June 28, 2021

Admissions Mondays - Should You Discuss Sensitive Personal Issues in Your Medical School Application?

The Savvy Premed

By: Savvy Pre-Med Staff

Welcome to Admissions Mondays, a new video series where Passport Admissions President and Co-Founder of the HEAL Clinical Education Network, Rob Humbracht, answers weekly questions from our viewers and subscribers.

Today’s question (submitted by “Jordan”):

How do you determine when/if it is appropriate to disclose delicate information (i.e., mental health issues, trauma, recovery from addiction, etc.) in response to primary and secondary application prompts?

In general, you should avoid mentioning these issues, primarily because medical schools are risk-averse: they're concerned that you will relapse and drop out.

But there are some exceptions to this rule of thumb.

Should You Discuss Sensitive Personal Issues in Your Medical School Application?

You probably SHOULD mention them if these sensitive issues impacted one or more of the following:

  • Academics - if they caused you to take time off school or get very bad grades

  • Motivation - if they're the primary reason you want to go into the field

  • Background Check - if you were the recipient of institutional or police action

The good news is you might be able to use these sensitive issues to your advantage. But you MUST do the following:

  • Provide proof that these issues are in the past and that you have a handle on how to manage them

  • Discuss how they've made you stronger, instilled more empathy, and affected your motivation for your career

Thanks for tuning into Admissions Mondays! Post your own questions below, and we'll choose one to answer each week!

Bonus: A Quick Guide on How to Write About Poor Grades or Institutional Action 

Sometimes, applicants feel the need to explain a potentially alarming aspect of their academic background or conduct (low grades, probation, institutional action, etc).

If you think you fall into this category, odds are you’re right. It’s wise to control this aspect of your narrative by writing about it in the Personal Statement, optional primary essays, and secondaries (when applicable) as opposed to leaving it up to the interpretation of the (often) unforgiving admissions committee.

In the Personal Statement, it’s typically best to insert this paragraph right before the conclusion. Follow this sentence-by-sentence outline, and you’ll be just fine (or as fine as you can be!). 


1-2 sentences to explain the factors that led to the issue:

It's wise to let the facts speak for themselves. If there were extenuating circumstances that led to this anomalous blip in your record, make sure to include those as evidence, BUT DON'T editorialize or try to make excuses for what happened. The goal in the beginning is to just acknowledge and own up to the failure/mistake. 

1-2 sentences to explain how you've rectified the issue:

This will depend a lot on your situation, but typically, it will involve some kind of additional tutoring, office hours, retaken classes, better time-management, etc. It might involve probation. Beyond explaining the requirements you fulfilled and your upward trend in grades, discuss the ways you've sought to improve overall as a person. 

1-2 sentences to explain the growth, personal qualities, and lessons you’ve gained: 

Again, this will depend a lot on your situation. Perhaps there's some activity or endeavor that you can use as "proof" of your growth as a person (i.e. tutoring other struggling students or serving on the student judiciary board). If not, just explain what you learned from the experience and how it's turned you into a better person moving forward.

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