Going to Medical School

Parent Q&A

  • Hi Parents,

    My daughter needs to decide between attending UCSD or Washington University at St. Louis in the fall.  She is currently planning on majoring in Molecular Biology and following a pre-med track (meaning meeting the various requirements to apply to med school).  As you might have guessed, WashU is a lot  more expensive than UCSD and it would be hard for us to afford it (but not 100% impossible). My question is whether it is worth it for us to stretch our finances and send her to WashU?  WashU has some impressive statistics as far as admission to med school, so that is a plus. However, our daughter is 18 y/o and I have told her to give herself permission to change her mind and pursue something else if she so chooses.  It seems to me that she would be able to pursue more options at UCSD.

    I would love to hear from other parents on their opinions about which university is a better choice or what factors to consider.

    Hi Parents,

    I posted the question above regarding UCSD vs. WashU for a pre-med student.  I haven't had any responses so I'm thinking the question was too general.  Any thoughts o a UC vs. a private college for a pre-med student?



    If both schools are feasible from a cost perspective then I think the main factor is how set your daughter is on going pre-med. If your daughter is (for now) determined to go biology/pre-med than going to WashU might help her immensely. WashU has a well known pre-med program as well as a lot of connections in the medical field. Also, WashU is a large university so even if she does change her mind then there are plenty of options for her over there. But if she thinks she will likely change her mind in the future then a UC school might be better.

    Another option that might work is your daughter spending 2 years at a UC and then transferring to WashU if she does decide to stay pre-med. I did something similar but for engineering (went from St. Mary's in Moraga to WashU).

    I would recommend asking this question (and researching prior responses) on College Confidential. There are a lot of knowledgeable people willing to share information on there. Good luck!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Applying to med school, need more shadowing experience

April 2012

 Dear BPN Community, I'm planning on applying to medical school next year, but know that I need more volunteer/shadowing experience before doing so. (I volunteered as an ''ER greeter'' at Alta Bates and worked in a doctor's office for 4 months in 2008.) I'm having a terrible time finding someplace to volunteer, though. Most hospitals/clinics either 1) don't have volunteer jobs that entail more than greeting patients, delivering magazines, etc. (all of which I'd enjoy, but apparently that doesn't cut it for med school) or 2) have a year + waiting list because the program is so popular. Does anyone have any ideas re: how to go about getting truly medical-related volunteer experience? I'm pretty much open to anything--major hospitals, free health clinics, nutrition-related clinics, etc.

In that same vein, I also haven't been able to find a physician (either an MD or a DO, but preferably in a hospital setting) who would be willing to have a student follow him/her around for a short time. So to those who found somebody to shadow, how did you do so? My impression is that most people shadow a family friend, but all of my physician contacts are in private practice. I'll appreciate any advice!

Determined to be an MD or DO

If you're open to doing a bit of travel I'd suggest you check out http://pincc.org/ - fantastic Oakland based international women's health nonprofit. They provide medical treatment to women in developing countries, and specifically treat cervical cancer which is an epidemic in many places. I've volunteered with them on numerous trips (central america, africa) and the experiences have been absolutely incredible. Nonprofit is run by doctors, and volunteers are doctors, nurses and non medical professionals - but they are always thrilled to have people with a medical background or interest. pinccvolunteer

Hi- When I was a pre-PA student about 10 years ago I literally went through the phone book and called every doc and PA in there until I found a few who would take me. It was slow, but eventually it worked. I'd Yelp docs in a specialty that interests you and contact the office manager. I also volunteered at Planned Parenthood and a local low cost Women's clinic (in Boulder, CO). Women's Community Clinic in SF has a great volunteer program. When my husband was applying to med school he did two volunteer trips to Central America and that really helped with his overall profile in getting accepted. That my not be an option for you since you're either a busy dad or mom right now. He also volunteered with some EMT's. If you ever want to talk to someone entering medicine as a second career and dealing with being an older student/resident with a family (my husband is in his first yr of residency at 42!) medical family mama

Hi Pre Med- I've worked at Highland Hospital for many years and we often have volunteers who are on their way to becoming clinicians...I remember one of the volunteers was interviewed for a radio bit on NPR last year. It seems like they get to do a lot of interesting things. I have volunteers who work with me when I teach classes and I see them a lot when I am on the floor. You can google Alameda County Medical Center, then look under the volunteers section of the website. Good luck!

