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Too personal for personal statement/secondaries?

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical Allopathic [ MD ]' started by BurntFlower, Feb 10, 2012.

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  1. BurntFlower

    BurntFlower

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    While looking through past secondaries, I've found that this prompt has been repeated frequently:

    "Tell us about a difficult or challenging situation you have encountered and how you dealt with it. In your response, identify both the coping skills you called upon to resolve the dilemma, and the support person(s) from whom you sought advice."

    I've had a traumatic experience that happened to me during my freshman year, but I'm not sure how appropriate it would be to mention it in my personal statement/secondaries. This painful situation took me a long time to get over, but in the end I came out as a much stronger person. But I don't know if that is what adcoms want to read or if they want an essay more along the lines of "I was struggling in class, but in the end I got an A!". Also, if I wrote it in my personal statement, I would be willing to discuss it if it came up in interviews.

    So, is there such a thing as being too personal in your personal statement and/or secondaries?

    Any advice?
  2. compshateme85

    compshateme85

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    It's hard to know if your experience is too personal without knowing what the experience is. If you think it can positively reflect on you and demonstrates how you're going to be a great doctor, then it can be appropriate.
  3. theseeker4

    theseeker4 MS 2

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    This, and make sure including it doesn't make it look like you are fishing for sympathy or pity. Whether or not you are, if an adcom reading it thinks you are, it could affect which pile he puts your application in. You can include it, just make sure you are careful.
  4. DCBFan

    DCBFan

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    Can't speak directly to your case without knowing specifics, but I've always looked at that question as similar to the "What's your greatest weakness" one. In either situation, you don't help your case at all by offering a super-safe answer like "my greatest weakness is I am a perfectionist and work really hard", or "I took a really tough class but did well".

    Of course, I've gotten in to roughly one of the 64 schools I've applied to over the last two years, so what do I know.
  5. LizzyM

    LizzyM the evil queen of numbers SDN Advisor

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    Doctors are pretty worldly; they've heard or seen a great deal in their professional lives. It might not be so much what your experience was as how you describe it. You can use a euphemism such as "viciously attacked" or "abused" or "harrassed" and leave out the lurid details. Focus then on how the trauma made you feel and how you dealt with those feelings (the coping skills) and who you turned to for help.
  6. tantacles

    tantacles Moderator Lifetime Donor

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    This is the gold standard.
  7. lkthlttr

    lkthlttr

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    Not on an adcom here, but I would bet 5 dollars that no one wants to read that essay.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2012
  8. BurntFlower

    BurntFlower

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    How can I make it sound like I'm not looking for sympathy but I'm writing about it because I became a much tougher person for having gone through it?
  9. flodhi1

    flodhi1

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    +1
  10. pre med 2014

    pre med 2014 SDN Gold Donor Gold Donor

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    talk about it with other people to gauge 'comfort' level of discussing the topic in person. If you are uncomfortable talking about it, or more importantly, if you sense other people may feel uncomfortable about it, take that into consideration.
  11. BurntFlower

    BurntFlower

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    Thank you so much for this, especially since your euphemisms come close to describing what actually happened. However, what I'm afraid of is that the person reading my essay will think I'm looking for pity by writing about.

    Why?
  12. BurntFlower

    BurntFlower

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    Again, why?
  13. theseeker4

    theseeker4 MS 2

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    I am not a professional writer or an adcom, by far, but basically focus on what LizzyM said, and describe the "rise above" and "grow from" aspects more than the trauma caused. How to do that? You would have to ask someone a lot more skilled with writing than I am, sorry.
  14. lkthlttr

    lkthlttr

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    An essay describing the struggle to overcome one's difficulties in a university class sounds about as generic, uninspiring and boring as I can imagine an essay to be.
  15. elblackwell

    elblackwell

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    They highlighted a part of your question that talked about writing an essay about struggling to get an A and they mentioned no one would want to read that. I would assume that the whiny premed thing doesn't read well.
    I am not sure what your exact experience was, but like another poster said, if you write about it, be prepared to talk about it as it may come up. I worked on many projects having to do with gender violence and I wrote about what I learned from these activities. At one of my interviews, I was asked if something like that had ever happened to me. It didn't but the question still felt deeply personal and uncomfortable in the context of an interview. Anyways, the point is that you should practice talking about what you write with someone who doesn't know you well to gauge your level of comfort on the subject.
  16. LizzyM

    LizzyM the evil queen of numbers SDN Advisor

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    This question is not a pissing contest to see who has the saddest story. It is probing for coping skills. The committee is less interested in what you have overcome and more interested in how you might overcome a traumatic event that could happen to you in medical school or in your career. What we are looking for are resilient applicants who will bounce back from hardships, traumas, difficultiies, disappointments.

