This premed wants to share their personal experience with their daughter’s mental health crisis in their personal statement, but she isn’t sure how medical schools will respond.
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.
The episodes in this podcast are recordings of our Facebook Live that we do at 3 pm Eastern on most weekdays. Check out our Facebook page and like the page to be notified. Also, listen to our other podcasts on MedEd Media. If you have any questions, call me at 617-410-6747.
[00:22] Question of the Day
“I am in the middle of writing my personal statement. I’ve been to Application Academy and I’ve read your books, which are great. I have a watering event that is about my daughter actually. And I was thinking about using it as a seed. But I realized that my seed was actually something else.
I wanted to include my daughter, as I feel like this experience informed my decision to continue and I’m on the right path. This experience was actually really challenging and difficult. She had attempted to take her life. And my daughter was 14 at the time, and is now 16. This was two years ago. And so, we ended up in the ER, and they treated her and the experience itself with the physician and just how they handled it, there was no judgment. It was really a very supportive environment, actually.
I have also been in recovery myself. I’ve been sober. I also struggled with depression in my younger years, and I’ve been in recovery for 10 years. I’m curious if I was to use this as a watering event. How would medical schools view that? I also know that there’s possible bias around mental health and things like that, but knowing I have a child, a teenager who struggles or has struggled in the past. Are medical schools going to be concerned about my ability to be present in medical school?”
A: As you mentioned, the ultimate question is whether there will be any bias when someone reads your medical school application. This depends on your perspective and concerns about your ability to excel in the program. It’s a topic we’ve discussed before but may be new to others.
When someone evaluates your application, they view it through their own lens of life experience. They may have personal connections to mental health challenges or suicide, and visualize you as a potential medical student facing similar obstacles. This can lead to biased decision-making.'There are medical schools out there that are using AI to review applications.'Click To Tweet
At the end of the day, my general answer is you have to be you. You have to be comfortable telling your story and being yourself.
[05:11] The Pros and Cons of Hiding or Being Transparent in Medical School Applications
Imagine you have two options when writing your medical school application. Option A is to hide everything, presenting yourself as a perfect candidate with no issues in life. You may think this is the best way to impress the admissions committee. However, life happens, and unforeseen circumstances arise. You may need to take time off to support your family, and your school may not be supportive of this decision.
Option B is to take a more transparent approach and talk about your journey authentically. You don’t need to share all your dirty laundry, but being upfront about some challenges shows your character, resilience, and determination. Medical schools may appreciate this honesty and accept you for who you are. If you need to step away to take care of your family, they will be understanding and supportive.
At the end of the day, hiding everything may seem like a rainbow and sunshine path, but it can backfire if problems arise later. Being transparent may seem like a dark and gloomy path, but it can lead to understanding and support from your school. It’s up to you to find the right balance between the two and show your best self in your application.
[08:45] Being Transparent About Mental Health in Medical School Applications
The student goes on to say: “I am very nontraditional. I have two kids. And on top of that, one of them struggles significantly with mental health. And I also have my own recovery that has been vital to me even being able to be in this position to get my undergraduate degree and apply to medical school, which would not have happened without sobriety. I think that that is my authentic self and hiding that seems not real to me. It would not be presenting who I am walking into a medical school.”
For someone struggling with substance abuse and addiction, or other mental health issues such as bipolar or depression, the question of disclosure can be tricky. Should they talk about it in their application or not? This is a common dilemma that applies to many situations.
The answer lies in finding a balance between being authentic and transparent while also respecting your privacy. You don’t need to divulge every detail of your struggles, but you should be honest about what you feel comfortable sharing.
Ultimately, whether or not the medical school accepts you for who you are will be determined through interviews and acceptance offers.
We’ve touched on this before in our conversations because a personal statement is crucial in securing an interview. It’s important to use it as a lifeline to showcase your strengths and experiences while also being mindful of how much personal information you want to reveal.
[12:11] How to Build a School List
Q: “As a nontraditional student, I know you say not to like just go based on your GPA and your MCAT score. Should I just consider the schools that I potentially want to go to and apply there?”
A: Check out The Premed Years Podcast Episode 437: How to Build the Ultimate School List. In that episode, I talked about building a school list, looking at location, curriculum, class size, and all of that fun stuff. Nowhere do I mention MCAT and GPA, because at the end of the day, medical schools accept students from a wide range of typically MCAT and GPS.
Now, unfortunately, what gets reported to the MSAR, is median numbers. They did the new MSAR for this 2023-2024 cycle. They did update with mean and standard deviation, which is good, it shows you a little bit of a more transparent picture. But it still doesn’t give you a full range of who they will potentially accept.“Don't say no to the medical schools, just based on your own thoughts on your competitiveness. Apply to the schools that you want to go to tell your story, and let them see you for who you are.”Click To Tweet
[13:45] The Importance of Authenticity in Medical School Applications
Q: “I also had a DUI that happened like 12 years ago before stepping into recovery. I’m wondering how important it is or vital that is to medical schools. While there is bias, I also know that meets a lot of core competencies like resilience, perseverance, determination, and things like that.
That really has been my path for going on for 11 years now. I grew up in a really kind of rural area. Education was not held in any kind of regard. Neither parent went to college and there’s intergenerational trauma that happened within my family due to alcoholism in previous generations as well.
And being able to step out of that and kind of break the cycle with alcoholism and addiction and be a first generation going, pursuing this career. I’m just curious that like, how vital that is to a medical school?”
A: When it comes to sharing personal stories in medical school applications, there is a common mistake that many students make. They try to tie everything together into a neat package, showcasing their resilience and determination in the face of adversity. While these qualities are admirable, it’s important not to force them into every aspect of your application.
Instead, focus on being authentic and telling your story as it is. Share your struggles and challenges without trying to connect them all to a specific theme. This approach showcases your unique experiences and allows the admissions committee to get to know you on a more personal level.
Remember, medical school is tough, and the admissions committee knows that. They are looking for candidates who are honest, genuine and possess the necessary qualities to succeed in the program. So, be yourself, share your story, and let your authenticity shine through in your application.
Join the Application Academy!