will keep reading!

  2. Another site to check out is MomMD.com. It’s (as the name indicates) a mostly women site, but man if the blogs don’t touch on some REAL topics! I highly recommend the site.


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