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This inspiring premed is NINE years sober and AA has contributed to her pursuit of medicine. Is it too risky to note in her application?
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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[00:26] Question of the Day
Q: “I’m going to be applying in May and I was wondering if I should list Alcoholics Anonymous as an activity? I have been sober, coming up on nine years next week. And it’s obviously been a very big part of my life or recovery. Some of the personal transformations I’ve gone through as a result of this have played a part in my decision to go back to school.
I don’t know if it’s just one of those things where I should just leave it out as a red flag, or if the fact that nine years is long enough, where admissions committees might say this person might be okay.
Should I include that as an activity? Because as an older premed with a full-time job, that doesn’t really have flexibility, I wonder if my activities are going to be enough.”
[01:41] Talking About Sensitive Topics
I actually worked with a student a few years ago who also was sober. In his first application, he talked about his sobriety and his struggles with drugs and alcohol. He didn’t get any traction from any schools. In his second application, we had talked about leaving it out. And so, the second time he applied, he got traction, and he was accepted to medical school.“Whether you want to talk about addiction, mental health stuff, kids, or LGBT stuff, you need to be true to who you are as a person.”Click To Tweet
Understand that you may not be a good fit for some schools, based on who you are as a person and some things about yourself. The people reviewing your application may be leaning on their experiences, whether that’s good or bad. And so, if they’re negatively judging you, then you may not have an opportunity. And that’s just life in general.
Everyone that you’re going to interact with is going to view your experiences and your sobriety in a different way. There are also going to be some schools out there that will look at that and find it amazing. They may picture you as a physician being able to talk to patients who are also struggling with addiction.
[04:16] Possible Repercussions
Whether you choose to talk about your sobriety on your application or not, is up to you. Just know that it will hurt you at some schools but also hoping that there’s at least one school out there that’s willing to take a chance on you.
When you’re out in the open about it, then you know they’re going to support you if you have any struggles along the way.
But if you hide it or you just don’t talk about it on your application, and you end up in a situation where maybe you relapse or maybe you’re having some struggles and you go and you ask for help. Then they may question why you didn’t tell them before. They don’t want to help anybody going through mental health stuff or anything else. Then now all of a sudden, you’re alone in that situation, and you’re more likely to relapse.“You have to tell your truth, knowing that may hurt you.”Click To Tweet
If you choose not to tell your truth, which is perfectly fine because it’s very personal, you may end up in a situation where you are not going to be supported. And so, how happy are you going to be there?
Ultimately, if this is a big part of why you want to be a physician, then there’s no other way of avoiding it.
[06:10] Explaining Gaps in Your Activities
Q: “This is part of the reason why I decided to go back and pursue this when I turned 35, and why I couldn’t do it in my 20s. The interest was always there.
There will be things that I’m not going to put on my application from my 20s once I got out of the military, because I wasn’t doing anything meaningful. I was struggling, I was struggling to get sober. I didn’t have meaningful jobs. I didn’t go to school.
How do I address it if at some point that will come up when they will ask me what I’ve been doing from 22 to 29?”
A: You could just say various retail jobs as an activity. You can say that during this time getting out of the military, you were lost and didn’t know what to do. And so, you bounced around here, there, and everywhere. And that will give them a timeline as to what you were doing without leaving any huge gaps.
And if they truly weren’t meaningful for you, then that’s okay. Save your energy on the meaningful ones.
[08:02] Avoiding the Stigma
Q: “I’m thinking now, maybe I should leave, leave it out because I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am in terms of school. My stats are not a problem. I’m not worried about anything academically.
I just don’t want my application to be tossed into a pile because of that. And maybe, if I need to bring it up at all in a couple of secondaries, that’s what I’m thinking. I would prefer to be open about it during the application process, but I know it’s still stigmatized.
The way I’ve rationalized is that – do I tell anybody at work right now? And the answer is no.”
A: When you’re dealing with both mental health and addiction issues, the biggest triggers for those are going to be lack of sleep, and stress. And that’s what medical school and residency can do to students.
Even people without any addiction or mental health issues, and all of a sudden, they’re in medical school, that’s a big enough trigger for bad things to happen.
When thinking about talking about experiences that may be seen as red flags by some schools, are you shooting yourself in the foot, or should you just pretend to be someone different? This is what’s going on in students’ minds.
And so, think about yourself in school going through situations that maybe you go through once a year or twice a year? Are you going to be in a situation where you feel supported? Or do you not need the school to support you? And you have your own support structures outside of that? And maybe that’s the answer.
[14:07] Writing Two Versions & Picking the One That Resonates With You
What you can do is go down the path and almost start to separate applications and write a personal statement that includes it and write a personal statement that does not include it. Put them aside and go back to them and read them.
Then with the statement that avoids talking about it, do you feel that resonates with you? Do you feel like that’s true to who you are? Do you feel your passions about medicine come through? Or is it missing something because you’re not talking about it?
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The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement
The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Application Process
The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview