Looking for Medical School Advice: How "Out" Should You Be?

  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jul 11, 2008 2:05 AM GMT
    'Ello All,

    So I'm currently in the process of completing several secondary medical school applications for '09.

    They're fairly straightforward and the essays are rather plain/vanilla.

    However, I came across the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine essay question:
    "Tell us about a difficult or challenging situation that you have encountered and how you dealt with it. In your response, identify both the coping skills that you called upon to resolve the dilemma, and the support person(s) from whom you sought advice."

    Now, I have two scenarios in mind, and both are present many of my strengths and humanity:
    1) my boss quit about a month ago, resulting in approximately a 5-fold increase in my work-load. Additionally, the Director of Research is leaning heavily on me to pick up the slack as another co-worker prepares to leave. So, I've gone from being the study coordinator for 1 study to the coordinator of 6. This has become quite the juggling act. There are a variety of ways I can present this...

    2) I'd posted before on realjock that on May 5th a gentleman I'd been seeing seriously passed away suddenly of unknown causes at the time (we've recently been told he died of sepsis due to a bacterial blood infection). I...would prefer to talk about how I've had to deal with this scenario because it would allow me to present something more human and genuine than just an increased work load...additionally, I see it as a way to further my processing of Alex's death.

    However...I'd be explicitly "outing" myself in my application. Normally, I'd charge head on into this, and I'm beginning to feel my mind is made up to tackle this narrative. However, all it takes is one individual on the committee to say "No" to my application for most any reason.

    ...

    I understand that this post is verbose, but any advice/thoughts/musings would be greatly appreciated on the topic.

    Thanks!

    Cheers,
    C
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jul 11, 2008 4:19 AM GMT
    I would otherwise totally support addressing you relationship with Alex and discussing your sexuality in most other setting but i personally don't think it would be appropriate for a personal essay for an application. It could lead to alot more questions that you may not want to later answer in your interview and it runs the risk of having a negative effect on your application (remember...ALOT of ppl r still wierd about the subject of homosexuality) regardless of how well you may have handled the situation. You're catering to an older audience that is very likely to be conservative and who have ALOT of applicants to choose form. Your application will stand out, but it might not do so for the right reason....so I say play it relatively safe.

    Hope this helps...its just my opinionicon_smile.gif
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jul 11, 2008 10:59 AM GMT
    cjstreed said'Ello All,

    So I'm currently in the process of completing several secondary medical school applications for '09.

    They're fairly straightforward and the essays are rather plain/vanilla.

    However, I came across the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine essay question:
    "Tell us about a difficult or challenging situation that you have encountered and how you dealt with it. In your response, identify both the coping skills that you called upon to resolve the dilemma, and the support person(s) from whom you sought advice."

    Now, I have two scenarios in mind, and both are present many of my strengths and humanity:
    1) my boss quit about a month ago, resulting in approximately a 5-fold increase in my work-load. Additionally, the Director of Research is leaning heavily on me to pick up the slack as another co-worker prepares to leave. So, I've gone from being the study coordinator for 1 study to the coordinator of 6. This has become quite the juggling act. There are a variety of ways I can present this...

    2) I'd posted before on realjock that on May 5th a gentleman I'd been seeing seriously passed away suddenly of unknown causes at the time (we've recently been told he died of sepsis due to a bacterial blood infection). I...would prefer to talk about how I've had to deal with this scenario because it would allow me to present something more human and genuine than just an increased work load...additionally, I see it as a way to further my processing of Alex's death.

    However...I'd be explicitly "outing" myself in my application. Normally, I'd charge head on into this, and I'm beginning to feel my mind is made up to tackle this narrative. However, all it takes is one individual on the committee to say "No" to my application for most any reason.

    ...

    I understand that this post is verbose, but any advice/thoughts/musings would be greatly appreciated on the topic.

    Thanks!

    Cheers,
    C


    What's up! I would personally steer clear of #2 unless you have a clever way of discussing such a topic. For some reason, I have heard many an adcom member suggest that by focusing on death (and your relation to it...i.e. coping/etc...) you are "holding their emotions hostage." So while it might be something that you could legitimately discuss, it is a touchy subject that should be avoided.

    In terms of #1: That sounds like a pretty good topic. I totally understand how you are feeling (I am also trying to juggle responsibilities meant for 5 research coordinators...not fun....but that is besides the point). I think your ability to adjust to the increasing demands of your job (I assume almost seamlessly) demonstrates a trait many would deem necessary for success in medicine. You are must be organized and your probably adjusted your approach to completing the intricacies of each study a bit differently just so you could handle the stress.

