Happy Monday, and welcome back to the Scenic Route to MD! I wanted to start off by thanking all of you SO much for the amazing response to my first attempt at blogging. I don’t fully know what I was expecting when I hit “post,” but hearing so many of your stories and words of encouragement made me feel so grateful for such an amazing community.
For those that may be new, if you are a non-traditional undergraduate student, nursing student, pre-med, pre-anything really, then I hope that this can become a helpful outlet for you to realize you can still follow your passions, no matter how messy it may look on paper, as well as help to answer any questions you may have about taking this type of path.
One of my biggest reasons for starting this page was because when I finally figured out what I wanted to do and had my sights set on medicine, I wasn’t sure how to even approach it. Sure, I understood the step A and the step Z. But everything in the middle left me with so many questions. In this day and age there are many directions and non-conventional ways to reach medical school, so I am aware this isn’t an inherently ground breaking story.
However, coming from a two-year nursing diploma, I wasn’t sure what steps to take to even become eligible for applying to school. I couldn’t find many resources or others who had gone through a similar experience. So how did we get here? Buckle up, this one is a bit bumpy.
*Before I get too into it, I should preface this by saying I was a bit older when I finally had my lightbulb moment of wanting to pursue medicine and commit to the plan of making this a reality. So time was definitely a larger factor when formulating a game plan for myself.
Again, this is not a fool-proof guide to getting into medical school as you will DEFINITELY soon see. Rather just another perspective as well as a way to communicate with others who may have felt/are feeling the same way.
First things first: I needed to complete an undergraduate degree. I had a handful of diplomas at that point, including Practical Nursing. I had already slowly been working on courses towards my LPN to Registered Nurse bridging degree program. Yet another previous plan of mine.
When I had officially decided on being “all-in” for the medicine route, I had to sit down and think about my timelines for undergrad. What did I really want?
When I had initially started the LPN to RN bridging program near the end of my nursing diploma, (enrolled at two universities at once, honestly why do I do this to myself) there was less time pressure in my head of when I wanted to finish everything. It was great to take one or two classes at a time while balancing my work as a surgical processor and finishing off my LPN clinicals (since it was all distance based and you made your own study schedule.)
With this new OFFICIAL plan in my brain, I knew I’d have to make some changes. The RN program needed a larger time commitment, especially once clinicals were involved. From what I heard from others further along in the program, the clinicals were quite difficult to get placed into. Some waited entire semesters at a time just to be matched into them.
Oh look, another crossroads of Jess’ life, how original.
Did I stick it out, continue working towards my RN with the chance that it may add years onto my rough draft plan of medicine? Or did I find some other non-clinical program that may allow me to graduate sooner, especially knowing what direction my dream was leaning towards.
It was an extremely tough decision for me, because on one hand, if I continued on to my RN, and for some reason medicine didn’t work out, I would be able to still essentially do the same job/have a bit more responsibility, and have the added bonus of a much nicer paycheck. It would be a fairly stable (haha – oh pre covid / UCP gov thoughts are funny to look back on) career to come back to. Orrrr.
Did I jump in with both feet to try and complete my undergrad and medical pre-req courses sooner – while not having to worry about scheduling clinicals, BUT, knowing that if it didn’t workout, whatever degree I chose would have most likely been a waste. However, I would still have my LPN credentials, and could always come back to a job I loved and was comfortable in.
Jumping in With Both Feet
In my brain I had already decided with the latter choice, and then a new question came up almost instantly. What the heck program can I sign up for that my LPN diploma could hopefully transfer into? I wasn’t super keen on starting a new four-year degree completely from scratch with how much potentially transferrable coursework I already had.
To be honest I didn’t know what to even look up, so there were many days of google searching. Was it even a thing? Luckily, I found a potential program at the same school I was already enrolled in.
And as a bonus, enough of my credits from my nursing diploma transferred. This left me with about two years of work left, but not without first talking to several different program heads and administrators at the school.
If there is one piece of advice I feel comfortable giving, it’s reaching out to programs and seeing what types of already completed coursework may be transferable. For example, some of the course names may be different, but the syllabus may be similar enough that you can be granted credits for it.
I know Alberta also has http://transferalberta.alberta.ca/transfer-alberta-search/#/audienceTypeStep , so your province or state may have something similar. I only say this because when I originally spoke with someone about my goal, they seemed confused. Which, granted, you almost need to draw out a full map for all of this stuff to make any sense at all. They straight off the bat told me very minimal, if any, coursework would transfer. So my goal wouldn’t be possible, etc etc. So I am glad I looked into it myself. If not, I would have felt extremely discouraged and may not have even followed up with pursuing these programs.
The general program I ended up finding was pretty malleable in terms of the coursework I got to register for, and I tried to choose a good balance of what really interested me and what I knew I needed to help me succeed on my MCAT. Almost a DIY Bachelors degree, which for the point I was at, worked out quite well. It had it’s own set of required coursework of course, but otherwise I filled my schedule with whatever I needed.
The next tricky part was trying to balance completing much of this degree via remote learning with heavy self-instruction, fitting in time for learning how to be a functional nurse in the OR, and real life.
One thing I will say about the direction I chose is that I am a very self-motivated and disciplined person when it comes to school. This is not a brag, I’m just an annoyingly Type A person. Doing coursework on my own time has never been an issue for me. If you thrive more in an in-class, structured environment in order to stay focused and on top of your work, then this particular portion may not be as applicable for you.
I needed to be very meticulous with my time management, while also ensuring I fit in time for the things that make me who I am. I essentially tried to treat my self-study plan like a formal school schedule – and you better believe that attendance was mandatory. (Jokes on you school, I thrive off schedules and routine.)
If I wanted to go hiking or camping for a weekend, I had to hunker down and get my work done beforehand. On some instances, I would bring some reading with me. But I mean, it’s hard to complain when you’re in a hammock staring at the mountains, even if you do have some psych notes to catch up on.
Balance is a Lie
Trying to take a full-time course load (which at my school was a minimum of four classes per semester) while learning new services at work, eat, sleep, workout etc was definitely not the easiest to manage, nor do I feel like I ever perfected the balance of it all (I’m not a huge proponent of balance to begin with, but that’s another thing entirely).
I had to teach myself at-home chemistry and biology labs, which sucked, especially since not having completed classes like that or writing lab reports since high school. And yep, they would even send me bins of “lab supplies,” complete with chemical compounds and all the other fun and NOT at all sketchy things to complete the labs. For a while, my apartment felt like a scene from “Breaking Bad.” But it’s fine, this is fine.
Not Everyone Will Be in Your Corner
I also have to laugh (definitely didn’t cry about it multiple times throughout the degree) at the few people who would sarcastically give me flack for doing a “distance” degree, like it was a less than worthy way of getting an education. That shit was hard.
Having to be both a student and a teacher throughout multiple courses with very little guidance from professors; I commend anyone going through something like that. Especially now looking back on the past year, and how much of our lives have changed to primarily distance/online/zoom for both work, school, and social lives.
To be honest, when Covid shut everything down, my school processes were actually the one thing in my life that changed very minimally, so I can’t even imagine how stressful it was for others in their final in-person classes so close to graduation.
Once the degree started to get closer to the end, and I hadn’t yet blown up my house from teaching myself general chemistry. it meant I was also getting closer to my first beast of an exam. The MCAT. No part about that exam was fun, especially with how (looking back now) chaotic my plan was. But I think that’s a story for another time. Until then, be excellent and have a great day!