Starting med school w/ 3 yo and jobless partner

April 2010

I am starting medical school in Vallejo this August. I have taken 3.5 years off from school since graduating from college. I have worked multiple jobs to support my family because my partner has been jobless for 3 years. I just recently paid off 50,000 of debt. I felt a bit over-worked but very thankful for the ample work opportunities. I am not sure what to do when school starts.

My parents live in LA. They offer to take care of my toddler so that I can focus on school. As much as I know that medical school work load will make me mostly unavailable for my daughter, I have a hard time believing that I can excel academically with my daughter 400 miles away from me most of the time.

My other option is to believe that partner can rise up to becoming the sole care-taker of our daughter. He will take care of her in the evenings and weekends, while she's enrolled in daycare 45 hrs weekly.

Should I let my parents take care of my child? They are in their late fifties and early sixties. Children are demanding. My parents are not in the best financial situation. I will try my best to help them financially with my savings/loan. I know that they are more patient and wiser than my partner and I.

Should I let my partner try to take care of our daughter so that I could at least tuck her in at night? Should I let my parents take care of my daughter at least for the first semester or first year of medical school, since many med students told me that the first year was the hardest.

In my relationship with my partner, I have been the cook, the comforter, the bread-winner, the sole care taker of my daughter, I don't think the dynamic will reverse in 3.5 months when I start medical school. I want my daughter to be in a loving, supportive, and stable environment. I don't want her to see my partner and I argue. But I will miss her so much and be so sad to not see her for long stretches of time. I've proposed to my mother for her to move up to the Bay and I would compensate her financially (cover the money she'd make in LA.) But she declined. I don't see anyway to reconcile my desires to watch my daughter grow, excel in medical school, and provide her the healthiest environment to thrive. torn between motherhood and education

I think you already know the true answer in your heart: you are a mother first and a nurse or any other profession after that It would be a great opportunity for your partner to do their best to parent your child and that might look very different than the way you do it. Stable loving and all the things you want for your daughter mean that mommy is right there. At this developmental stage it is critical that mommy be stable and there. It will cause a great deal of pain for her - and you - if she is suddenly moved far away from you and partener and from everything she knows and loves. It will already be a hard time to have you so busy- but trust me the stability you give her by being her mom-even a very busy one- is soooo important. My single mom went back to school when I was very young and it taught me alot to watch her juggle her new role as student, then into her new profession (psych nurse) Give your daughter the opportunity to learn through your amazing commitment to this new field as well as have her gain soo much respect for you! Do not send her away. Trust your partner, keep the family intact, be there for her. If you can keep us posted on your decision. mommy first

first of all, congratulations on getting into med school and for everything you've accomplished for your family. but what i don't understand is, if your partner is not working, what is s/he doing all day??? i understand looking for a job takes time, but there's plenty of work to be done around the house.

i don't see how while you're in school, you'd be able to pay for daycare, in addition to your living expenses, when there's another person in the household who can help out. your partner could save everyone a LOT of money by becoming the primary caretaker. (and no need to be a good cook either.)

if you can't rely or trust your partner to rise to the occasion and contribute to the household, why are you with this person and being an enabler? this is not what you need to deal with, but it seems like you guys have a relationship problem.

but you seem like a really strong, driven person, so don't let anything dissuade you from that goal. sure, your daughter will miss you, but in the long run, she'll realize how hard-work and dedication pay off in the end when you become a doctor. good luck. - reluctant primary caretaker but a capable caretaker nonetheless

Wow, you have a lot going on. It is clearly a nerve- wracking situation. I guess I just want to say: you're right, medical school is going to be challenging, but I think you might be over-reacting. Do you feel you have to be at the top of your class, or just pass? Do you want to be a specialist, like a dermatologist or radiologist, where it will be hard to get a residency slot unless you are in the top of your class? If so, you're going to need to really hit the books. But if you want to be a primary care physician -- a pediatrician or family practice doc or internist, you're going to get a residency slot, even if you don't have the top grades in your class. Do you need to study? Of course. Is it going to be a big change, requiring you to make accomodations? Sure. But I would NOT send your child hundreds of miles away to stay with your parents; that will be extremely hard on both of you. I wouldn't underestimate the effect that will have on your daughter.

It might be helpful to consider some kind of counseling with your partner. You seem a bit exasperated with him and also you don't sound as if you trust him to be a stay- at-home parent. Will he do everything the same as you? Nope. But if he will love and care for your daughter, that's what's important. If he's a caring dad, I think keeping your daughter with you, while takes day-to-day responsibility for her, is a much better option than sending her to live with your parents.

