Plenty of medical students follow the traditional straight-from-high school path to doctorhood. But not all of them. (Skip to 3:22 of this Healthy Perspectives episode to hear David Riley’s story.)


The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) defines a nontraditional student as someone who meets any of the following criteria:

• Delays enrollment (does not enter postsecondary education in the same calendar year that he or she finished high school)

• Attends part time for at least part of the academic year

• Works full-time (35 hours or more per week) while enrolled

• Is considered financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid

• Has dependents other than a spouse (usually children, but sometimes others)

• Is a single parent (either not married or married but separated and has dependents)

• Does not have a high school diploma (completed high school with a GED or other high school completion certificate or did not finish high school)


Why does the world need more of these people?


6 Reasons Why the World Needs More Nontraditional Students


1. They have life experience

This one’s especially relevant to a medical school setting. These students may have substantially more experience with the health care system than their classmates do. Maybe they’re parents, grandparents, or have taken care of their own parents. Maybe they’ve served in the military. Having experienced the patient’s perspective firsthand is invaluable.


2. They think outside the box

With a less traditional life path or just a more individualist streak, these are students whose unconventional ways of seeing the world around them can help their classmates become better students.

3. Their knowledge base comes from a wide variety of sources

A skill set that comes from a previous career or an area of academic expertise gained while studying something completely different could be surprisingly useful in solving problems and forming study strategies.


4. They work hard because they’re making sacrifices to study

Having come to medical school from a different background, whether the corporate world, the military, or a more family-focused life, these learners have had to re-prioritize to educate themselves; they’re not going to squander the opportunity.


5. They’re self-motivated

Unlike the majority of their peers, these students are most likely financing their own education and coming from a full-time work situation. Their goals after graduation tend to be very specific. This kind of focus is going to give them momentum in their studies and inspire those around them, not to mention have a positive effect on the reputation of the institution they attend.


6. They exemplify change coming from the outside

Think about the number of times you’ve heard about an outsider shaking things up. Does innovation take place in an echo chamber? Not often. Students who come from cultures that are underrepresented, vocations that provide a fresh insight to the curriculum, or personal experiences that inform the unique way in which they approach the community they’re learning in can make a real difference.


Once they graduate, nontraditional students enter the world ready to educate themselves and others, maybe even changing the face of how knowledge is gathered and applied.