Going to Medical School at 30: Is It Too Late?

Going to Medical School at 30: Is It Too Late?

Many people see their 30s as the age where you know what you want to be in life. We tend to imagine having a career, settling down with a family, or buying a house and car. Because of that, people tend to think that starting medical school in their 30s is a bit too late – but is it?


Going to Medical School at 30
Bianca Villanueva


June 20, 2023

Going to medical school at any age is a big decision.

It’s not as simple as considering your age. You have to think about the finances and life you’ve built up until now. While some of you may have all the things I mentioned, you may still decide to attend medical school. For whatever reason it is, you’re not alone. Starting medical school at a later time compared to your classmates isn’t as unusual as you think.

Starting Medical School at 30

In the school I attend, some students are either entering their 30s or past their 30s when they enter medical school. Our average age in my class was around 21–23. So when you start medical school at 30, you have to get used to your classmates being almost a decade younger and professors or superiors a few years younger than you.

While some people may see that as a handicap, our older classmates were sources of support, taking the role of an older sister or brother figure for many of us. Moreover, they performed just as well as the rest of the class. I noticed that regardless of age, there was always something each student could bring to the table.

Many people jump into medical school once they graduate because the time it takes to become a subspecialist can be nearly a decade. However, something else matters more than reaching the finish line as soon as possible: knowing whether you’re ready for the road ahead or not. There is nothing wrong with spending time thinking about your decision or earning money for school. In fact, these are the common reasons I hear from my older classmates when I ask why they entered school a bit later.

Is It Too Late to Go to Medical School?

If becoming a doctor is what you truly want, no one should stop you – even yourself.

Telling yourself that you are too old to start anything like medical school should not be a deterrent. In fact, some people start medical school as late as 40 or 50 years old.

On the other hand, many of my older classmates had their own jobs before entering school. They were researchers, teachers, nurses, etc. Some even had their own families. So it’s a big decision to add medical studies into the picture. In that sense, it can seem like you’re “too old” for medical school because you made your own career and life. But if you really want something, you should go for it. At the end of the day, a medical degree is a medical degree regardless of what age you get it.

What’s It Like Going to Med School at 30?

I personally have not experienced it but for the purpose of this article, I interviewed some of my classmates who have. I’m here to tell their stories and hope that you gain inspiration from it.

From research associate to an MD and MBA

👩‍⚕️ Abby* graduated as a research associate. While she worked to pay her student loans, she also loved her job. However, she always wanted to be a doctor. Her many trips to pediatricians as a child inspired her to become one.

The tuition cost and student loans made it hard to start. She spent 2 years fixing these affairs before finally settling on a medical school in her home country. Of course, she had some self-doubt. People would tell her she was a little too old for medical school, but that didn’t stop her from finishing her 5 years in her double degree program.

Despite being what she calls “6 years behind” on her dream, she is now preparing to become a pediatrics resident in the US. She estimates that by her 40s, she will reach her goal of becoming a neonatologist. Regardless of how long it takes, she maintains her trajectory towards what she truly wants.

From arts to medicine

👨‍⚕️ Ben* was an art director, graphic designer, and photographer. After his father passed away, he decided to take up the torch and become a doctor. Because he came from a completely different profession, it was hard for him to adjust. However, he also had fewer expectations about medical school. This is different from his fellow classmates who had always dreamed of becoming doctors. In a way, it alleviated the pressure of seeing the whole thing through.

For him, medicine was a totally new experience from his previous profession. However, he saw it through until graduation and is currently working as a medical intern, ready to take the licensure exams in a year and do what it takes to become the doctor he wants to be.

From medical admissions to being admitted to medicine

👨‍⚕️ Jae worked as an instructor and consultant in medical school test preparations and admissions before studying medicine himself. Pursuing a life-long dream that had been delayed was a big decision for him. It was even more challenging because he would be studying in another country.

Instead of thinking of himself as an outsider, he focused on being a good student and classmate. Of course, the age gap gave him some trouble in relating to the references his classmates would make. But that didn’t stop him from trying to be a good friend to them.