Now, how are you going to manage financially with an out- of-work partner and you going to school full-time? I assume that you are going to be taking out copious loans to pay for school and probably living expenses too. The debt will be a significant factor in your future, so hopefully you've given the whole medical school plan a lot of thought and you KNOW that you are on the right path for yourself and your family. If so, go for it. Try to avoid getting swept up in your classmates craziness re: grades. Having your daughter with you will help you keep your perspective, I think. Will be paying off loans for a long time

I have never been more compelled to write a reply to any other post before. My 2 cents - keep ur daughter here with u. I have had many friends who did something similar -i.e sending their kid to grandparents for short stretches (6 months - 3 years) and have regretted that decision all the way through and then after. Now why? 1. Gparents are meant to be grand parents - the spoiling pampering kind. Don't reverse the role where they discipline and u pamper..never works..neither will be good in the opposite role all the times. 2. Your parents are obviously wiser in the parenting role, but they have done it already 20 some years ago..now it is not their turn....they love u n want to support u..but that is different from raising ur child 3. Now, how is that partner of yours not stepping in - doesnt she/he have the same feeling about missing the child... 4. I have gone through a similar patch where I woke up at 3.00 am pumped milk left for work sobbing n commuting for 1.5 hours so my husband can leave later after the baby is dropped at day care n I would leave work at 2.00 pm to pick my baby n come home to cook, clean ,bath n play with my child all this to pay bills. The point is there is always a way to mk sure ur child is with u. 5. Med school is not just a year's time...how much of the first time events of your daughter will u miss by being away... 6. If u know it will make u sad ...do u think u will be able to give ur best to school? 7. I don't know where u live but there is always home based day care providers everywhere...I had to be away for a week n asked my child's day care provider for additional hours n she gladly accepted...again there is always a way...it just appears cloudy in the beginning 8. Lastly, I saw my friends who sent their kids to g.parents cry all the time when their child was away...they cried seeing anything that reminded them of their child i.e everything around them reminded them 'cos all they had in their head was guilt

Sorry if said too much...I did not mean to hurt u. But if u want some one to inspire/brainstrom/motivate u to do this then please reply to this post with ur id and I will get in touch with u. I am not a professional consultant but will talk to u in the spirit of motherhood/sisterhood. Yes, of course for no money :) . Good luck. Another mom

Hi, Congratulations on starting medical school and kudos for holding down so many jobs to get to where you are!

I was in disbelief when I read your issue! Your husband is your partner - that means that he should be working alongside you to do what is best for his family. I feel very strongly that unless your husband has a disability that doesn't enable him, of course he should be looking after your child. You are depriving him of the right to be the primary care-giver of your child by asking your parents or sending your child to day-care. Your parents sound like wonderful people but they've done their job - they should be allowed to live the life they want now without extra responsibility.

You have done more than your fair share - it is now time for him to step up to the plate and take on his responsibility as a parent and as a husband! It really is a no-brainer - you go to school, he looks after your daughter and the home. You need to communicate this to him clearly and factually without an argument. Just do it, he will have to row in. Your daughter will be happy to be spending time with her father and you will be more appreciated for all that you have done. You need to stand up for yourself in this instance and command the respect you deserve. Your daughter will benefit by this in the long run.

Just wondering - what does your husband do all day while your daughter is at day care? Katie.

Congrats on your medical school acceptance! And I applaud your efforts to create a loving and stable environment for your daughter.

I would not send your 3-year old daughter to live in LA with your grandparents. Moving away from you would likely be, at best, very confusing to her, and at worst, very traumatic. I would focus your effort on how to get your partner to step up and contribute to your household. Clearly, you cannot force him to do anything, but I would really look at what's going on in your relationship. Is he a parent to her at all? If he is not working (and frankly, even if he was), I don't think it's too much to ask for him to take over primary night-time and weekend parenting, including . Is he depressed? Will he go to couples counseling with you? Why hasn't he worked for 3+ years? Does he support your desire to go to med school?

