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As I've contemplated the future over the past year, I have returned over and over again to the idea of becoming a doctor -- specifically, a neurosurgeon. However, I recognize that as a 28 year old Physics BS who would need to take a year of postbac courses before even applying to medical school, I might face unreasonable challenges should I choose to pursue this goal. I recognize that by the time I would be ready to apply, I would be 7 to 8 years older than the typical medical school applicant. My main fear is the idea of getting partway down the road to becoming a doctor and then being unanimously rejected by the institutions (schools, residency programs, employers, etc.) based on my age, rendering my efforts fruitless. Is this a likely outcome?

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    In the US, at least, it would probably be illegal to discriminate against you based on age. – Buffy Aug 3 at 17:08
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    @Buffy Not probably. Definitely. I can't believe people keep posting these kinds of questions. – Elizabeth Henning Aug 3 at 18:04
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    I briefly had a job working for a medical school, and part of the onboarding training involved a scenario with a 60-year-old applicant. The training very explicitly said that considering age or dropping hints like "residency is very demanding" was 100% illegal. – Elizabeth Henning Aug 3 at 18:07
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    @ElizabethHenning Other countries train doctors & neurosurgeons... And they accept the « older » student... A friend had his BEng Hons then changed to medicine - he found sorting all the mixing of chemicals %vol, %mass so easy, in fact all the others went to him for help - partly because the lecturer was useless... – Solar Mike Aug 3 at 22:13
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    @Buffy actually, in the US the Age Discrimination in Employment Act makes illegal to discriminate against people older then 40 based on their age (eeoc.gov/laws/types/age.cfm), so unless your particular state has some extra laws against that (some of them do) it would be perfectly legal to have hiring policies that discriminate against 28-year olds based on their age. – Peteris Aug 4 at 1:00
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In the US, being 28, 30, or even 40 is not a problem for getting into med school. I was 26 when I was admitted, and I was far from the oldest in my class. In fact, by my senior year, they had admitted a couple of students older than my current age at the time! If you haven't been slacking off in between college and now, it could make you even more competitive because you can point to past successes and have interesting stories for the interviewing process. A typical medical school in the US could easily fill each class with biology and chemistry students fresh out of college with high GPA's and MCAT scores. Someone older might have all of those, plus the strengths of a rigorous career or valuable experience outside of medicine. You can differentiate yourself from the rest of the pool.

Now, to the main issue of age. By the time you finish the pre-reqs, ace the MCATs, and finish 4 grueling years of medical school, do you think you'll have the energy or motivation to do an even more intense additional 7 years of neurosurgery? Neurosurgery is competitive enough that they can pick whatever candidate they want. While not a given, you will likely face some "soft" age discrimination for intense/competitive residencies and fellowships. For this stage, you'll have to work extra hard to convince them you can physically compete with the youngin's, much less complete/survive the program. Once you finish your neurosurg training, you won't have problems finding a job. Once you're board eligible/certified, no hospital cares what school you went to, how old you are (to a point), or what you did in the past. All that matters is what you can do for them, ie increase billing by a zillion dollars.

You can get more detailed responses and support from the forums.studentdoctor.net website. There's even a sub-forum for the "non-traditional" applicant, which honestly, isn't so non-traditional anymore!

  • "Couple of students older than my current age" would be more informative if we knew what your current age is – Moyli Aug 4 at 7:13
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    @Moyli He said he started med school at 26, so by senior year, he was 30. – mkennedy Aug 4 at 16:10
  • I actually did a combined MD/PhD program, so I was actually 34 (eek!) by the time I graduated! – SciGuy Aug 4 at 23:42
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Being a few years older is definitely not a problem for entering medical school.

I know people who have gone off and done other professions before figuring out that they actually wanted to be a doctor. The difference between being 20 and being 30 just isn't that much, and you even may have an advantage in some ways from having more maturity and a better understanding of why you want to be in the profession.

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    I taught Calculus somewhere with a well regarded postbac premed program, and they had a great placement rate and plenty of the students were in their late 20s. This really isn't unusual at all. – Noah Snyder Aug 3 at 18:20

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