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Autobiography

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by PetriBabe, Apr 16, 2007.

  1. PetriBabe

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    Is honesty the answer?

    I have a troubled past. I struggled with eating disorders and bipolar I through ages 8 to 18. I've been fine for 4 years now. I have a 3.9 GPA, I intern, and I work. I'm applying this June. Still, I'm concerned with writing my personal statement and autobiography. My past is the reason I want to be a doctor, yet my past may hinder my acceptance.

    Of course, during an interview, they will ask why I missed a year of college (I was institutionalized), and why I want to be a doctor. This is the reason.

    Anyway...my pre-health adviser strongly urges me not to mention my history of mental illness.

    I don't know. An autobiography is a description of oneself over the years. Um, this is a 10 yr aspect of my life. The strength I've acquired from it makes me who I am today. How can I possibly leave that out?
    What else am I supposed to say. I don't want to fabricate a 6 page autobiography.

    What is your opinion on this one?
     
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  3. postbacker

    postbacker Banned
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    Listen to your adviser...at least you are not planning to use your PS to "explain" bad grades (parents divorced, dog died, I got sick - so many of these on SDN - I bet ADCOMs get sick of these)...but the stigma of mental illness is alive and well...leave it out.
     
  4. PetriBabe

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    I appreciate your response. I'm still conflicted. I read all these posts about honesty is the best policy...don't leave anything out in the autobiography. How am I supposed to write an autobiography without mentioning this?
    Mental illness does have a stigma. The important thing, however is that my past has not affected my GPA. It is a 3.9. Still, I DID take a one year medical leave. That information may be confidential. It was my first year of college when that happened. Perhaps it will just slip by.

    The words "mental illness" do carry a very negative connotation. I could definitely fish around those words with other ones.

    I was also just thinking about leaving the bipolar mess out of it and just talk about my 10 year struggle with eating disorders. Getting over that is one of my proudest accomplishments. I have also started a support group for others with eating disorders. I think that would be worth mentioning.

    This could explain why I want to be a doctor. Maybe I don't need to mention the bipolar. Most don't even categorize eating disorders as a mental illness.
     
  5. postbacker

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    Eating disorder is better than bipolar disorder for a PS, but I still would not talk about either in my PS (maybe that's just me - others will disagree - it is none of their business). I think one's medical history is strictly personal, especially when it can be "used against" you in something like competitive med school admissions. I would find some completely different tack that completely takes the focus off of your medical history.

    You might ask one of the SDN adcoms (Lizzy, etc) about this - look in the stickies and in the mentor forum.

    And please understand I do not judge you or anyone else as far as the stigma goes - I just think we have a long way to go in our society before the stigma goes away. Good luck.
     
  6. OncoCaP

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    I would follow your pre-med advisor's advice. An ADCOM is not your therapist or your friend (even though they can be very friendly and are doing an important job). Their job is to find reasons to accept you or reject you so that you can be ranked/compared to other applicants. Telling them about your mental illness would introduce a (potentially huge) minus that would need a (potentially huge, perhaps impossible in some minds) plus to offset it. I wouldn't lie about a period of time. If they ask what happened during a gap of time, I would tell them because I'm an open person. If I was much less open I might say that you were treated for a childhood illness from which you have fully recovered. If they keep probing, it could get uncomfortable and you could speak in generalities and remain positive and the interviewer would probably lay off.

    Anyway, back to your question, putting your illness in your autobiography throws in a wild card that my opinion is that could contribute to rejection more often than not (I'm not on an ADCOM so I'm guessing here). If you are willing to accept not being admitted because ADCOMs see your history as a huge risk and are willing to do something else to help people with bipolar get better diagnosis in the future (like working for an advocacy or support group) then yes, be true to yourself and tell them.

    Part of the issue here may be that you don't consider it to be honest or ethical not to tell your ADCOM. I would tend to agree with that perspective, but then again I was prepared to do other things with my life if I was rejected. If you get admitted with your ADCOM knowing about this situation, it would feel a lot better ... like you really weren't hiding the person you are.