All that being said, you will also have to find a way to be there for your daughter during this time. Forgive me for being blunt, but your first priority should be your daughter's well-being. It is very difficult for young children to be separated from their primary caregivers. Even though you will be busy with medical school, you can still tuck your daughter in at night and create a routine and special times to connect with her. Talk to other med school parents, if you can. On some nights and on weekends, you can have dinners with kids and study after they go to bed. You will have to find ways to balance your desire for academic/career excellence with being a good-enough mother. This may mean that you don't get as much study time as other students who are non-parents. But it doesn't mean that you can't make it work. daughter first

You received a lot of posts already telling you not to let your child been taken care of apart from you. I would also like to encourage you to rethink this option. The reason I am writing is because I am a child of a mother who went to medical school later in her life.

Our situation was in some instances similar: We had no reliable income from work or alimonies, and lived of student loans and well fare. My mother's partner was supposedly studying as well, but didn't finish any degree and only held occasional jobs. He wasn't much of a caretaker, either. My mother had to get a high school degree first before she started medical school. The whole ordeal took pretty much the majority of my childhood since I was 6.

The pros: I have a female role model showing me that ANYTHING is possible if you really want it. I was taught that lack of money should not stop you - there might be other ways. I learned that a woman can be independent from a man/husband no matter what the situation is. It is important to live your dream and live a fulfilling life. I learned to be very independent.

The cons: Even though I was at home with my mother while she was studying at home, we were not allowed to disturb her except for real emergencies (at least a broken toe). In my perception she never had time for us. I learned that living her life and fulfilling her dreams were more important than her children. I learned that hanging on to a loser (in my eyes, he was also alcoholic) who could do at least basic care taking was better than giving up her dreams. I learned to be independent by being forced to run a household at age 12, that is not healthy independence taught by good example.

I decided to give up a career and a 6 figure income in order to take care of my child. I don't regret giving up a corporate environment, and I am happy to be a SAHM, but I would definitely prefer to be less cash strapped and more independent (financially). But I know that I would prioritize my child over my career even if I was just starting to sort my options.

I am not suggesting to skip your dream of going to medical school. I would like to encourage you to find a child care situation close to you that will allow you to spend as much QUALITY time with your child as possible.

And it sounds as if you might want to have some honest discussion with your partner about the roles and responsibilities in your family. Good luck with everything

I really admire you for getting rid of all that debt and getting into med school. Congratulations. I wish I had some clear answers for you about your childcare situation. I am not clear on the specifics of your relationship but I do know how hard it can be to have a partner/father of your child who does not appear to be patient with your child. Have you noticed if there is less tension between him and your daughter in the mornings? I am asking this because maybe you can get him to watch her mornings, family daycare or center to watch her in the afternoon and a loving, experienced night nanny to put her to bed. I found that my son was more ''difficult'' to deal with during afternoons and evenings and that's when his dad would become more irritated with him. It sounds like a crazy plan, I know.

Being away from your daughter would be painful. Are you going to stay with this partner/father of your daughter? If you two separate, would there be more financial benefit / assistance available to you that would allow you to afford nighttime one on one loving care for your daughter? If you are not able to get an ideal childcare situation locally or are unhappy with your partner's method of caregiving (like he's being abusive), I would say definitely prioritize your daughter's safety and though you would miss her terribly and she would suffer in the short run, it is better to keep her safe and have her live with your parents until things settled down for you.

Also, just in case you haven't already contacted them, check into resources, advice from Bananas in Oakland, Contra Costa Child Care Council or similar organizations for your county. Is your daughter's daycare near med school. Will you be able to sneak out and give her a kiss on some days. One more thing. Try not to isolate yourself. Talk to other parents, other med students, friends, working parents, single working parents and perhaps a social worker type/counselor and see what other ideas might be out there. Don't lose hope. Put out your intentions and maybe a better solution will come along. Good luck. Wishing you the best

I have a similar situation and attend the program in which you plan to start this fall. I have made it work, but it has not been easy. I have family nearby and have had a lot of help. I know others who don't have so much help who have made it work without as much help. Please email me and I can try to answer any specific questions you have. I am about to start 4th year. Best of luck to you. E.

Pre-med options for polyglot Mom

June 2009

Hi, I hold BAs in Linguistics and French with Minors in Computer Science, German and Chinese. I'm 31 and have a 3 year old. I've lived all over the world, working mostly in teaching. I'm now a housewife. I would like to go to Medical School, and I'm not sure where to start. Should I get my pre-med work done at a community college, and then go from there? Should I be volunteering at the hospital in SF? I would like to be accepted into SFSU. Thank you! Ready for the next phase

The short answer is that Mills College is an idyllic place to do your premed studies. It is very well respected and loves non- typical students. It is not cheap, but all classes coordinate perfectly. However, those two idyllic years are just the first in a very long and arduous process. Yes, you can do it, you are smart enough, and you would bring a lot to the table with all your life experiences. However, it is hell, particularly for moms and I would not recommend it.