Now, he is in his 3rd year of medical school and plans to take Step 1 and Step 2 of the USMLE next year. By 2025, he wants to take a residency in the US.

Tips For Those Going To Med School At 30 Or 40

Age is not without its advantages and disadvantages in medical school. Here are a few challenges and tips my older schoolmates want students like them to remember:

The cons ❌

Self-doubt. There’s a lot of self-doubt before entering medical school in general. It’s easy to hear things like “Aren’t you too old for medical school?” or “Isn’t it a little late to be studying?” You might compare your progress with your peers who are reaching milestones while you’re in your 30s, just starting your career in medicine. Try to avoid comparing yourself with others. Everyone grows at their own pace.

Balancing medicine with a life that you established already. At this age, you might have a career, a family or significant other, a lot of unrelated skills, or you have simply experienced “adulting” in all its ups and downs. Since you’ll be studying, your personal life may take the backseat as you journey through medicine. You might even have to sacrifice some things (i.e., jobs and hobbies) to make time for your studies. So you must consider what you’re willing to compromise for your dreams.

Re-learning your study habits. Most of your classmates will have come straight from college or taken 1 or 2 gap years themselves. If you’re in your 30s, probably the last time you’ve been in a classroom would be almost a decade ago, if not more. That means you’ll have to learn to start studying again to keep up with your classes. But don’t worry too much– you’ll get into your groove with the right tools and strategies.

You need to get used to the age gap. The age gap between your classmates and some of your superiors might feel strange. This is especially true if you come from a culture that values seniority. You also might struggle to understand some references your younger classmates make. However, most people say that this feeling is easy to overcome as everyone in your class is more or less in the same boat.

Even after all that time, you might realize you don’t want to become a doctor. You may have started late to make sure that you really want to become a doctor, and that’s fine. However, keep an open mind to the idea that you might be wrong at any point of your medical journey. It’s true that you may have been 200% sure before, but if medical school is not for you, it can be harder to accept because you spent a lot of time thinking about it. Don’t think of it as wasted time. Instead, see it as an opportunity to grow and find something else you love to do.

The pros ✅

You have time to think. Many of my schoolmates who started medical school at this age spent their gap years thinking about their future. They took the time to figure out if medical school is for them and if they’re ready to make the sacrifices needed. Because of this, some sources believe medical school should start at 28 years old to avoid burnout for doctors who feel trapped in their careers. A good mindset and a new perspective can make a big difference in how you cope in the medical field.

You have time to earn. Unfortunately, financial troubles are a common problem among medical students. It’s expensive, and when you can’t pay tuition, there’s not much you can do apart from taking a scholarship, job, or loan. Often, students work before or while in school. Taking a few years to earn money to start studying (and some extra in case medicine doesn’t work out) is totally fine. It means you’re willing to do what it takes to reach your dream.

You have experience. If you worked before going to medical school, that’s a great asset and something that medical schools look for. You’ll also know how to handle co-workers, superiors, and patients better because having a workplace is nothing new. You’d be surprised how often students struggle with working with others on the job. Use your experience to your advantage.

It’s not that different from going in your 20s. Some believe that your cognitive ability declines in your late 20s or early 30s. However, other studies indicate  that it varies between people. Some decline in their 30s, and some don’t even peak until their 40s. Whether or not this applies to you should not affect your decision. There are a lot of students who excel in medicine in their 30s and 40s. Limiting your abilities to your age only downplays your true potential.

It’s easier to quit. If you realize this career isn’t for you, you already have an established life you can return to. Some of my older schoolmates recall that they could return to their previous careers if medicine didn’t work out. Meanwhile, their classmates would have to start from scratch to pursue another field of study. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should quit when it gets tough. It simply means that pressure isn’t all on you.

You get a medical degree. I would like to emphasize this point. A medical degree at 30 is the same as a medical degree at 20. You may have taken a bit longer than others, but you got it at the end of the day. You will have achieved your dream of becoming a doctor, and that’s not something anyone can take from you.

*Ben and Abby are not my interviewees’ real names, they preferred to stay anonymous. I would like to thank them and Jaellan Cruz for their insight and guidance in writing this article. I wish you all the best as you journey through medicine.

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