    In terms of outing yourself, I have heard that it does depend on the school. However, I have also heard that if your extracurricular work or desire to work within a specific community is tied to your sexuality then you will probably be Ok in mentioning it.

    Have you ever checked out www.studentdoctor.net ? The people who post on there come off as a bit too neurotic; however, there is an adcom member (screename: LizzyM) who frequently posts on that site. She gives really good advice and definitely would give you advice regarding the topic(s) of this particular thread.

    Best of luck to you!!!! Just think...soon it will all be out of your hands (well at least the writing) and you will be waiting for interview invites!
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jul 11, 2008 1:08 PM GMT
    Interesting question, there is a gay doctor who plays softball in Toronto. If I get a chance I will ask him what issues he has had. Mind you Toronto is probably a bit more liberal than US cities.
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    Jul 11, 2008 3:54 PM GMT
    I haven't been on the ad com, but I have been an interviewer for medical school. And while I don't know how things go at the schools you're applying to, the personal essay was the most important portion of the application when it came time to interview time. However, many schools are changing over to the MMI format, where it's no longer a free-exchange style interview, but rather 10-15 stations with 10-15 pairs of interviewers each; and one standard question at each station (and 10-15 minutes at each station).

    So..where am I going with all of this?

    1) You should never cookie cutter your medical school application essays. Each one might be similar (the "biggest challenge" essay is a very common request), but you need to tailor it so that you are taking advantage of that particular school's focus and system. So, I would say that your first step is to find out what the interview style is at each school that you're applying to (that you're thinking of using your "coping with death" essay).

    2) If a school is using an MMI format (I don't remember what MMI stands for, but if it's standard questions, and not free-form), then I would argue that you are taking an unnecessary risk for what may turn out to be "no payout" because the standard questions will be the same for everyone and they're NOT going to ask you a question in which that scenario is going to come up (other than possibly, "Tell us about a time when you had to cope with death," or, "Tell us more about the biggest challenge you wrote about.")

    3) If a school is using the free-form format, then it's simply a judgment call on your part, which may factor things like, "How badly do you want to get into medical school," "Would you go to a homophobic medical school," "Would you be prepared to go back into the closet in medical school if you felt you had to," and, "Is it medical school or nothing?", as well as, "If my sexuality comes up in my interview (which would be inappropriate), how would I handle that?"

    4) Getting into medical school is a game with mysterious rules. You are more likely to get in if, once you've gotten to the interview stage (which is really what this essay is about--getting you to the interview stage), you can show you are mature, empathetic, responsible, resilient and generally superhuman. What distinguishes medical students from the folks who didn't get in at the interview stage is really self-knowledge; AND the ability to clearly articulate it. Do you really know why you want to do medicine; do you have a realistic view of what a life of medicine is actually going to entail; do you know anything about this particular school's approach to medicine and whether that fit is right for you, even though you would go to any medical school that would take you; do you know what you're getting into with respect to both medical school and residency (which is very different than practice); and with respect to you essay, do you have a sense of perspective about your life with regards to challenges (because if there's anything medicine does, it's blow that sense right out of the water).

    Playing the "death" and/or "gay" card is a double edged sword that I'm not sure is worth playing. For one, "getting over death" is a common essay. Unless you can present in such a way that makes you stand out, it might not make you stand out. And because the death and gay card are one and the same for you, you have now opened the window and made it fair game for them to ask you about your sexuality--when, if you use a different scenario, it was not appropriate (as is age, gender, race, religion, future family plans). And while you're out and proud, the medical school interview is not about being out and proud either (it's also not about being christian and proud, feminist and proud, or anything to do with pride as a general quality). Your life is about being out and proud. The medical school application system is not your life. Even if it feels that way.

    Answering the essay question is not about truth-telling. You do not have to actually pick the most challenging thing in your life. You need to pick an example in which your strengths will be highlighted and your weaknesses seem like reverse-weaknesses (e.g. "I sometimes pay too much attention to details", or "I find that I sometimes work too hard at the expense of my personal life") Challenging ethical dilemmas are usually good ones to write about. You could write an essay about how you have dealt with accepting/not-accepting gifts from big pharma--if you have had that situation; or an ethical dilemma related to your research where patient care and study protocol were at odds.

    It's a game. You have to play it. Resistance is futile. Medicine is the Borg. Ok, I'm kidding...but just a bit.