One thing that stands out is the number of very stressful, life altering tests and applications that you take along the way (MCATs, application for med schools, Med school exams, then Step one, step two, and step three of boards, applications and interview for residency, then board certification which is also a several year long process. I passed all exams, BUT endured terrible stress and studying with kids/responsiblities was really difficult. Two, it is very expensive. You cannot work in med school. I remember feeling very discontent with being at an earning age and being a very poor student still. Three, what they require of medical students and residents is INSANE, and FYI I went to one of the 'lifestyle oriented, family friendly and benign' med schools. I remember feeling I had made a terrible error because being a mom and a med student or resident was simply incompatible. Four, it is hard. It is SO much information to learn. You will be next to 21 and 22 yr olds who have been science majors and the best students ever. You are just as smart, but make no mistake, it is hard for everyone. Five, it is long. In all, you'd be minimum of 42 before you even started to work, your child would be a teen ager already. You'd be in residency when your child was in middle school and that seems hard. In fact, all thru your child's life you will be stressed and taxed and occupied and tired and forced to commit to the hierarchy, drudgery and long hours to become an MD. I graduated from an 'easy' residency program in 2007 and choose a great humane field of medicine. I love what I do now, stayed married thru it all while raising two kids, BUT only made it thru because I had invested to much time and money to back out. I couldn't wait to be just a regular person with a regular job and finally take care of my kids. I could've been very happy a lot sooner in another field. Anon

Hi there! It's awesome that you want to do pre-med - You're multi-lingual and with life experience, and that makes you appealingly different from all those 22-year-old biochem majors. You might trot over to Mills College, they are super-supportive of their older, parent mix, pre-med students. I went through their program and I'm an MD now. Check out a book called, ''You Can Get Into Medical School''...I don't know if it's still in print. If you're an alum of any local college, hit their career counseling center for planning out your pre-med program. UCBerkeley may give counseling even if you're not an alum. And you'll likely want to take a Kaplan prep course or something like that because you'll need to rock on your MCAT scores. Good luck, the field needs more people like you! Best wishes

I'm not sure what all the various undergrad degrees have to do with wanting to do pre-med. It actually sounds like you've got a history of not being sure what you want to do. Also, I'm guessing you want to go to USF, not SFSU. For med school, not pre-med. But it sounds like you really need to do a little more research. I think med school w/ a little kid sounds like a recipe for disaster. Maybe you should do some community college or college-level biology courses, and/or do some volunteer work for now (doesn't much matter where at this stage) to see if it's really what you want to devote your next 8 years to (which would be all of your kid's prime kid years, btw). Not to be judgmental, but your ''plan'' needs more planning I think.

You can definitely do your pre-med work at a community college. You're probably safer doing that if you have a strong undergraduate record at a college with a good reputation. If you went to a so-so school or did so-so in college, you might be better off doing your post-bacc pre-med at a formal program to help with admissions, as medical school admissions are pretty competitive.

You should also probably be volunteering at a hospital. I had spent two years as a health volunteer overseas before I started my post-bacc pre-med classes and was told that I should still volunteer in a hospital.

SFSU doesn't have a medical school, but UCSF does. I wouldn't get your heart set on UCSF this early though, as they accept fewer than 10% of their applicants.

Good luck! former post-bacc pre-med, now MD

I empathize with your desire to advance your career in the medical field. If you were really good at science subjects in high school and college, then you may find med school a feasible task. Any post graduate degree requires a huge commitment in terms of time and dedication. Otherwise, it's a huge waste of time in case of drop out, and waste of money too. Student loans have become really burdensome.

Since you mentioned you had degrees in foreign languages, I wonder if you were ever interested in the hard cord science subjects during high school/college. They are really hard, and boring to a certain degree. I majored in bio a few years, was good at math, and physics; worse at organic chem; but far more excelled and interested in languages. I tried my luck with pre-pharm program and was bored to death; had to switch major into poli sci; then devoted years of my life to law school while working full time. I didn't have a kid during law school but found law school extremely demanding. I never saw my family much; didn't really have a life for years. Then the bar... I have a kid now and cannot see how a mother can go to med school or law school without leaving her child so many hours. However, I think you should take a few science classes first to see if you like them. You should not kill your dreams of a professional degree because of fear of not succeeding. You really don't want to spend the rest of your life wondering ''what if...?'' anon

Medical School Post-Kids?

June 2005

Hi--I have had a realization that I regret not completing my medical school prerequisites and attending medical school after college. At the time it seemed incredibly overwhelming, and that it would be so many years out until I would be a doctor. Now I realize that it's been that many years out anyway--I'm 29 now with a toddler and a full time job with a software company-- and I really don't want to wait another 10 years and think the same thing all over again. I had experience with a loved one's illness recently and it really made me think about the world I wanted to create for myself (and for others). It would take me approximately 7 years (I think) to complete the prereqs, tests, and medical school...And then comes residency. Does anyone have any experience as a ''non-traditional'' med student (or other similar major life/career change)? How did you swing the finances? The time management? The children? How do you feel about your decision? Thank you!
Someday a doctor?

i don't want to be a downer, but here is my experience in the medical profession: I was a paralegal for 10 years but always wanted to be in medicine. After 6 years of night school taking prereqs while working full time, my husband and I moved across the country to afford a Master's program in Physical Therapy (otherwise, it would have cost over $120,000 out here.) As it is, I owe around $40,000 in loans. We delayed kids, and after 5 years moved back here to restart a new career and family. Healthcare changed so much in the time that I was working on getting my license, and I now find that at least for therapists, it is a dismal landscape. I believe that Physicians are feeling the crunch as well, as administrators start crunching numbers and looking at productivity and billables and how much money you are making for them. Plus, the cost of malpractice insurance, especially for some specialties, has skyrocketed and really eats into your income. I work part time, but I basically hate it. The insurers drive so much of what you can do with your patients, and the profit margins seem so narrow, especially if you are dealing with any kind of geriatric population or Medical patients. Don't get me wrong, I love the patients and the families and the best part of my day is when I can make somethig easier for them or help them to be that much closer to going home. But the documentation now is unbelievable, and the rules and regs mean that I spend alot of my time doing the paperwork and compliance crapola while my PT Assistant does most of the hands-on treatment. A good thing is that I have all of the work I could ever want, there are not enough PTs, but I don't want the work in the first place, so there you are. I work with many physicians, and I cannot speak for them, but it seems that they have even more grueling paperwork and regulations to comply with as well as much more harsh hours plus the very fact that if they make one error someone could be harmed irreparably - that is so much responsibility to live with! On the other hand, there is such a rush of power and pleasure when you do something as remarkable as saving someone's life, but it does come with heavy responsibility. My 2 1/2 year program was incredibly grueling with many all-nighters. all-weekenders, and 10 hour sessions spent dissecting cadavers into the wee hours of the morning. Not to mention the fact that when you do your internships, or rotations, you could be sent anywhere, maybe hundreds of miles from home for extended periods of time. All this for no money, while you pay out tons to the school, and spend every waking minute studying, memorizing, and physically practicing skills that you have to be in the school to work on with other students. Again, don't let me rain on your parade, as I did not even go to Med school, just got my Master's degree in PT at a 150-year old medical school. But before you even think of taking the MCAT, find a Physician or P.A. who will let you shadow them for a few days, to get a better feel for what it is like. For me, it was hard enough to even have time for my husband while in school, let alone a toddler. Most of my classmates were single and did lots of partying to de-stress, and there were divorces among the married students. I really admire you for wanting to make a difference in the world, and whatever you decide to do with your future, you have an amazing opportunity right in front of you to raise a healthy, well-adjusted child who will go out and do good things in the world. Like my job but wouldn't do it again

I was a ''traditional'' medical student many years ago and am now in a somewhat ''nontraditonal'' medical career (public health). I have known several ''nontraditional'' students. There were students with children while I was in medical school, as well as others who had children while in residency. I don't know how they did it, but they seemed happy and able to manage as well as us single childless ones (perhaps better). Our previous neighbor here in the East Bay entered medical school at UCSF when her son was a teenager, after a completely different career. I don't know how she did it, as her husband did not have a steady job. Most likely it was a combination of scholarships and loans. She is now a practicing doc for the underserved in another state and was very happy with her decision. One option for you is to look into a public health service committment in return for financial assistance. If this is something you've always wanted to do, go for it. You will manage somehow and be a great role model for your children. Many schools recognize that ''nontraditional'' students bring a lot of experience into their careers. It sounds like you will be going into it with your eyes open regarding the financial and other kinds of juggling you will have to perform. happy to be a doc

Have you considered a Nurse Practitioner route? I am 2/3 of the way through a program at UCSF set up for people going through career changes and moving into advanced practice nursing (nurse practitioner/nurse midwife/clinical nurse specialist.) It is 3 years in total - one year to get the RN license (assuming you have a BA in another field) and an additional 2 years for masters level advanced practice training. I think SF State has a similar program.