    Just realize that you could be rejected from some or possibly even all schools because of this if you choose to put it in. If you are willing to accept the consequences of being open about this, then put it in. Since this is something they apparently have no legal right to ask about (otherwise it would be a checkbox), I would say don't give them a reason to reject you. I would have a sincere conversation with a physician familiar with your diagnosis and history to personally assure myself that medical school isn't going to cause a devastating relapse in your case.
     
  7. person

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    I would say absolutely do not mention it and I speak from experience. A few years back I applied with full disclosure regarding my history of mental illness. My reasoning was very much like yours, that my own experience was a major factor in my deciding to become a physician. I was aware of the stigma associated with it, but I was also very proud of the fact that I had overcome a significant hardship to achieve. Yes, schools want you to be honest. Yes, many secondary applications ask you to describe hardships you've had to face in your life. But remember this: there are plenty of applicants out there and although it would be illegal for them to discriminate against you based on your mental illness alone, it would be very hard to prove that a negative decision was not the result of the simple fact that there are many more applicants than places. They don't need you, so you shouldn't give them a reason not to want you. It's sad, it's abhorrent, but it's true. They told me that taking psychotropic medication was just like taking pills for high blood pressure, nothing to be ashamed of. It's not, but the majority of the world still doesn't view it that way.

    For the record, I did not get in.
     
  8. Tired

    Tired Fading away

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    Who asked you to write an autobiography? Seriously. They want a one-page personal statement, not a damn book. Don't think for one second they're going to be touched by your story, because they won't. They're doctors, they've seen a thousand people like you.

    What they will want to know is all about your "feelings of superpowers and being found mumbling by the side of the road". Then they'll want to know why you think the high-stress life of medicine won't trigger another episode. Then when you answer this insufficiently (which you will, because honestly, there's no good answer to this question), they'll probably reject you.

    I know this is a big deal to you. I know you're proud that you have overcome this obstacle. But an adcom looking at you will see a time-bomb waiting to go off. Skip it, get in based on your numbers, and pray you don't have a manic episode while you're in the O.R.

    [Disclaimer: I am not on any adcoms, and the above post represents only my personal common sense.]
     
  9. Tired

    Tired Fading away

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    Also, if that's a picture of you in your avatar, pull it down. There are adcom folks posting here, and who knows how many more simply read the threads without posting. Ditto if you have a Facebook/MySpace account talking about all this stuff. The internet is not anonymous. People will find out if you make your business public.
     
  10. postbacker

    postbacker Banned
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    Great point! More people on SDN should heed this advice...
     
  11. Anastasis

    Anastasis caffeinated for safety
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    Ditto - if you really want to retain your anonymity, you need to take that down.
     
  12. PetriBabe

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    Thank you everyone. I will not mention anything about bipolar I've decided, but I will mention my history with eating disorders...maybe lie and say I had one from age 8 - 14 instead of saying it went to 18.
    One of my extracurriculars is a support group for eating disorders.
    This may or may not touch them...but an eating disorder is something someone can recover from completely. There is no fear of relapse in my case.

    I don't fear any relapse for bipolar either...but they of course...would not believe that. If anything, all I fear is depression. I have little bouts of it...but who doesn't? I will completely leave this out. As far as my future...my doctor is starting to think that I'm not bipolar at all. Wouldn't that be great. To train myself for medical school, I've made my life as stressful as possible. So far, so good.

    We do have to write an autobiography. First, there must be a personal statement, second...there was be a 6 page autobiography single spaced. That is a requirement. I sure as hell don't want to talk about myself for 6 pages...especially since I must leave a huge chunk of my life out.

    As far as my academics...GPA...MCAT (which I will be taking in august)...is that enough? Great...I'd talk about how I study 10 hours a day. How boring is that? I believe an ADCOM doesn't want to be put to sleep.

    The numbers are great, but I don't think a medical school wants a maniacal bore either. I will talk about my internship. I shadow a D.O (although I want to go allopathic). She received a 5 year specialty in neuromuscular skeletal manipulation. She does some very interesting treatments...LOL.

    Beyond that, I wonder if I have enough extracurriculars. I'll volunteer this summer, but that is too little too late. I want to apply early (this JUNE).

    I would be completely at ease if it wasn't for this autobiography.
     
  13. Doctor~Detroit

    Doctor~Detroit this poll sux!!!

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    is this autobio for a school(s) you're applying to? or for your lor service? if the schools you apply to aren't going to see it, maybe you can let whoever it's going to know that you don't want certain information discussed in your letters. i've never heard of this autobio business. sounds like a p.i.t.a.
     
  14. Dr. Josh

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    Agreed. I never understand why people would post photos of themselves only to be later identified. It's even worse when you are opening your personal life to all who may later meet you and to adcomms who may use it against you.

    And for the record do NOT mention the bipolar stuff. If you have a strong positive outcome to show you have overcome the eating disorder and grew from it and that you are cured of it, perhaps use that but remember it could backfire.

    Edit: and some males may even recognize your chest.:p
     
  15. postbacker

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    I have not applied to med school, but I have not heard of a 6 page autobiography requirement, only a short PS...who is asking you for this?

    Your PS and med school apps will go MUCH better for you if you can figure out how to write a compelling PS WITHOUT any of the personal medical history, including eating disorders - again, there is stigma that you are a "weak" or unstable person...for example, would you mention that you are a recovering alcoholic? - I wouldn't...I would not even mention that I had had cancer...your medical stuff is nobody's business...and I really believe it can only hurt your chances of admission to focus your PS on this...again, good luck, and lose the photo if that is you...
     
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  17. PetriBabe

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    The pre-health adviser said this. He also taught a 2 credit course a couple years ago...much emphasis put on the autobiography. I've heard about it during AMSA meetings.

    If I just had to write a personal statement it would be no big deal.
    This is good news if I don't have to write one.
     
  18. Doctor~Detroit

    Doctor~Detroit this poll sux!!!

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    maybe he meant you had to write one if they are writing you a lor, prolly so they can talk about more than your academic record.
     
  19. postbacker

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    I just now notice you have some serious app timing issues...you plan to take the August MCAT and also apply for the upcoming cycle? Beware the downside of this...SDN is littered with bad outcomes tied to late apps (late app completions)...

    Also - it would seem to me that you should have turned in a 6 page autobiography (for your committee?) long before now if it is going to feed into their LOR for you...when, exactly, will they have the committee letter done? This could seriously delay your app timing...
     
  20. Tired

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    I certainly never had to write a 6-page autobiography. Honestly, if that were a requirement, I would have told them to shove it up their ***, and would've gone off to grad school.

    That would have been sweet.
     
  21. PetriBabe

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    Oh man...I'm getting really confused now. I originally thought I'd need 2 more years to graduate...but I've decided to have a crazy schedule next year...

    epidemiology
    neurobiology
    microbial metabolism
    immunology + lab
    biochemistry
    molecular biology of the gene part II
    molecular pharmacology of the cell
    endocrinology

    This is possible...25 creds next year...just hard classes. I'll have my bachelors in microbiology and molecular biology after this.

    IDK...maybe I do need an extra year.

    But, the pre-health adviser said that you can put in your primary application to AMCAS before you take the MCAT.

    This guy is so busy. The soonest appt. I made 2 weeks ago is MID JUNE!
    He has been answering all my questions...back and forth through emails.

    Anyway...he sees no problem in submitting a primary app to AMCAS before taking the MCAT
     
  22. PetriBabe

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    Thanks for the laugh! I wish I could tell them to shove it.
    I have a friend that had to write a 3.5 page autobiography for dental school this weekend. He goes, "I've only been alive for 22 years...how the hell am I supposed to write about myself for that long."

    Ha...at least he doesn't have to leave anything out. I'll have to leave out a 10 year chunk of my life. Weird...I see it all as a benefit rather than something that would hold me back. After getting through my past, I have the confidence to anything. If I conquered bipolar and eating disorders, I can get through medical school.

    I really do hate this process. Seriously, I feel so bad for asking about LORs. It kind of undermines the purpose of what you did. It's like, "OH...um...can you write a letter about how great I am."
    I'm dreading asking the doctor I shadow. I didn't do it for a letter you know?
     
  23. LizzyM

    LizzyM the evil queen of numbers
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    Do not mention your illnesses by name in any statements you give to your pre-med committee or the med school adcoms. You can call it a chronic illness, a serious illness, a chronic condition and a serious illness, an acute flare-up of a chronic illness.... any interviewer would have to be extremely ballsy to ask you your diagnosis and so they just won't touch it.

    Your privacy concerning your personal medical condition deserves to be preserved and you should be at the forefront of protecting your privacy. Don't put it out there and no one will be able to discriminate against you on the basis of your past medical condition.

    I agree that a six page autobiography sounds like a lot. Find out if it is a six page maximum (but you can write less). Although you may not know it, an autobiography can go into detail about your parents background and careers, your place in the family (siblings? which are you in number order? what are your sibs doing in school or career?) and the environment in which you were raised and educated (region of the country, rural, suburban, urban, inner-city) and whether your family relocated over time and if there were multiple generations in the household (e.g. you shared a house with grandparents & other relatives), and the type of schools you attended (public (if so, selective enrollment?), charter, parochial, private, day-school, boarding school, home schooled). What were the schools like in terms of size, funding, the diversity (or lack of diversity) in the student body and the socioeconomic status of the school community. You can also mention extracurricular activities both as a child and as a young adult. Some writers might add something about religious/spiritual beliefs and milestone events particularly if they relate to one's interest in medicine and healing.

    Good luck, OP!
     
  24. PetriBabe

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    Why thank you. I just found out today that the autobiography can be a minimum of 3.5 pages and a max of 6. It is only for the purpose of the my school's committee to put together a packet. I don't believe any medical school will be reading the autobiography. They will only receive my personal statement.

    I've racked my brain all day since posting this morning.
    I even received an encouraging email from the pre-health counselor...the guy that puts together the packets. He knows of my past...mainly because of the medical leave I took 4 years ago. He does not use it against me in anyway...but actually sees it as a strength. The following is what he wrote regarding my concerns with statements.

    - I wish that admissions committees were more compassionate and caring in their approach to applicants with a prior medical history, particularly when the medical issues have been resolved. In ***, during my years of serving in the committee until I came to *****in 2004, I argued heatedly at meetings about the unfairness of holding applicants accountable for medical issues not of their making, with mixed success. You should do what you feel is right for you to do, but I would never forgive myself if I didn't warn you of the risks involved. I still remember their typical answers to my arguments: what if there is a recurrence? I suggest that you try to compromise somewhat in what you are going to expose about yourself. You have no obligation to disclose anything medical that may compromise your admission chances, since you will be doing nothing wrong in withholding that privileged information. I appreciate the fact that those experiences triggered your passion for the profession, and that without mentioning them the persuasiveness of your autobiography and/or personal statement may be weakened. Perhaps you should concentrate on the eating disorder aspect rather than on the bipolar issues, since committees are typically more concerned about what they don't understand despite their own medical knowledge (80% of my committee members were clinicians). The critical item that needs to be made very clear to the readers of your statements is that, despite the severity of your medical disorders, you have overcome them successfully thanks to the perseverance and understanding of the physician that finally solved the problem.

    In the end, it is up to you to make the decision, and all I can do is to offer you whatever wisdom I have collected during my ** years as an adviser. At some point, before you send your application, we must discuss this matter in detail again. For the time being, please reflect on the above and try to protect your chances during an admissions process that is far from being fair. Warm regards.


    Thanks everyone.
     
  25. ssquared

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    This is an interesting thread, because I find it disheartening that people who have truly struggled and succeeded in life may be denied the opportunity to pursue medicine if they are straightforward about their past.

    My cousin is bi-polar, and she has managed to get through a lot. She is now getting her PhD in psychology, but I imagine that medical schools would not have looked favorably upon her.

    It's a sad state of affairs when it's ok to say "I had cancer" or "I had knee surgery" in a PS but saying "I had depression" is not. Surely surviving knee surgery is not of the magnitude of overcoming depression...
     

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