    Feel free to contact me.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jul 11, 2008 4:00 PM GMT
    P.S. Just because most of the questions are vanilla, it means you CAN'T be vanilla. Beware the vanilla answer!
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jul 11, 2008 5:53 PM GMT
    If outing yourself can possibly alienate members on the selection committee, don't risk that. There are ways around it by simpling stating that Alex (may he rest in peace) was a loved one without going into details of the nature of your relationship, but as mentioned before talking about the death of a loved one is not new to these people.

    Getting into medical school is like running for political office, you skew the facts if you have to, you aggrandize and polish certain elements, and you use the subtlety and nuance of language to your advantage.

    Just get in, and then be yourself.



    Good luck and forgive me if I seem insensitive.

    Love,

    A Medical School Jaded Cynic

    ps I did write about my family's struggle with my sister's Thalassemia in my personal statement (I was a failed bone marrow donor) and pulled the death card during my interview for the program that I will begin this August. Though my biggest challenge in life is nowhere near as significant and difficult as I imagine yours to be...all one has to do is look at the headless profile picture to know the nature of what my biggest challenge in life is, and it has little place in medical school applications and interviews.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jul 11, 2008 9:39 PM GMT
    Medicine is very conservative so I would definitely NOT mention your sexuality in any form in your essays. I still would talk about your experiences just refer to you bf as a close friend ect. The same point can be conveyed. Just keep the essay real and genuine and avoid anything too abstract and I am sure it will be great and well received. Put several things you are comfortable talking about as they will likely be topics of discussion during the interview. If you mention a situation that you are overly emotional about it could make that tough so keep that in mind. If you have descent grades/MCATS and can make good conversation I am sure you will be fine.
    Best of luck with the application process I know it is stressful!
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    Jul 11, 2008 9:47 PM GMT
    Pulling the death card in the interview isn't quite the same as pulling it in the essay. Not to be callous, but death essays are a dime a dozen, particularly if the death took place at a younger age. I found they didn't really help to set the applicants apart. Most adcoms are looking for reasons to exclude you, not for reasons to include you. It's a process of exclusion until they whittle it down to the magic number of interviews. I'm not saying the death or the gay card is always a bad idea, I'm just saying that there are probably a myriad of challenges one can write about without picking the obvious and common ones.

    Medicine is indeed still, ironically, one of the last bastions of homophobia (next to sport). You do have to be a bit cautious. That being said, from the experiences of many, being out in medical school (once you're in) is rarely a problem. Being out in residency is highly program dependent. Large programs tend to tolerate it better than smaller ones; non-surgical ones better than surgical ones. It's changing, but very slowly; but the power differential in residency is so overwhelmingly in favour of staff, that it's still something to be cautious about--just not paranoid. It probably doesn't have a _direct_ influence on your training (i.e. they can't deny you outright training _once you're in a program_) but it can be more difficult. But none of the gay residents here that I know of (even in surgery) have had any problems. But then again, I don't know them _that_ well. I have a good friend in anesthsia who does just fine though... Myself, I do self-identify as bi, so it's really confusing how to deal with that in the workplace--it would have been easier to have been gay (but that's a whole different topic).

    To me, the gay card isn't any different than the race card, only I can't overtly hide my race. And my race didn't come up in my medical school or my residency interviews, so why should my sexuality? One of my co-residents is Mormon, and that didn't come up either, even though it's plastered all over his CV (mission work, etc). To play the devil's advocate, if you want to be known as more than your sexuality, or race, or religion (i.e. as a person), then why play the card that pegholes you in that spot?

    That being said, I would definitely avoid lying about your boyfriend being just 'a close friend' as others have suggested. It (in my opinion) a) does your relationship to him a disservice/dishonour; b) means you have may have to fabricate more shit about your relationship and why you were so "close"; and c) seriously, in your profile, you sound like you have a gajillion other possible "challenges" you could write about instead.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jul 28, 2008 9:19 PM GMT
    I would be out but not in that essay, write about something else. You can include LGBT Club type activities in the Extracurriculars section and still come across as gay but not where it is too much in their face.

    I had several friends do this and they got good interviews, so try it. Good luck!icon_cool.gif
  • GQjock

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    Jul 28, 2008 9:26 PM GMT
    I'd go with what you feel is best...

    Should you wear your sexuality on your sleeve and tell everyone you encounter that you're gay?
    Hell no
    But if a true story becomes pertinent to what your being asked?
    Use it if it fits
    Is medicine conservative yes it is
    but is it homophobic?
    I think I'd have to say no