NP does not confer as much authority as MD, but certainly allows one to do some wonderful work in a wide variety of clinical settings. In many settings NPs work pretty autonomously, have presribing privileges, etc. It is a great path, in my opinion, and one that really emphasizes caring for the whole patient. Plus, when I watch the residents I'm training with slog through their 80-hr weeks for 4 years- well I know that some do it with kids, but it looks awfully hard to me.

As to being in an intense academic program and parenting - there is no question that it is tough. Most people in my program are not parents -- and think those who are are nuts to be doing it. The most important thing for me has been having a supportive partner who can pick up the slack when I have to study. It's not the hours away that are especially tough on me (certainly less than a full time job), it's having to study so much (and write papers, etc) at home. I've become a much more disciplined student than I ever was before; every naptime and bedtime I just have to head straight for my books.

But is it worth it? So far, yes. For me, I know that loving what i do makes a big difference in how I parent. In the big picture I am very very happy with my decision - it's just the day to day that can be tough sometimes. But a big additional plus to the nursing field is that as a female-dominated field it's a lot more family friendly than medicine. So it's reasonable to think you could have a great career and do it less than full time (or odd hours) so that you can be home with your kids more.

I'd be happy to tell you more if your interested. You can email me directly. Kathleen

Medical school is totally doable with children, I have many classmates who have done it and I am actually in the middle of my training with a baby. It is actually easier if you've already had a kid before starting the process than if you decide to do it during training. The key is having good support/childcare and an understanding spouse. If you have any questions feel free to email me. Geetha

I am the spouse of a just-starting-residency doctor. We have been together since before the idea of med school emerged (he was 27). He, like you, spent 7 years doing pre-reqs plus med school, and just started a 3 year residency program yesterday (and this is on the short side of the spectrum - so 10 years total). We had 2 kids during med school, now 2.9 and 7 mos. We moved to one part of the country for med school, and just moved to another part for residency, and will likely move again for his job in 3 years. I have several friends in various stages on the same path.

He (and some of the friends mentioned above) were warned by doctors BEFORE med school that this better be the ONLY thing they can imagine doing - if not, they should do something else. We thought this rather dire, but 7+ years later, I would say the same thing to you. It is a very grueling road - long and unforgiving. I just missed my oldest friends' wedding because I could not do the traveling with the kids on my own and he could not get two days off. He was not around for the bulk of our daughters' first year, and we will see him very little this coming year. A very dear friend, one of the most socially conscious intelligent driven women I know has had the worst year of her life as a first year resident. She cares very little about taking care of others' needs anymore and seeks only to survive the next two years. Another piece of advice we heard is not to go into medicine because you love people, but becuase you love medicine/science. The people we know with this primary interest have enjoyed the process much more than the bleeding hearts (which is not to say that the science lovers do not also have great compassion and social concern!). All this said, my husband is one who could not imagine doing anything else and has loved it all so far, despite the sacrifices. He is one of those who primarily loves solving medical problems, but is also loved by his patients (lots of love all around :) He will MISS his kids over the next 3 years, and has missed having any outside life (including exercise) because of doing both kids and medicine at the same time (something else we heard; you have time for ONE other thing; reading, exercise, family...) But again, he could not and still can not imagine doing anything else - this is key. It is very hard to be the spouse/partner of a med. person in training; I am without him A LOT (he worked as many as 110 hours/week in med school), and take care of everything (kids, house) and miss out on many things I want to do because I have no support (if you move for med school and/or residency it takes time to find a support network, and you may be far from family, as we are). If you would like to talk to him, email us. Good luck with the decision.

My wife wishes that she hadn't gone to med school. She was in medical residency when our first child was born. I was working full time and she had to do 70 hour weeks. She passed all her boards and certifiations - what a struggle! She was boarded in surgical and clinical pathology ... which is said to be good for a parent, since your hours can be closer to normal. Hardly!

