Help me beat possible discrimination!
July 21, 2007 9:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently applying to medical school. Will my essay choice blackball me from consideration?

I'm currently applying to medical school. However, the one thing holding my amcas application from going out the door is a dilemma regarding my personal statement. My essay requires me to write about wy I'm interested in medicine; however, my primary interest is due to my own chronic medical condition. Will an admissions committee red-flag my application if I have such a chronic condition that can affect my ability to stay up late, and push my physical limits with regard to studying, etc?

I'd rather not talk about what my condition is, it did prevent me from applying for a driver's liscence for many years.
posted by wuzandfuzz to Education (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Could you instead say that it was a loved one's medical condition that inspired your initial interest in medicine, patient care and the like? Or family member's condition? I'm not sure if that is on the up-and-up or not, though.
posted by acoutu at 9:45 PM on July 21, 2007

I don't think you're going to have many problems with your essay choice. I would much rather see an essay from someone who is open about seeking a solution to a long-term, life-conditioning issue than someone who "just wants to go somewhere" and then reveals the problem later. This applies to many things in life. I would suggest you pass the idea by some doctors as you write it. Perhaps there are people you know who would be willing to guide you. I would think most doctors would find it admirable.

On the front of physically being unable to stay up late. That can't be just your problem, can it? I perhaps would not say "this condition makes it hard for me to stay up late and study" but "This condition means that I have a restful nights' sleep each evening and wake up refreshed and ready to start the day." What I mean to say is, reinforce the fact that despite this condition you have a very good outlook for the future and are optimistic you will be able to roll with the punches of medical school.
posted by parmanparman at 9:45 PM on July 21, 2007

First of all, I apologize if my answer may seem harsh. I have no intention of being the monster stomping on you, but I have nothing but good intentions.

Your essay should be designed to get you inside those hallowed halls.

I understand that you want to be honest on your application, and ideally, that is the way it should be. The medical condition would certainly make you stand out, but whether it is for better or worse is subject to the committee.

If the essay is going to be about a serious medical condition that would cause the admissions committee to doubt your ability to handle med school, regularly attend classes, and live a doctor's hectic life - you might want to write about something else. The committee will prioritize someone who will stay for the length of the program, as opposed to someone who is likely to leave.

But if the medical condition isn't that bad, is almost unnoticeable, and you're able to make it through the day without struggling - including it on the essay should be no problem. The only condition I can think of is diabetes, and that shouldn't be a problem.

Some people want to be doctors for the money, and some of these doctors do turn out to be pretty successful. But they don't write "I'm in it for the money" on their essays.

I wish you the best of luck, and hope that you get that MD.
posted by Xere at 9:49 PM on July 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Truthfully, some places don't even look at the application too much until you interview. I'm going into my second year now, and while it'll make you stand out at first, you must prove to them that it will not hinder your will to full-fill this dream. You must show strength and courage and that you have the will-power to overcome it. A lot of my interview questions were based on " you seemed to not take a gigantic course load in undergrad, so do you think you'll be able to keep up with the enormous amount of material you will be presented with?" You have to answer that question with a bold statement showing that you have what it takes. You should otherwise not be discriminated against in any way. Good luck!
posted by uncballzer at 10:53 PM on July 21, 2007

I don't know what the condition is, so I can only talk generally about 'chronic conditions'. There are 2 people in my current class at med school who have chronic conditions that have limited their ability to take on all of the demands of a med student, and in some cases have required the med school to make special allowances for them. I don't know whether these students mentioned this when they were being interviewed for a place. Whatever the case, now that they're in, the med school does make these allowances, but I've heard one of the assistant deans let his guard down and complain about it.

Also, a lot of our teaching is done by doctors who have a small connection to the university (by virtue of having jobs in public hospitals), but aren't involved in the administrative and admissions side of things. People who make a big deal of their chronic condition (particularly if it is things like chronic fatigue syndrome) set off alarm bells in some doctors' minds by reminding them of their more difficult patients. I'm not saying this is fair, nor am I saying this is you, but the reality is that it happens. A few doctors have made comments about those students I mentioned, with one even making a formal complaint to the university.

Summary: If it's a condition that's seen in a sympathetic light (e.g. diabetes) writing about how it's inspired to you help patients with said condition could be a good thing. If it's a condition that people just don't 'get', don't write about it if you want to get into med school. And don't write about how it would negatively impact your ability to be a med student, even if you follow it by insisting you can overcome these limitations.
posted by teem at 11:06 PM on July 21, 2007

In my experience, there's no formula to these essays, and what may be rejected outright by one admission officer often is seen as a fantastic one by another.

That being said, if you don't find it necessary to write about the aspects of the condition that would make medical school more challenging, then I would focus on the positive experiences (or negative - criticism of medical practice is well recieved, often) that made you want to be a doctor. I don't know your story, but if they don't need to know the details of your condition then don't tell them.

Also, make sure it's read over by somebody familiar with med school applications. If there isn't somebody at your school, I used the following woman (I myself was out of college when I applied) and have nothing but positive things to say about her:

Best of luck!
posted by deliquescent at 11:35 PM on July 21, 2007

I'm going to agree with teem on this one: Seeing as epilepsy effects close to 50 million world wide and is very, very treatable, your composition should do you very well in applying to med school. Epilepsy is usually seen in a sympathic light, and your time working in a biochem lab won't harm your prospects either.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 12:29 AM on July 22, 2007

The circumstances of *your* illness are personal to you. Revealing that you have an illness is one thing. Having disability from an illness that would prevent you from carrying out the tasks demanded of a medical student and, later, a doctor is something else again.

