NOTE: This is a very long question, and subsequently a long answer. I decided not to edit down the question, as all of the parts seem to be equally important to the questioner.
I have a B. Mus. in classical music performance from Oberlin. When I was wrapping up my degree, my desire to learn more about the human body trumped all my plans -- grad school, a performance career. For the past three years I have been employed in healthcare, first in a nursing home as a caregiver, and then as an EKG tech at my local hospital. I needed to spend this time working in the field to confirm my desire to become a physician and to develop accurate perceptions about healthcare.
My son is only eighteen months old, but I feel like I can't put off post-bac studies any longer. It makes me miserable to continue to put my education on hold, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to be enthusiastic about a job where I'm completely underutilized. I just accepted a new job working overnights in the ICU so that I can take classes during the day. My husband is a nurse and we work opposite schedules.
Meanwhile, I have been accepted to several programs as a transfer student to obtain a second bachelor's degree (in biology) and two post-baccalaureate pre-medical programs. Although I would love to attend one of the post-bac programs, they are all through private institutions and I'm just not sure if we can afford it or even secure adequate loans. Some of the B.S. programs are through state schools, and very, very affordable ($3000/year after grants), but not many of my credits from Oberlin will transfer and it would probably take 3-4 years to complete the degree.
Should I just take courses a la carte? It seems like a more direct route in some ways. I could afford to do this at a state school, but I hate that I wouldn't have an advisor, that I wouldn't have the opportunity to be involved with research, that it would be difficult to get to know my professors and that it would be hard to build the rapport that I would later need for recommendations. Some of the physicians I work with are willing to write recommendations, but I feel like I will still need someone to comment on my academic ability.
Should I try to complete a masters program instead? Could I tack on pre-med courses while completing an MPH? Are there other graduate programs that I should consider? I didn't apply to any graduate programs, but in retrospect, I sort of wish I had.
Did any of you work full-time overnights while being a full-time student? How did you do it? Did you ever sleep? If so, when? Were you scary or silly? I'm feeling desperate and crazed and I would be so grateful for some outside perspectives. -E.G.
(E.G. is a 24 year-old EKG technician living in Upstate NY.)
I’ll attempt to answer this as best I can, E.G. It sounds as though you’re already quite accomplished, and I understand your frustrations with feeling as though your life is “on hold” – but there are many things that you may not be aware of as you look toward your goal of becoming a physician. First, there’s no rule that says you need to have majored in the sciences to become a doctor, so looking at obtaining a second bachelor’s degree in biology may be overkill. What you do need to look at are the classes that you’ll need to succeed at the MCAT, as well as the pre-requisites for medical school. As such, the “a la carte” approach might be the most reasonable path to pursue. I wouldn’t be afraid of not being a full-time student in that scenario, and I wouldn’t worry about not having an advisor – I think that most professors would be willing to work with someone in your position in such a capacity. Even though you wouldn’t be a full-time student, you’ll still get to know your professors. In fact, you’ll likely have the same professor for several of your courses, and they’ll be able to easily comment on your academic abilities when needed. And why are you even considering an MPH? Is it something you think you’ll ultimately use? If not, at this stage of the game, it’s likely to be more of a burden than a benefit.
Now, let’s consider how realistic it will be to work full-time nights and attempt to be a student during the day. Something’s going to give, and it’s likely to be your sanity. For most of us, balancing a full-time job and a family is a stretch; adding a full load of college classes seems to be a recipe for disaster. Sleep deprivation will impair your memory, impact your grades, and potentially injure some of your relationships. To address the specific question you asked, most of us become very scary when we’re chronically sleep deprived.
I haven’t even begun to discuss the economic impact that this will have on you and your family. There’s no getting around it - medical school is expensive. It will be very difficult to work through your first few years due to the course load, so to be practical, you’ll want to have as little debt as possible prior to entering med school.
Lastly, your son is only eighteen months old. While it seems like he’ll be tiny forever, wait another three seconds and see how old he’s suddenly become. Don’t miss out on your time with him in your desire to finish your schooling. What about other children? Two kids are exponentially more difficult than one, especially if you’re working – let alone going to school.
Ultimately, although it seems that you must complete everything now, in reality you’ve got lots of time. You’re way off the path of being a traditional student at this point, so revel in your non-traditional status. Enjoy your job – use it to hone your bedside manner with the patients you see on a daily basis. Share your ambitions with the physicians you work with – you may find that they go out of their way to share some interesting findings with you. Do the best you can in the classes you take, even if it’s only one per term – professors are much more likely to write letters for students who have genuinely enjoyed and subsequently succeeded in their classes. And realize that there’s no reason to be desperate and crazed now – save those emotions for later (like when you’re post-call, your husband is out of town and your son won’t stop barfing….).
I hope this helps –