After almost three years of farming our daughter to nurseries and daycare, we slowly realized that our daughter hardly knew us. We had too little time with our daughter, and were exhausted when we were home. Our kids (two of them by now) spent more time away from us than with us. We were missing the best part of being parents. We met several physicians whose kids were nannied full time, and were turning out troubled.

The money? Went straight to the med school loans and childcare.

We looked at each other one night and decided to call it quits. My wife quit her high-stress, high pay job. I backed down to half-time. With a great effort, we paid off the loans (ask a medical student about the loansharks that circle medical schools!).

We haven't looked back.

My wife still has her medical license and keeps up with her CME's, but she says she'll never work in a hospital again. Indeed, she points out that it would be malpractice for her to work since she hasn't done medicine in seven years.

Seven years? Yep -- it's been that long since she walked away from doctoring. What a difference in our lives: Low income, but low stress and we *know* our kids. We have plenty of time together. Heck, we cook our breakfasts together most mornings! Our days aren't tightly scheduled. Sure, we have our problems, but we've never missed a class play or picnic.

As an aside, my wife went out of her way to *not* get a license to prescribe heavy-duty drugs -- friends would hit her up for prescriptions. Then, too, she won't diagnose medical problems within our family. She's told me repeatedly, ''The doctor who diagnoses herself has a fool as a patient.'' And being a physician doesn't help much when you need medical care --last month we went to Alta Bates emergency room and had the same dreadful experience that everyone else has. Berkeley Dad

I didn't see your original post, but had to respond to the topic. I had a baby in 4th year of medical school, and am now just starting my second year of residency in psychiatry. I had one classmate who began medical school with a small baby, and several others who had babies at various times during school. It is certainly do-able -- it requires a flexible and supportive spouse, good childcare, and a creative approach...much like any other time intensive job. Medical schools are increasingly interested in ''nontraditional students'' (I was out of school for 7 yrs prior to med school). I have loved my medical training, love the work, and feel so fortunate to be able to combine parenting with work that feels really meaningful -- it is terribly hard to leave a baby to go to work, but so much easier when the work itself feels really compelling. Please feel free to email with questions, I love to talk about this topic. -- Emily

I've been slow to respond but after reading the depressing posts in the 6/29 newsletter I have to answer! I started medical school at 27 and am now finishing my first year of residency at 33 with a two year old. What you're proposing is not easy but is definitely do-able. The pre-reqs and first two years of medical school are classes, so finding time to study would probably be your challenge -- but as you can study any time, you can work that around whatever schedules you need to. You didn't say that you're a single parent, so I'll assume you have a partner (obviously it's much harder if you don't). From third year of medical school onwards, you basically have a job with very long hours and no to low pay. Not the greatest but there's plenty of people out there who do it. Unlike many who have to deal with that situation, we have the reassurance that someday we can work however many hours we want and have relatively high pay.

I didn't have my daughter until after medical school, so I can't comment on that part. But I just finished intern year (generally regarded to be the hardest year of medical training) and I've certainly survived. I don't feel at all like I've missed out on a year of her life. My entire life is working or being with my family -- no exercise, no social life to speak of -- but I can deal with this for a few years. Yes, I'm tired and sometimes I feel totally tapped out, but I still usually enjoy what I do. And don't forget, I'm talking about intern year -- your prereqs and first 2 years of medical school are classes and studying, fourth year of medical school is less demanding, and so you're looking at your 3rd year of medical school and residency being like what I just described.

Your partner needs to be completely on board with the plan or you're headed for trouble, because it will be very demanding on him/her. During some rotations in medical school and most of your residency you spend every 4th night away from home. My husband and daughter often come to visit me in the hospital those nights. It's very helpful to have extended family support. Probably all your choices around where to go to medical school and do residency will revolve around making it work for your family.

Obviously, it's an enormous investment. But if the payoff weren't greater, I wouldn't be doing it. It's just plain amazing work. You have a place of incredible privilege in so many people's lives, and every once in a while you get the tremendous satisfaction of really having an impact on someone. (I disagree with the person who said the ''bleeding hearts'' don't enjoy it as much as the scientists.) On a practical level, it's flexible work that you can do part-time or full-time, and it pays pretty darn well -- maybe not like a top lawyer or businessperson, but far better than most professions. There aren't very many careers that allow you to make a livable salary in this area doing part-time work that you're passionate about, but this is one of them.

Feel free to e-mail me if you want to talk more. Kate