How to Discuss Medical Leave & Illnesses on the Application

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OPM 233: How to Discuss Medical Leave & Illnesses on the Application

Session 233

You had to take some time away from school to heal from an illness or injury. You aren’t required to disclose it on your app, but what if it comes up?

Questions answered here on the podcast are taken directly from the Nontrad Premed Forum over at Please go ahead and register for an account, ask your question, and have fun with the community.

Also, please be sure to check out all our other podcasts on Meded Media as we try to bring you as many resources as you need on this journey.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

 [01:33] OldPreMeds Question of the Week

“Hello, I initially began college 7 years ago with hopes to become a nurse, I completed 3 years of undergrad before getting extremely sick and had to withdraw. I tried to attend again the following year but was forced to withdraw again due to illness. 

Due to this, I have spent the past 4 years healing and am now ready to return to school. I have only a few classes left until graduation and would love to attend DO school (was my initial plan before being talked out of it). I know I am not required to share about the illness but with the gaps in my undergrad and multiple schools, I’m sure it will come up.

Will this gap and past illness prevent me from getting in? Any advice?”

[02:17] Your Journey Matters

Gaps are very common whether you’re forced out to because of an illness, or grades, some other institutional action, or forced out to go take care of family whatever it may be.

A lot of students run into this situation where they have to take time off of school. You may have heard these rumors that taking time off will prevent you from getting into medical school because they want students to go straight through undergrad to prove that they can handle undergrad. And that’s just not true.

'Your specific journey matters, whatever that may be.'Click To Tweet

I recently listened to another podcast from Dax Shepard called Armchair Expert. And one of the words that he used recently or at some point was equafinality. It means that there are a million different paths, but they all equally end up at the same point.

And for us, especially here in the United States, that last point is starting medical school. Whether that’s an MD school or a DO school, you’re starting medical school. You’re starting your journey to become a physician.

As nontraditional students, where you typically get tripped up. You worry about your journey of not getting to that final point, that equafinality, because of the detours and the hiccups and the missteps along the way.

But all that does is add to your story of resilience and determination. It shows the admissions committee that this is what you are meant to do.

[04:43] Some Potential Red Flags

Now, with that said, there are some potential red flags. Like if you had to leave school for an illness, the question on the top of the admissions committee’s mind is whether you’re going to have to leave school again.

When you’re accepted to medical school, they’re accepting you with the assumption that you’re going to finish in four years. You’re going to pass your boards just fine. And you’re going to match to get into a residency and done.

Their goal is to get you into the system and out of the system as fast as possible, typically four years. If you do not meet that standard, and you take longer than four years, then typically there are some repercussions for the school and the accreditation process.

'Medical schools want to make sure that you are going to get through medical school in the required time.'Click To Tweet

If you have a track record of needing to stop school, especially for health reasons, then the little red flag comes up. 

They’re going to wonder why you needed to take time off and whether it’s health-related. So they want to be certain that if they accept you, you are free and clear of whatever that was. They want to be certain that you can get through medical school in four years.

So if there’s any doubt of your ability to get through medical school in the required amount of time that they give you, there are going to be potential issues getting into medical school.

Medical school is hard. It’s going to be much harder than undergrad. If it was the stress of undergrad that got to you cause some autoimmune issues caused a flare-up whatever it is, it’s going to potentially cause issues in medical school as well.

These are humans making these decisions. And so these are natural questions that come across.

[09:00] How to Frame This in Your Application

You may get a prompt in a secondary essay from a school that says, “If you did not go from point A to point B in your undergraduate institution if you had to take any time off, please explain that here.” This is very common in many schools. So you’ll have your opportunity to discuss it there.

“What you need to make sure of is that as you are explaining the process, you have to own everything.”Click To Tweet

The point is that you have to own the situation. You don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty. You just need to give enough information to let them know what the situation is. You can be as generic as saying you just had some personal issues. You don’t even have to say with health issues. You just need to say, here’s what happened.

The biggest part is really getting across hopefully, that whatever happened previously, is now taken care of. And that whatever caused you to miss school before will not cause you to miss school in the future. This will give them peace of mind that you are not damaged goods.

You can use my secondary essay database at You can go and look at the schools that you’re planning on applying to and see the questions most schools would typically ask. And most schools repeat the questions every year.

But assuming there are no secondary prompts and we can only attack it in the primary application, TMDSAS is wonderful as they have their own optional essay prompt that says Is there anything else you want to tell them.

As for AMCAS and AACOMAS, you need to get it across somewhere because you’re going to have a break there. Then your personal statement is about the only place where you can put it. Especially for big breaks like this, where it’s a year or two, you’re going to probably want to dedicate a whole paragraph to it. Maybe it’s 20% of your essay.

When you’re writing your personal statement, the ultimate goal is why do you want to be a doctor. But if you have a huge gap in your education, then you may need to say that as a quick little side thing. I talked about his on my book The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement so you might want to check that out as well.

[14:29] Final Thoughts

The ultimate goal goes back to giving them peace of mind that you are not damaged goods. You’re not going to need extra time or you’re not going to drop out for the same reasons you had to leave undergrad. That’s the ultimate goal of any sort of red flag statement in your personal statement.


Meded Media

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement

Nontrad Premed Forum

Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert Podcast