Chronic Illnesses and Applying to Medical School

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OPM 255: Chronic Illnesses and Applying to Medical School

Session 255

Today, we have a great question about chronic illness and medical school. It’s something that comes up a lot from our listeners.

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.

[01:06] OldPreMeds Question of the Week

“U.S. applicant here and I have had a chronic illness that spiked the summer before my undergrad. I have spent undergrad in and out of treatments and as a result, have had many prescription meds with severe side effects. Currently, I am doing much better than my earlier years of undergrad and my GPA has an overall upward trend. 

However, as you can imagine, my grades have not been the best as I have been preoccupied with other things. My major is international affairs and minor in English as I have many other interests and love diverging in the intersectionality of medicine and the other aspects of study relevant in this world (politics in medicine!). 

Two questions:  Do med schools have access to my medical records? If they do, will I then not have to explain much of why my grades are the way that they are? If they do not, should I write about my illness in my essays? 

It is a large part of why I want to be a doctor as the death of my friend in treatment due to misdiagnosis has encouraged me to pursue a career that will help me be the doctor that we needed when I was in treatment (not to diss on all doctors! Just my personal experience and I currently have the best doctor that is helping me). 

I was deterred from my medical pathway (I “gave up” on the sciences when I was in treatment, as telling, from my major/minor) originally but I came back to it when I saw that there is a reason I went through what I went through. 

—> side note: working with my physical therapist and recovering from my treatment, my chronic illness should not impede on my ability to be a physician in the future (fingers crossed!).  

Thank you for your help. It has been a long and difficult journey to get here so any help would be greatly appreciated.”

[02:59] Red Flags

In my book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement, I talked about the seed which is what was it that exposed you to medicine. And maybe this wasn’t the specific exact seed for the student, but it’s a huge part of why they want to be a physician.

When we talk about red flags in an essay, the reason why you want to be a physician can sometimes be a red flag. If it’s an illness, whether it’s physical, mental, whatever, that may be a red flag to some admissions committees.

But you will have this ability to explain yourself in your personal statement or in your secondary essays if asked about any gaps in your education.

[04:37] Access to Medical Records and How Much to Disclose

Medical schools do not have access to your medical records. Medical records are considered very private in our law. They’re yours. You are not to give them to anyone. They shouldn’t ask for them. They’re yours.

In terms of how much information should you divulge, disclose as much as necessary to explain why you want to be a physician. If you went through a personal experience, and it has shaped who you are and formed this relationship with medicine for you, that is obviously driving you to want to be a physician. Then tell as much of that story as possible, without drawing any sort of bad attention to yourself. You don’t want the admissions committee, to see that you missed school because of this. And that’s going to be an issue when you get to medical school.

'You don't want to give any look in your application that you are not going to be able to finish medical school in four years.'Click To Tweet

[06:02] Telling Your Story: Do’s and Don’ts

Tell your story as best as possible. Again, tell as much information as you need to tell your story appropriately without going above and beyond. Don’t draw too much attention to yourself that isn’t needed.

When you’re talking about wanting to be the doctor you needed at that moment, don’t talk about that kind of stuff. That sort of negativity is very common in essays. Pointing the finger saying you want to be better than that person isn’t a strong personal statement. So avoid that sort of negativity.

Talk about your journey and the impact the physicians had on you. Reflect on it, talk about why you want that impact on other people, and move on.

“Tell as much information as you need to tell your story appropriately without going above and beyond.”Click To Tweet

[07:39] The Goals of Admissions Committees

Remember, the admissions committee has lots of goals. They want students who are going to be a good community member because they’re building a huge community. So number one, do you fit in with the rest of the class that they’re building? 

Number two, they want to make sure that you’re going to finish medical school in four years. If there are any sorts of deviations from that, they are evaluated on that standard. And so they want to make sure you’re doing right by them as well.

They want to make sure you can handle it academically. You are academically capable of passing all the tests. They want to make sure you are academically capable once you’re in residency that you continue to do well in your in-services exams and your boards after that. Medical schools are obviously worried about that. That’s why there’s a lot of focus on stats.

Then on top of that, they want to make sure from a physical mental health perspective that you are going to be okay. 

All of that taken into account, they will evaluate your application and go from there. So you don’t want to draw any unnecessary questions and any unnecessary attention to your application.

So if you are dealing with any sort of chronic illness, remember to tell your story as best as possible. If there’s something in your story that caused you to have some bad grades, you don’t need to go super in-depth. You may just briefly mentioned that something happened. But if it’s something that really contributes to why you want to be a physician, then maybe you need to go a little bit more in-depth.


Meded Media

Nontrad Premed Forum

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement