Sunday, January 8, 2012

Pre Med Questions: PJ experiences, GPA, MCAT, Non-Traditional Student, M1 update

1. Is it somewhat easier to go back to school as a post-bac while doing reserve PJ/CRO to wrap up science pre-reqs for med school? I am currently taking my medical school pre-reqs with MIS classes and it is challenging. I am thinking that the reserve income would help offset the limited financial aid when one is post-bac.

I did my pre-reqs for medical school having already earned my business degree. Growing up, I was never that interested in science and basically did what I had to just to get good grades. I think I would have had a much more challenging time had I worked towards a separate bachelors (such as MIS) while taking my pre-reqs. So, yes, I believe it is someone easier to go back to school and just take the pre-reqs after.

However, this all depends on your situation. If you are out of the military, going to class full-time, and have limited time on your GI Bill, my advice is to suck it up and take as many classes as you can academically handle. This will allow you to save as much of your GI Bill for medical school as you can. I earned my BS while I was on active duty so just taking the pre-reqs and other medical science courses full-time just made sense. I was able to get through all the mandatory pre-reqs and an extra semester of 400 level biology courses and still have 1.5 years of my GI Bill remaining for medical school.

My reservist income definitely made a difference while I was attending school full-time. As a PJ, I earned an additional $350 kicker a month on top of my monthly GI Bill stipend (BAH, E-5 w/dependent rate). The pay ranges from $150 to $300 a day depending on your working status, pay grade, and qualifications you are current on. I am also enjoying a nice bonus with annual installments as long as I can stay current on my PJ qualifications and work the required number of days to have a good reservist year, “one weekend a month and two weeks over the summer” (give or take). Working enough days was manageable while working on my pre-reqs but is very challenging now that I’m in medical school. You have to really manage your time, family, studies, sleep, PJ duties, etc.

2. As far a medical school goes, how does GPA and MCAT score get factored into the equation?

You will want to pick up the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) book. You can check it out at the library but I went to and bought last years book to save money. This book will tell you the cost breakdown for in-state vs. out-of-state tuition, required courses vs. recommended courses, applicants vs. acceptee average GPA’s, science GPA’s, MCAT score, etc. There is also information on what the mission of the school is, i.e. research vs. community-based medicine, the history of the school, and what they are looking for in their candidates. I would say having both your non-science and your science GPA at or above 3.65 and an above average MCAT score would set you up for success. Keep in mind; I have known people with an MCAT of 30 who did not get in the first time and people with an MCAT of 24 who did. This just highlights the “whole-person” concept that is being utilized by admission boards across the country.

3. Do you believe your experience as a PJ gave you an advantage over other applicants?

Yes, I was able to expand on my PJ experiences in my personal statement, my work-related experience narratives on the application, my secondary essays, and in my interviews. I, however, don’t think that it gave me an overwhelming advantage as I also had many shortfalls when compared to other applicants. I did not have a master’s in a science-related field nor did I have any research experience. This is hurting me now, as I need to start working on research during medical school to catch up to my peers.

4. Did you feel that any of the medical schools you applied to had any bias against you because you were a non-traditional student?

Not at all! Medical schools are looking for diverse student populations. This doesn’t always just mean, race, sex, religion, etc. As a veteran, white male in my 30’s, I was actually awarded a small scholarship for adding to the diversity of the student population. In fact, I would venture to say that being a non-traditional student is actually advantageous.

5. What is the first year like so far? Is it all class lecture or do you get hands on experience in the hospital yet? What are the typical hours you spend at school or doing school related work?

This first year has been extremely challenging so far. The school that I am attending has a more “traditional” program and that translates to the first year being all didactics. Don’t quote me here but I think my course load was 23 credit hours in the fall and it will be 21 in the spring. We start our hands-on experiences during M2, which seems to be evenly divided amongst classroom time, simulated patient interaction time (with paid actors as patients), and time on the hospital floor. M3 and M4 are all clinical years.

The amount of time spent at school and/or working on school related work varies with each week but I would say that on average, I spend about 10-14 hours a day Monday through Friday either in class, in lab, in the library, or at home studying. As case studies, cadaver lab practicals, lab exams, and lecture exams come close, this can be upwards to 18 hours. (Yes, 6 hours of sleep and nothing but studying all day). Don’t let this scare you. Not everyone has the same habits or methods. Some students can get by with less (sleep and/or studying) some with more. My typical weekend involves about 8 hours of studying on Saturday and 6 hours on Sunday.

This is beyond any full-time job you have ever had; I promise that. You will have to plan ahead to balance family life, wife, kids, working out, volunteer work, research, etc.


  1. I am taking a little time to post a few comments on the site before my MS1 year gets too busy (started this week).

    First, it is my experience that schools DO NOT discriminate against non trad students. In fact, the schools I applied to and interviewed at preferred the non traditional student.

    Experience as a PJ most definitely helped my application. I too, like Golf Sierra, really cashed in on my PJ experience in the personal statement section of my application. However be cautious about merely listing accomplishments in essay form. Instead write a story that expresses accomplishments but still tells the reader who you are as a person. For instance, I wrote about a challenging mission and how that mission affected me and my views. Describing the circumstances illustrated the difficulty of the job and various accomplishments but ultimately my story was a story of compassion and fighting for patients.

    Just a thought.

    Thank you for starting this site! We need more hoo yah types in medical school and medicine in general.

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