Is a “Colorful Truth” Better Than Discussing a Red Flag?

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OPM 280: Is a "Colorful Truth" Better Than Discussing a Red Flag?

Session 280

This week, we answer a common question among students who have a history of an illness or any mental health issue. Should you mention it in your application? Or will it just do more harm than good?

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.

[00:57] The MCAT Minute

The MCAT Minute is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT. A very common question we get when it comes to the MCAT is what score do they need to get in? Now, that’s impossible to answer.

When you look at the data that AAMC puts out, there are students scoring 520 plus but not getting and students scoring really low and getting in. 

'You have to remember that the MCAT is just one piece to this ginormous puzzle.'Click To Tweet

Your application involves your GPA, GPA trend, extracurricular activities, shadowing, clinical experience, and a whole lot more. This also involves a lot of reflection.

If you watch any of my Application Renovation videos, especially season three, I talked to a lot of students with amazing stats not getting into medical school because they’re not reflecting on their journey. They’re not self aware about why they want to be a physician, or at least they’re not communicating it well in the application.

Ultimately, the goal is as high as you can get on the MCAT. That’s the score you want to get. 

For help on the MCAT process, check out Blueprint MCAT and get a free half-length diagnostic, free full-length one, study Planner Tool and free MCAT flashcards.

[02:44] OldPreMeds Question of the Week

“Hi everyone. My name is Amanda, I’m 26 and in my first year of a post-bacc. My undergraduate degree is in english and I’m definitely taking the scenic route to medical school. I’m writing because I’ve seen several videos on what to do when mental health is part of your story

Generally, the videos and podcasts I’ve listened to have responded to students wanting to explain specific periods in their application history that may leave admissions committees questioning “what was going on here?”

The plain and simple reason I want to be a doctor is because I lived with unbearable and undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Until three or four years ago, psychiatric intervention quite literally saved my life. That’s it. That’s why I want to be a psychiatrist. 

I’m not ashamed of my story and am passionate about ending mental health stigma. At the same time, I know anyone reading a personal statement that says what I just wrote is probably going to see “HUGE LIABILITY,” and move on to the next applicant.

High rates of both burn-out, mental illness and suicide are a largely unspoken reality in medical education, training and practice. I understand why an admissions committee would have reservations about admitting a student with a history of mental health challenges. At the same time, my mental health doesn’t define me and there is no evidence in my past academic record to suggest I was struggling so intensely. 

The only reason I would be inclined to include it in a personal statement is because my past is the reason why I want to be a physician. I don’t know if I’ll feel like I’ve submitted my best application if I “tell a colorful truth” (cough lie about why I want to be a doctor). At the same time, if I do submit a personal statement sharing my story, I’ll wonder if every rejection was because I was honest. If all else fails, I can fall back on the timeless classic: I love science and want to help people.”

[04:54] Tell Your Story

As humans, we have our biases about mental health and medical school is really hard. And mental health issues typically show themselves in periods of stress, lack of sleep, and other stressful situations. There’s always going to be people out there questioning whether or not you’re going to be able to handle medical school because of your prior bipolar diagnosis.

But if you want to be a physician because of your diagnosis of bipolar disorder, then that’s the story that you have to tell.

There will be medical schools out there that will flat out reject you because of it without saying they’re rejecting you because of it. And that is okay. You have to be okay with that. Because you don’t want to be in a medical school where you are not going to be supported due to whatever mental health issues coming along.

You want to be open and honest and loud and screaming from the rooftops, specifically in your personal statement because this is who you are. This is why you want to be a physician. And so, tell your story. The more you hide it, the more risk there is on the other end where you are not supported when you need support the most. 

If every single medical school rejects you. Well, that doesn’t mean that they rejected you because of your bipolar disorder being open and honest about it. There may be other aspects of your application that they just didn’t like. And it’s going to be very hard for you to separate those two. Correlation doesn’t equal causation.

'If you write about your bipolar disorder, and you are rejected from every medical school, that does not mean you are rejected because you wrote about bipolar disorder.'Click To Tweet

And so, as you go through this process, you are going to have to figure out if you should write about the same thing the next time you apply. 

[09:28] Not Mentioning It When Your Reapply

I had a guest a little while ago, who was an alcoholic, and he applied to medical school twice. The first time, he was very open about being an alcoholic, and didn’t get any traction in his applications. He was sober, luckily, when he applied.

When he applied the second time and we worked together on this application, he didn’t bring up the fact that he was an alcoholic. It wasn’t really a part of a story about why he wanted to be a physician. It was just part of his life story about who he was.

And so, we didn’t put that in the application the second time. Then he had many more interviews, and ultimately, an acceptance to medical school. 

I had another guest who was blind or going blind. He wrote about it in his application about why he wanted to be a doctor. He got no traction and no interviews. He didn’t write about it the second time and got interviews and was ultimately accepted. He was lucky enough that with his retinitis pigmentosa, he had enough vision during the day. So he didn’t have to use a walking stick or anything to help him see and move around. And during interviews, it wasn’t as obvious that he was legally blind.

“You're going to have to figure out for yourself whether you need to be open and honest the second time.” Click To Tweet

And so, try to figure out whether you need to mention it when you reapply. Don’t worry about the idea that medical schools may look into your previous application. There’s just not enough time for medical schools to look at them.

At the end of the day, the answer is to be true to yourself, especially when answering specific questions – why do you want to be a doctor. And just be aware there’s some stigma out there, unfortunately.


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