Is Openness About Health Right for Your Application?

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ADG 238: Is Openness About Health Right for Your Application?

Session 238

This student is struggling to decide if they should include a health issue on their application because they aren’t sure if adcoms will take it well.

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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Question of the Day:

“I’m seeking advice on crafting my personal statement for medical school applications. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in hospitals due to various health issues which significantly influenced my decision to pursue a career in medicine. 

Two conditions, in particular, played a pivotal role in my journey to becoming a premed student: asthma and narcolepsy.

I was greatly inspired by my college pulmonologist who helped me manage my asthma, and I aspire to educate patients the way she did. However, I also developed narcolepsy during my senior year of high school, which has affected my college experience in numerous ways. While I now have it under control, I understand that there’s a stigma associated with this condition, particularly in the field of medicine.

My concern is how to address my narcolepsy in my personal statement without raising any red flags about my ability to handle the demands of medical school and residency. I’ve spoken with residents who also have narcolepsy and feel confident in my ability to manage it, but I don’t want to negatively impact my application from the outset.

Should I omit this part of my story or is there a way to include it in a manner that would be viewed positively?”

Crafting a Compelling Personal Statement: The Seed and Watering Events Approach

Philosophy of the Personal Statement

A personal statement serves as your unique narrative about why you aspire to become a physician. It should capture your initial attraction to the field of medicine and how that interest has evolved over time.

Identifying Your Seed

In my book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement, I refer to this initial attraction as the ‘seed’ of your medical ambition.

“The personal statement – it is your story about why you want to be a physician.”Click To Tweet

From what you’ve shared, it sounds like your asthma diagnosis served as your seed. This was your first significant exposure to healthcare that sparked your interest in potentially pursuing it as a career.

Dealing with Additional Medical Experiences

Your concussion and subsequent narcolepsy are additional experiences, but they are not the driving force behind your journey into medicine. The wheels were already set in motion by your asthma diagnosis. Therefore, I don’t think it’s necessary to include the details of your concussion and narcolepsy in your personal statement.

Focusing on Watering Events

Instead of discussing your secondary medical issues, I suggest focusing on what I call ‘watering events.’ These are experiences that nurtured your initial seed of interest in medicine. They could be instances where you interacted with patients or explored the healthcare profession in depth, reaffirming your decision to pursue this career path.

In conclusion, while your concussion and narcolepsy are part of your story, they may not serve to strengthen your personal statement. Concentrate on presenting your ‘seed’ and ‘watering events’ to paint a clear, compelling picture of your journey to becoming a premed student.

Addressing Secondary Essays: How to Discuss Challenges in Your Academic Journey

Dealing with Dips in Grades

When it comes to secondary essays, there might be a need to discuss certain challenges that have affected your academic performance. In your case, your concussion and narcolepsy could have contributed to a dip in your grades, especially considering the complex process of diagnosing narcolepsy.

You can attribute poor grades to your concussion alone. Concussions or mild traumatic brain injuries are serious issues and can significantly impact one’s cognitive abilities. The medical community is continually learning more about these conditions, and explaining your situation in this light might suffice.

The Misunderstanding Around Narcolepsy

While you mentioned that narcolepsy is stigmatized, I would argue that it’s more misunderstood than stigmatized. Society often has an exaggerated perception of narcolepsy, imagining individuals suddenly falling asleep in the middle of a conversation or activity. This outdated and inaccurate image of narcolepsy can lead to misconceptions.

The question then arises: should you disclose your narcolepsy? Consider whether you want to risk mentioning narcolepsy and potentially conjuring up images of you scrubbing into the OR only to fall asleep on the operating table. Such a visual could be detrimental to your application.

Without knowing your specific reasons for wanting to discuss narcolepsy, my advice would be to focus on explaining the impact of your concussion on your academic performance. There might not be a compelling reason to bring up narcolepsy in your secondary essays.

Concerns About Taking Gap Years After Postbac

Q: “Having recently graduated in July, I am now embarking on two semesters of post-baccalaureate study. This is necessary because my small school has a credit limit and I couldn’t fit all my prerequisites into my degree as an art major. After completing the post-bacc, I plan to take two gap years, which makes me feel a bit apprehensive. I’m originally from Georgia but am currently studying in Idaho. 

To regain my Georgia residency, I need to live there for about a year. So, my plan is to move back, work for a while, and then apply to medical school.

However, I’ve noticed that many people who take multiple gap years usually have strong reasons such as being a non-traditional student or switching careers. In my case, I’ll be working as a medical assistant – I already have a job lined up. But, I’m concerned about how taking a two-year break from school might be perceived. Could this potentially harm my chances of getting into medical school?”

A: While the impact of taking gap years can vary depending on the school, I believe your circumstances are quite reasonable.

Spending two years working in the medical field and establishing residency in your home state is a legitimate course of action. If asked about it, simply explain your reasons truthfully. If anyone has an issue with it, that’s their problem, not yours.

Where it becomes a bit uncertain is when students take multiple gap years without a strong justification. Often, this is due to hesitation around the MCAT – repeated cycles of studying but not feeling ready to take the test. This is the most common reason I see for students taking numerous gap years without a clear purpose. However, in your case, you have a solid reason, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

Crafting a Convincing ‘Why This School’ Essay for the Secondaries

Q: “As an individual who tends to plan ahead, I’m already contemplating my “why this school” essay for secondaries. I am wondering how to incorporate experiences with the school into my writing to make my reasons more compelling. At the moment, my reasons are somewhat generic – the school is near my family, it’s in my home state, etc. 

I’ve conducted research on the school, particularly the Medical College of Georgia, and I’m intrigued by their primary care track. However, I’m uncertain about how to tailor my essay specifically to this school without making it too general. How can I effectively specialize my essay for this particular institution?”

A: Researching a school’s location and its associated benefits can significantly enhance your application. However, I would advise not leading with location convenience as your primary reason for choosing a school. It may give the impression that you’re not fully invested in the process. Instead, dive deeper into what the school offers.

Exhaustively explore the school’s website, local news about the medical school, and even YouTube. You could also look at school-specific threads on the Student Doctor Network – it’s one of the few times I would recommend using this resource.

Pay attention to what current students are saying, even their complaints. This research could reveal programs or aspects of the school that align perfectly with your mission in life, which would make excellent talking points in your essay.

Demonstrating Scientific Competency as an Art Major: How Can I Reinforce My Academic Abilities?

Q: “I pursued an art major, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and took my prerequisites as electives. One of my concerns is proving my proficiency in the sciences. Of course, I am taking all necessary coursework and diligently preparing for my MCAT with a blueprint course. I’ve also had experiences as a TA for Joakim and as a tutor for general chemistry. 

However, I’m anxious about ensuring there’s no doubt regarding my academic abilities due to my choice of major, which isn’t traditionally viewed as academically rigorous. What additional steps can I take to further demonstrate my scientific competency?”

A: I want to reassure you that your major should not be a concern in demonstrating your academic abilities. You could major in anything, even something as unconventional as underwater basket weaving, as long as you fulfill the standard prerequisites like general chemistry, biology, chemistry, physics, and excel in them.

The grades you achieve in these subjects are the true indicators of your academic ability, regardless of your major. So, there’s absolutely no need to worry about proving anything due to your major. The prerequisites are your proof.



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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

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