Health Issues Are Part of My Story—Should I Disclose Them?

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ADG 158: Health Issues Are Part of My Story—Should I Disclose Them?

Session 158

This student is worried about disclosing health issues and whether it will prevent them from getting into med school. However, their health is a huge reason they chose medicine. Should they discuss it?

Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT. Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

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[00:21] Question of the Day

Q: “I have a question concerning health issues as far as applying to med school and how that affects my chances of getting in? 

I am currently a first semester sophomore. Over the course of my freshman year, last year in college, I had four brain surgeries. Right before the school year started, I had two instances of brain bleed. They found an AVM with an aneurysm on it. In August last year, on my 18th birthday, I they got the aneurysm. 

Unfortunately, not all of the AVM was immobilized. It did cause a stroke so I was in a induced coma for a few days. Once I woke up, I had to relearn to walk and talk. I was cognitively not alright, for a while. Eventually, I finally regained everything and I’m fine now. I had gamma knife surgery a couple months ago. 

My concern comes in where the gamma knife surgery takes three to four years to work. I’m a sophomore right now. So when I’m applying, I’m not going to know whether or not it worked. So I will still actively have an AVM and since it’s bled, I have a 4% chance of bleeding per year. I’m concerned about how medical schools will look at that.

I think I would write about it in my personal statement because it’s a huge reason of why I want to do this and why I know why I want to go into this field.”

[04:11] Talking About Medical Issues on Your Personal Statement

Talk about what happened to you and that you were treated. They don’t need to know the specifics. They can look it up if they want, but the likelihood of someone reading your application and going you have a 4% chance of a rebleeding every year is low. And so, just tell them you had this experience, you were treated. It was a blessing. And now you want to have this impact on other people. End of story.

'There are plenty of people out in the world applying to medical schools who have undergone treatment for life-threatening issues, and now they're fine.'Click To Tweet

As long as you’re getting good grades, a good MCAT score, and you’re doing all the clinical stuff, you’re fine. Don’t leave doubt in their mind by saying there’s a potential 4% chance of rebleeding. Every normal person walking around has a potential to have a brain bleed.

Medical schools are trying to mitigate the risks of people not being able to pass medical school because of grade issues. Which is why we have applications in medical school to prove that you want to do this and that you can do it.

Hence, don’t worry about that aspect. Don’t give them your worry.

[07:05] Taking the MCAT in June

Q: “I’m also a track and cross country athlete at my school. I’ve heard you say many times, it’s definitely best to take the MCAT in April to May to get your scores back with the rolling admissions and all of that. With track season, it’s a full-time job, at least. So many hours go into that – traveling, practice, everything. It’s a year-round meets every weekend. 

I’m worried that I’m not going to be able to prepare effectively at all during the spring semester of the year that I’m trying to take the MCAT. 

I’m from Texas  the schools that I want to go to would be UT Southwestern and Baylor. I know they’re pretty competitive as far as scores, stats, etc. If I take it in June, is that going to be too late for them? Is that going to put me at a disadvantage for those schools?”

A: It probably won’t put you at a disadvantage in terms of getting your score back then. But it’s the fact that your MCAT prep is conflicting with getting good grades, being an athlete, and applying to medical school.

The medical school application takes a long time. It involves writing your personal statement, going through a dozen drafts. It means writing your activities, going through a dozen drafts. You’re getting all of your letters of recommendations under control. Then you’re building your school list, working on secondary essays, and all of that stuff takes a lot of time.

On top of all the stress of studying for the MCAT, being an athlete, getting good grades, while you’re still in school, can be too much if you can’t get the MCAT out of the way earlier. 

Option #1:

First option is just wait a year to apply. Now you’re killing two birds with one stone. You’re getting the MCAT pushed further away outside of your competition being an athlete, and taking classes and stuff. And you’re another year healed with the gamma knife as well. There’s less concern for what’s going on in your head.

Hence, maybe pushing it out a year application-wise will help stress and anxiety levels around what’s going on inside your body and it will help with your MCAT prep. 

Option #2:

The other potential option is you take it earlier. Take it as early as you can like September of the year before you were expecting so you get it out of the way much earlier. 

Now, that depends on how prepared you can be, being an athlete, plus your prereqs. Are you going to get enough courses under your belt to be comfortable taking the MCAT that early? And just everything else along with prepping for the MCAT.

[12:09] Asking an LOR from Your Physician

Q: “I know letters of rec are typically done by people in academics and professors. I know my surgeon very well, I’ve shadowed him quite a bit and I’m going to be continuing to. Over the past year, I’ve been under his care in the hospital for about a month. And so I’ve talked to him a lot there. I know he doesn’t know me academically, but would that be a bad idea to ask him for a letter of recommendation?”

A: That would be a phenomenal letter recommendation, depending on how well he knows you. I don’t think there’s any conflict there where he has treated you therefore he can’t write you a letter of recommendation. But being your treating physician and then you have transformed that relationship into mentor-mentee relationship, that’s perfectly fine.

[13:50] Pre-Matching into Neurosurgery Programs

Q: “With my relationship with my surgeon, I’ve talked to him about my huge interest in the brain and thought it was amazing and that I considered this career path before. And then all of this happened, and I made some connections. 

Now talking to those surgeons, they have definitely encouraged me. And I feel I’m certain that I’m going to go down the road of applying to match to neurosurgery in med school.

There are two programs that do have like pre-matching into neurosurgery that I found. Do you know anything about those programs? Or do you know how I find more information about them? Because I’ve had found very little.”

A: Take a listen to my conversation with Dr. Rafael Rivera, the Associate Dean for Admission and Financial Aid and the Director of Admissions at NYU School of Medicine. We had a conversation about NYU and its move to three-year medical school with predetermined residency after for several different specialties.

That being said, when you apply to residency, it’s going to be the interest in that specialty. And so, if you’re interested in neurosurgery, shadow as many neurosurgeons as possible. Get involved in neurosurgery research.


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