    I might feel badly for an applicant who lost a house in a fire, or who was raped, or who was assaulted in jail after being arrested at a peace demonstration, or whose lost close family members in one hideous way or another, but that doesn't mean that my empathy for their troubles extends to believing that applicant to be more worthy of admission than one who has not suffered a terrible calamity. My interest is in the sources of support that the applicant drew on to become stronger after that trauma.
  17. lkthlttr

    lkthlttr

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    Indeed, I didn't mean to suggest that your essay of overcoming a true hardship would not be worth reading. I modified the post to make the statement stand out better.

    I generally agree with what LizzyM and theseeker4 have said. There will undoubtedly be trying times during your career in medicine and the adcoms want to know that you won't fold up like a lawn chair. A well written answer to this question can draw upon emotional experiences to demonstrate your resilience.
  18. candav

    candav

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    I talked about bullying in some essays, and coming out in others. But the actual description of the situation took up maybe two or three lines. As has been said, the focus is really on your response to the challenge.
  19. BurntFlower

    BurntFlower

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    Um....

    I said I wanted advice on whether writing about a terrible event that happened to me during my freshman year, and how I overcame it, would be appropriate material to write about in a secondary/personal statement.
  20. Bella Swan

    Bella Swan

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    I know this sounds naive and it may sound facetious to call getting rejected from medical school a "trauma", but what if it has really been that way for us. Until this point, I haven't really ever been rejected or let down in the manner I have over the past couple months. I certainly know and understand that true hardships include job losses, diseases, and much worse circumstances, but for me personally, getting 15 rejections this year without an interview has been the single biggest disappointment of my life.

    If one could, and I am not truly confident that I will (but I very much hope to and have been giving it my all for weeks now and will continue), turn a 29 to say a mid 30s MCAT, and apply as re-applicant, would this be grounds to discuss as a turning point in their life?

    Again, please don't misunderstand my lack of compassion for true disasters in life, but if this was one's own personal "failure" and they somehow managed to turn it around, could this be a mark of bouncing back and perserverance. What if it further strengthened their desire for medicine.
  21. theseeker4

    theseeker4 MS 2

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    The simple act of improving your application and re-applying would be the best way to demonstrate your dedication. Any attempt to turn it into a discussion of "overcoming hardship" by writing about it would likely be read as naive whining, IMO.
  22. flodhi1

    flodhi1

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    Writing about the "struggle" you had in a class and getting an A is so cliche. It shows that you are an inexperienced college student. I can assure you ADCOM have heard the whole "I studied hard in a failing class to get an A" story a million times. They will most likely be like whatever and trash your application in a lower pile especially if you don't have anything else going on. I think of the Personal statement as the first and possibly last impression. You can imagine what will happen if you mess it up. Good luck!
  23. BurntFlower

    BurntFlower

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    I'm prepared to talk thoroughly about my experience. Thank you.

    So, how many lines should I use to describe the actual experience? Are 2-3 lines brief enough? Is it better to write this in my secondary or personal essay? I will definitely describe how I overcame this and bounced back from such a horrible ordeal. Your advice has been extremely helpful for me. Thank you so, so much. :)

    Ohhhh now I understand. Thank you for modifying your post, it it much more clear now.

    Thank you, I will briefly describe my experience.
  24. BurntFlower

    BurntFlower

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    I agree, an essay like that would be snooze-worthy. But I was mostly asking if writing about the terrible experience I suffered, and came out of, was worth writing about,.
  25. Owlie

    Owlie Future rocket surgeon

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    I concur with that. I wonder if they would ask the OP to elaborate more on it in an interview. :confused:
  26. candav

    candav

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    Actually, I think this could be compelling. I imagine an unsuccessful application cycle is very emotionally challenging, and you may have learned a lot about yourself and your coping mechanisms this year. But I think in this case there is a fine line between "here is the challenge, and here is how I overcame it" and "I didn't get into med school, here is how I improved my application" -- avoid the latter.
  27. flodhi1

    flodhi1

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    I misread the question yes that's fine.
  28. sector9

    sector9 'He's a loathsome, offensive brute' Administrator SDN Senior Moderator

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    RE: addressing this in your personal statement vs. an adversity essay on a secondary-- has this experience contributed toward your answer to the question "Why medicine?"

