29 April, 2016
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With the gradual shift towards postgraduate training at Australian medical schools, along with the various difficulties associated with getting into medical school, more and more medical school classes are populated with that type of student you may have previously classified as ‘mature’. The definition of the ‘mature student’ changes depending on who you talk to, and it may be anyone over the age of 22, or perhaps our friends who will be celebrating their 50th birthday in a few weeks.
In nearly every class I teach here at GradReady I hear of students being ashamed or frightened at the prospect of starting a medical degree at a more mature age than what those going straight from high school would be. Although being on the other side of 20 may present some unique life challenges in studying medicine, this article will seek to elucidate some of the incredibly positive points of being a mature student in medical school (and why, if you’re not a mature student, you should look forward to having them in your tutorials!).
Unfortunately, for most of us, there comes a time when you have to hang up the baggy rave pants and accompanying fluro sunglasses that you wear to your favourite dark and questionable club on a Saturday night. Other responsibilities start popping up in life, such as full-time employment, family, more serious relationships, or you really start enjoying TV shows on weekend nights. We can’t be 19 forever, sadly. And indeed, through this rave-haze of life prior to your maturation into an adult, many of us don’t consider medicine as a career, or we have more important issues (as aforementioned!) to attend to in life rather than get stuck in an intense course for four years.
Getting into medical school, however, is a very mature decision, and often demands a very mature person to make it. To be quite frank, and this is no disrespect at all to our younger colleagues, but I could never have made the decision to try to get into medical school at 18 or 19 years of age, and to be quite honest, it’s probably for the best that I didn’t.
Our more mature peers, many of whom have already had another life in a profession, perhaps with a family, subsequently come into medicine with a huge range of life experiences. They have a host of other skills and coping mechanisms (and quite possibly money in their bank account) that they can employ with full effect in medical school to stave off starvation, deal exquisitely with stress, and effectively time-manage. To reassure our more refined and mature students, who for all intents and purposes are very similar to a fine wine, I have long believed that they are by far and away the most effective medical students.
Often, and especially for those older students who come from a non-science background, the first 6 months or so of medical school are certainly difficult. The adjustment back to full-time study must be made, along with the associated juggling at home with kids, a mortgage, and a partner, and so this is a challenging time. However, time and time again I have witnessed our colleagues triumphing over this initial hurdle and being the much better students for doing so.
Not only do mature students bring a whole host of life experiences to medical school, along with plenty of life advice for their younger peers (I’ve received plenty myself!), they often develop a fierce work-rate due to the plethora of extra work they’ve had to put into the GAMSAT® Exam to get a good score and into the first part of medical school to catch up to their younger colleagues, who have an extensive background in science. I am often overjoyed to find a mature student in my PBL group, because more than likely, their work will be simple, yet thorough, and they will usually be a level head in the stressful environment of biweekly group work.
Further, as a generalisation, mature students are much, much better with patients. They have real world experiences, which helps them communicate effectively with a fellow human being who may be in a very stressful situation, or who is very unwell. These students are generally more empathetic, and able to connect more with patients, doctors, and other members of the health care team.
Overall, although mature students may face additional life questions, such as when to have kids, or struggle to find time with their long-term partner, they are an invaluable part of medical school, and as far as medical school entry requirements go, age shouldn't be an issue. I want to overwhelmingly assure our mature colleagues that they will be champions of medical training, and be extremely valuable to other students and to the general medical and health care fraternity. So I beg you all to stop comparing yourself to these ‘young whipper-snappers’ who have barely escaped high school, and to think about all of the positive things you can bring to medical school, and the huge amount of qualities that you possess that will ultimately make you extremely successful doctors! If you want to look at your options & where you could potentially study, PostgradAustralia is a great platform that allows you to explore, compare, and apply for different medical specialties around Australia.
Edit: While written by Elliot (a 'young whipper-snapper'), this article was uploaded by myself, Damian Drew, a veritable fossil at 35 years old in second year of an MD.
From my perspective, the biggest difference I notice in my habits as a medical student compared with those who weren't old enough to be partying hard when the clock ticked over into the 21st century is this. I spent the last 10 years or more in full-time employment. Yes, that's something like 8:30 to 5 every day. Not to mention writing up grant applications or putting together presentations in the evenings. People often express surprise when they ask me how I manage with a family, and I say fine, because I barely study at home at all. How is that, you aks. Treat the MD like a full-time job. If you don't start your first lecture on Wednesday until 10am, be in the library at 8:30 anyway and study there. If you finish at 3pm on Thursday, same again; head to the library and read up on those PBL learning objectives you haven't looked at. It might sound like hard work, but hey - I love my evenings and weekends with my wife and little boy!