Medical schools are making some headway in admitting students with certain disabilities, but the reality of the training and the job is that it is physically and mentally strenuous. The needs of the ill do not accomodate for the surgeon being in a wheelchair and unable to reach the sterile field, or the physician being mentally deranged so that she is unable to render competent, accurate judgments under pressure.

If you have an illness that, for example, would prevent you from staying up all night, you should be worried, not about your essay, but about the fact that you have no chance at success in medical training. Even after the Bell Commission, chronic sleep deprivation and disruption are part of every specialty's training - even pathology and radiology.

If, on the other hand, you know that you are up to the rigors of the job, write your essay as you please. Most doctors are aware that having been a patient brings a valuable perspective to the practice of medicine.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:51 AM on July 22, 2007

You could base your essay around "I want to be like the wonderful doctors I met while being treated for a mild case of XXXX", carefully enumerating the right sort of good qualities. Of course your motivation may be "I don't want to be like the bad doctors..." but you would have to be very careful with that sort of wording, and probably frame it in terms of acts you wouldn't do rather than implying that a doctor may actually not be superior to all other sorts of being.
posted by Idcoytco at 3:28 AM on July 22, 2007

make sure you include how you plan to cope with 24 hour on calls that you will be doing starting 3rd year. and will you be able to physically function (running around hospitals, staying awake in the OR, etc) after no sleep? part of the application to med school is signing a statement that says something like: "i am physically able to do what is necessary." so just keep that in mind.
posted by ruwan at 4:01 AM on July 22, 2007

That strikes me as a pretty terrible medical school admissions question. They might as well have designed a question that would get them hackneyed, insincere answers. My sense is that many people want to become doctors at least in part because it's a well-paid, high-status job, but you can't exactly say that on your medical school application. And how many different ways are there to say "I want to help people!"?

I tend to err on the side of absolute paranoia when it comes to disclosing my chronic medical condition. (And it's a nice autoimmune condition for which there are blood tests and whatnot, so it's not something heavily stigmatized like CFS or fibromyalgia or any sort of mental illness. I'm not saying that any of those things should be stigmatized, but the sad fact is that they are.) I have found that people frequently turn out to be considerably less reasonable about such things than I expect them to be. Also, doctors have a pretty immense psychological investment in thinking of medical training as an epic quest that confers God-like status upon them and justifies their obscene salaries and utter condescension towards mere mortals, including their patients. One must be a hero of Arthurian dimensions to withstand such an ordeal, and no mere sicko could stand up to that kind of testing.

What you might be able to do is talk about your past medical experiences in a way that doesn't disclose your current condition.
posted by craichead at 4:48 AM on July 22, 2007

I think that your essay choice, about wanting to go to medical school due to your own chronic medical condition, may very well prevent you from being admitted into medical school. (However, it's not clear whether your interest in medicine is due to your desire to cure your medical condition, or whether your condition sparked a more general desire to help others who are suffering from various conditions. This distinction matters.)

Here are a couple of reasons why I think it's a problem:

(1) The medical school is looking for people who are motivated to practice medicine this for an entire career. The fact that you are motivated by your own condition may bode poorly for you sticking out the career, and if you leave the field, a medical school education was "wasted" on you.

(2) I think there's a possibility that you would be viewed as a "crank" whose interest in medicine is focused on one narrow thing, not the field as a whole, and who therefore would be not a very good addition to the class. It would be kind of like the guy applying for the history Ph.D. program because his Grandpa fought for the Confederates during the Civil War and he's fascinated by that. Or the person applying to law school because her family has a lot of legal problems.
posted by jayder at 5:24 AM on July 22, 2007

Best answer: I've read scads of med school admission essays and interviewed as many med school applicants.

Your topic won't screw your chances of admission, but you do need to be careful. As others have mentioned, you don't want to spin your essay in a direction that even hints at a possible inability to cope with the stress of med school. You also don't want to produce an essay that comes across as "all about me."

Craft your essay to highlight what you've learned from coping with your condition. Focus on how your experience makes you more empathetic to the plight of others and how it'll make you a better doc. Talk about it as a strength not a liability. Emphasize how your condition has forced you to introspect and come to know yourself better......and has thus informed and shaped your desire to help others through the practice of medicine.

If your medical condition has shaped your desire to be a physician, go ahead and use it as your topic. I guarantee you that in the huge stack of apps that an admissions committee looks at, your essay won't be the only one that mentions a personal illness/catastrophe/medical condition. What you want is an essay that shows how your situation makes you more likely to be a competent, compassionate physician and depicts you as a thoughtful person with character and integrity.

Good luck.
posted by FredFeral at 6:03 AM on July 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hmm. Are you interested in being a doctor or being a medical researcher? Perhaps answering that to yourself would help you answer the essay question.
posted by needled at 6:06 AM on July 22, 2007

You might want to do some research on the concept of the "wounded healer" It's something we went over a lot in a medical anthropology class I took. I'd also have to nth the suggestion of being very careful if you do write the essay on this to ensure you make it clear you can handle the demands of being a doctor.
posted by fermezporte at 8:19 AM on July 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding needled -- in the time you take to qualify as a doctor you could have definitively nailed one of the questions about causes or treatments while gaining a PhD.
posted by Idcoytco at 8:38 AM on July 22, 2007

As suggested above, your essay should be designed to appeal to the admissions committee at the medical schools where you apply. Writing about your condition may appeal to the people involved in admissions, often basic science folk and primary care types. Keep in mind that while you may gain admission based on your prior accomplishments, your limitations may greatly narrow your post-graduate training choices.
posted by objdoc at 4:22 PM on July 22, 2007

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