man thinking about becoming a doctor later in life

There are some surprising advantages to becoming a doctor later in life.

But it might not seem that way at first. You’ve probably done the math: Medical school takes four years. Then you must complete a residency, and that’s typically another four to seven years. While that timeline may be fine for the ranks of college graduates cramming for the MCAT to head straight into medical school, if you’re over 30 the extended timeframe can give you pause. It’s understandable if you look in the mirror and wonder, “Am I too old to start my medical career?” Before you sign up for residential care in lieu of a residency, however, here are a few reasons that your ideal time to pursue medical school may be right now

Reason #1: You’re less swayed by emotion

Studies suggest that emotional intelligence increases with age. The upheavals of the mid-20s probably seem like small change to someone who’s weathered a major financial challenge, the adventure of starting a business, or the rearing of a child. Having survived a few of life’s major challenges, you’re more prepared for the emotional wallop of the MCAT, the rigors of medical school, and the necessary judgment calls of medical practice. It could be argued that one of the “latent” objectives of the MCAT is to assess which testers can keep their cool without crumbling during the 7.5-hour testing marathon. Many medical schools are keenly aware of the value of emotional intelligence when accepting nontraditional students, as well. Keeping a clear mind in frantic conditions will, after all, be key to your job as a physician.

Reason #2: You’re probably more adept at the CARS section

One MCAT teacher for The Princeton Review noted that some older students do better on the CARS section because they have more experience and are perhaps a bit more suspicious. Thus, they don’t fall for the tricky trap answers that abound in this section. Success on the CARS section correlates with future success in medical school. In fact, some schools put the most emphasis on this section when considering applications. For this reason, it behooves you to leverage your years of hard-won wisdom to excel on this difficult section.

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Reason #3: You may be able to customize your study plan—and avoid a post-bacc program

It may seem like you have to complete a formal post-bacc program in order to prepare for the rigors of the MCAT and the prerequisites of medical school. But you may not need to. If you already have a science degree and have been working in a related field, such as medical research, you may be able to customize your studies and complete a do-it-yourself post-bacc. Many medical schools have no “expiration date” on prerequisites, so investigate how many of your college courses would count for your desired program, and retake any course (or take one at an even higher level) if advised to do so.

Treat studying for the MCAT (and studying in medical school later) as a matter of working smarter, not harder. After all, medical school doesn’t test your ability to memorize as much as it assesses your ability to assemble and synthesize information—as you will have to do in a clinical practice. Use your accumulated self-knowledge and objectivity to analyze your mistakes, and ultimately to pair the way your mind works with the task at hand.

Reason #4: You might fit in especially well with a DO program

Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine programs, which place an emphasis on prevention and holistic care, turn out fully licensed physicians. While nontraditional students are a minority in both MD and DO programs, DO programs are more likely than their MD counterparts to accept older students. In osteopathic programs, admitted applicants can range into their 50s and even 60s. Pursuing a DO option may be a great way to increase your odds and, in some cases, to connect with other older students with whom you can share your studies and your perspective.

Reason #5: Patients will see you as more trustworthy and experienced

The perennial bane of a resident’s existence is being treated like a youngster when trying to project a professional image. Imagine the dismay associated with hearing, “Hey you, kid in the white coat, go get a nurse! There’s an emergency here!” As an older resident, you’ll likely be trusted more by nervous patients. Don’t worry about whether it’s fair to exploit your age in such a fashion—patients recognize maturity when they see it, and you’ll definitely be more assured now than you would have been in your 20s. Older patients will be more likely to open up to you, too, and you’ll also likely better be able to relate to them.

Reason #6: Medical schools value real-world experience

Admissions officers know that when a nontraditional student appears in their office, they are not dealing with someone pressured by family or pursuing a naïve ambition, but someone who—understanding the breadth and depth of the undertaking—is still keen to earn a medical degree. Mature students have had time to think about their paths and ultimately to decide that medicine is indeed what they really want. As another expert teacher for The Princeton Review has observed, most older students are actually better students because they are highly motivated and focused. Plus, in the intervening years between college and medical school, many older students will have pursued careers in the military or the corporate world. These students bring valuable life experience to their endeavors—including the ability to manage people, take initiative, make decisions under stress, and keep working even when the job gets grueling.

An admissions officer doesn’t need to ask an older student, “Are you sure medicine is for you?” Instead, though, the admissions officer will probably ask “Why now ?” Be prepared to answer by emphasizing how your life journey has made this the perfect moment to begin your medical career.