While the vast majority of medical students are in their 20s and working toward their initial career choices, recent years have seen an increase in first-year medical residents in their 30s or older throughout the US and Canada, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Many of these nontraditional students are opting for second careers in medicine. Here are XX factors working in their favor.
- Communication: Having significant prior work experience, many second-career medical students already are experienced in working with teams of colleagues and often boast backgrounds in management. That experience comes in handy when working with other students, faculty and patients. One second-career medical student who had been a divorce attorney reported that the hours he spent dealing with end-of-marriage and estate disputes helped to build his critical-thinking skills and his abilities to walk people through difficult situations – something that helped when communicating with ailing patients.
- Life experience: Many younger students and professionals soon learn that their original aspirations fall short of expectations. Or, as people do, they simply grow, change and, for all sorts of reasons, develop new ideals. Such was the case for Dr. Deirdre Mattina, who says she always had an interest in science but, when given a chance to join the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, chose a career in dancing instead. “Then 9/11 happened,” she told STAT, a medicine and life sciences publication. “And a lot of things just became a lot less important.” Now a cardiologist, Dr. Mattina directs the Women’s Heart Center at Henry Ford Heart and Vascular Institute in Detroit.
- Heart: According to medical school faculty, second-career students tend to have a softer spot for patients than their younger counterparts, perhaps because they’ve seen a bit more of that aforementioned life experience. “It’s not that they are naturally more empathic than younger students,” says Martha Cole McGrew, MD, executive vice dean at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. “But their experience is broader. They’ve likely been exposed to more people from different cultures, with different backgrounds. And that’s important, because patients come from all walks of life and backgrounds and cultures.”
Second-career medical hopefuls also bring something positive to the field as a whole, says Lisa Howley, PhD, senior director of strategic initiatives and partnerships at the AAMC. “Students who enter medical school with diverse backgrounds, experiences and talents will help us prepare a physician workforce that meets the demands of our increasingly diverse patient population.”
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