    ETA: See flodh1's post ^ :)

    ETA v. 2.0: Now flodh1 edited his post. See my post :laugh:
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2012
  29. flodhi1

    flodhi1

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    I definitely wrote the incorrect information and immediately edited it because I don't want to misguide the OP.

    OP I'm sorry I just woke up and have been misreading some things. If you want to add this tragic experience in your personal statement then it should connect the dots between the event and why medicine? If its a secondary question about adversity and struggles in life then post this event and obviously there is no need for the why medicine in that situation.
  30. percy

    percy

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    +1 on the essay topics, but with much longer descriptions. Or rather, the descriptions were woven into the points I was making throughout the stories. I feel like I can't really add much to the good advice that's been given, but perhaps another data point from Percy will suffice: I submitted my heaviest essay (by far, to the point that if I posted even the general themes I'd be easily identifiable to an AdCom) to three schools, and things have turned out very well for all three.
  31. LizzyM

    LizzyM the evil queen of numbers SDN Advisor

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    Many secondaries ask a "coping skills" question. If your experience and the overcoming of the experience contributed to your desire to enter medicine, then it could be incorporated into the personal statement. I've seen this approach when the trauma was in childhood (illness and/or death of a loved one) and resulted in an interest in why these things happen, thus an interest in biological science and preventing or fixing things that go wrong, etc., then shadowing docs, etc. Sometimes a desire to provide medical services to LGBTQ community and experiences (shadowing, volunteering) in that area could be the topic of a personal statement and might touch on one's own issues ("When I was struggling after coming out to my parents, my primary care doc was not someone I could talk with..."). "Struggling" could be a euphemism for lots of tears and silence and door slamming, or couch surfing after being kicked out of the house, or even more degrading means of surviving after being rejected by your parents and you need to decide if "struggling" is enough and leave the rest to our imaginations....
  32. Lil Mick

    Lil Mick

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    Write about whatever you would be comforable discussing with someone and focus on what the experience meant to you and how you grew, rather than what happened specifically. I touched on war and finding a friend after a suicide attempt for those secondary questions, and focusing on the personal growth/what I learned/how I can use it to help mitigated what would have been one of those jaw-dropping sort of interview moments...
  33. hmockingbird

    hmockingbird

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    I'm not sure if this will help but I'll share my experiences anyway. I got in this cycle.

    I had two slightly different adversity questions but I basically had the same answer. One was just general "how did you cope" and the other asked you to describe specific outside sources of help besides your parents, so I made sure to focus on that more for that essay, but otherwise they were very similar. I talked about an emergency surgery I had during college. I decided to call it an "emergency surgery" and not give any details beyond that after talking to both my dad (doctor/interviews candidates for residency positions) and a pre-med advisor. They agreed that I didn't need to get into dramatics because the essay was more about coping skills, like others have said here, and that I also wanted to give the impression that I didn't still have severe health problems going on that could impact my ability to be a physician. I simply called it an "emergency surgery" and stated somewhere in the essay that it was a one-time deal and no longer caused problems, not an on-going thing (obviously phrased better). Which is true, but I figured the more direct and simple, the better. I think it was literally 1-2 lines "when I was working for X over the summer, I had to have emergency surgery" and that was pretty much it for the description. For the rest of the essay, I talked about how I coped with that and overcame it. Both personal stuff (like keeping up with hobbies, talking to friends for support, etc.) and things at work (like I was able to start back pretty soon because I worked out a flexible schedule where I would just come in as much as I could; we compromised by presenting part of our research at the end-of session poster presentation and then got an extension for the time I missed). I thought it (hopefully) showed that I obviously got knocked down a bit, but I had healthy coping skills, and I still honored my commitments as much as I was able to.

    I got asked a question about a personal adversity in an interview and another similarly phrased question. So I talked about the above for one of those questions. For the other one I talked about how I am/have always been very short and sometimes people can underestimate me or don't even listen to me because they can't take me seriously. For both of the interview questions I did the same format, like one or two sentences describing what happened, and the rest was about coping skills and what I did to overcome the situation.

    Not putting the whole "story" in there was something I struggled with, maybe because I am an English major, and I knew I could write it in an engaging way. It was also a really good/crazy story! But, that is the type of stuff that sells memoirs, not applications. A dramatic story sounds impressive to the average person but really doesn't say a lot about your character or coping skills to the adcoms. I had to make an effort to focus on what I personally did and how I coped, rather than the wow factor of the story. Be explicit, with "from this experience I learned ___" "I was able to rely on my friend X to talk about my problems and I know in the future when I am in a bad situation, talking to my friends will help" etc. Obviously make the second one less awkwardly worded ;)

    As for the interviews, at least with me they were not allowed to explicitly ask about my health status, pretty sure that's a legal no-no. One interviewer asked "how do you feel?" and I thought she was trying to ask if I had ongoing problems so I said something like "I feel great and I don't have any ongoing problems from the surgery." (I wanted to make sure not to give the "sick" impression.) One school brought up stuff in my PS (I had talked vaguely about childhood medical problems and how that was my first exposure - mentioned one disease by name but that's it), but did not go beyond what I had said in there. They simply asked me to elaborate more on how that piqued my interest in medicine, and why I still wanted to pursue the career today. So I think if you mention it, you can definitely stay within your comfort range of what you talked about. I don't think they are going to be like, "Soooo! Tell me more about your assault; that sounds so fascinating!" LOL (Sorry if that sounds insensitive; that's the point.) I think any questions would be more like, "You mentioned in one of your secondary essays that you were assaulted and you said you learned a lot from that experience. Can you tell me more about how you coped with that? I'm interested to learn how you were able to [still focus on school, recover, etc.] after an experience like that." Basically focusing on how you overcame what happened instead of the dramatic story.

    I hope that helps! I think maybe 1-3 lines depending on the character limit are fine; you want to make the bulk of the essay about how you coped and what you learned. You can even use the euphemism during interviews if they ask, that's exactly what I did. I said "emergency surgery" a LOT during the interview rounds lol.
  34. thlaxer

    thlaxer Passable Paperweight

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    For one of my secondaries, I wrote about my first experience living away from home. Most of the essay focused on the "coping strategies" I used (yea.. this was not my proudest essay lol :oops:). I ended the essay by saying that I knew my situation wasn't really that stressful and briefly talked about the support network (families, friends, mentors etc.) that I would rely on when a truly stressful hardship occurs in the future. My essay's topic was very weak as you can tell (it's much, much weaker than yours) and while I doubt it helped me, I don't think that my response hurt my application either. If you can't think of a "true hardship" (to borrow your term), I wouldn't be afraid to use your current topic for the secondary. These are my thoughts anyways. I agree with candav that this essay can be compelling. Hopefully you'll get some good news soon though. Good luck!
  35. dreamweaver1988

    dreamweaver1988

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    I appreciate the circumlocution...clearly what we're dealing with here is "I was raped." And a later poster was trying to say "I had an abortion." These are tragic things that need to be daylighted; not talking about them is not the solution (in the case of rape, just ask the Roman Catholic Church). The best doctors I've had have been brutally honest and aren't afraid to talk about real problems. However, I respect the OP's and the other poster's decision to withhold details, even in an online forum that is already anonymous.
  36. hmockingbird

    hmockingbird

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    Huh? If the "abortion" one is referring to me, that is NOT what happened. I had an emergency surgery for a life-threatening non-gyn medical problem (obviously in cases like ectopic pregnancy an emergency abortion could be necessary) - though if you want to doubt me on the gyn part go ahead, as it is an anonymous forum. I didn't want to say what it was in my app because it was something that could easily arouse their suspicions that I was still not in good health, but a) I am in good health and was not as affected by the problem as it should have been (I was not permanently affected at all) and b) I wanted to be as brief as possible so that I could focus on coping skills/lessons learned. For people with chronic or severe health problems, even if it is in the past, it's a legitimate concern whether or not to put it on your application because schools want to know you are someone who will be able to go on to do their job, both in the time commitment sense (not having to take extensive time off) and in the technical standards sense. Even if you know it is not a problem, people still have biases and will make judgments and you might not want to risk that before you get an acceptance (which is when you can ask for accommodations if needed). Just check the confidential consult board and the special circumstances thread in What are my Chances where this is often discussed.

    If you want to judge me for what I decide to discuss about my medical history, that's cool. I see no need to broadcast my medical history when the specific problem itself is irrelevant... this is a discussion about how to euphemize a personal experience! It says nothing about how I would talk to a patient who is in the same or similar situation I was in, or in another situation where the specifics are actually relevant. I also reserve the right to only share those details with those I choose, thanks to HIPAA.

    And as always there is nothing wrong with being a more private person, especially in regards to a traumatic situation like the OP's.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2012
  37. StoicJosher

    StoicJosher Reality?? Check. Lifetime Donor

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    Nothing you do online is really anonymous.

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