Jun 13, 2015
65
7
Status
  1. Pre-Medical
Hello all,

I graduated with a bachelor's of science in neuroscience and completed the pre-med curriculum in 2016 from a top-ranked research university in the US. Yes, I participated in research but was never published or anything. I was also a college athlete. Unfortunately, during that time I was struggling with what would later be diagnosed as alcohol use disorder. I was a full blown alcoholic for my four years of college but I was still able to graduate with a 3.0 average.

With my grades at a very sub-par level as far as med school was concerned, I took a job in the biotech field and moved to a different part of the country from where I grew up. Here, I started a relationship with a person that made me feel more confident. I didn't quit drinking, but I cut back substantially. With my newfound sense of optimism I decided to enroll at the local college and figured if I could take a bunch of upper-level science courses for a year (and a summer) and ace them all, I'd be able to get into the post-bacc at the local medical school and later get into med school there.
Well, for a year it worked out great! I wasn't just an A student, but I was consistently among the top 5 students in each of my classes as far as grade percentages were concerned. I felt pretty confident that I'd be able to get into med school. Unfortunately, I had another mental illness that reared its ugly head and that is bipolar disorder.
Unfortunately, as I was preparing for my final exams at this local university I started having some serious problems with my mental health. I couldn't sleep at all, had racing thoughts, and had difficulty even paying attention to lecture reviews or even reading simple passages. I was very sick and despite having all As in my classes up to that point in the semester, I failed two of my final exams. Directly after the final I was actually hospitalized for a week for a "mixed-episode" and I was crushed. My family heavily stigmatizes mental illness and behaved very differently towards me because of my hospitalization. My partner and I broke up, and I thought my med school dreams were over and kind of retreated back into alcoholism. I finished my last semester with an A, a B+, a C+, and a D+ as for this class 60% of the final grade was weighted on the final exam which I failed.
Well, for about two years I barely worked and supported myself by selling stocks in a trust fund that I had inherited in order to pay for my graduate education.
Eventually I got into AA and met a great psychiatrist and my life got so much better. Sober me was able to hold down a job, and just be a functional member of society. I love my newfound life but I still keep going back to the idea of becoming a physician via completing a post-bacc program.
I am thinking of studying hard to get a great score on the MCAT to get into a one year post-bacc program.
My question is, if it comes up, is how to explain my mediocre college grades and the sudden decline in my academic performance due to my mental illness. I was told by my psychiatrist that as long as I am medication compliant and abstain from alcohol use, I shouldn't ever have to deal with any symptoms relating to my bipolar disorder again. I contacted the university where I was taking these upper-level courses and they told me that I would be unable to apply for a retroactive medical withdrawal from any classes as I did pass them and earn credit.
So I can't say that I am a recovering alcoholic or that I am bipolar in any kind of essay or interview for obvious reasons, but how can I address these issues in my transcript? I believe that I am more than suited for the task of succeeding in medical school but I need to show it somehow. For this reason I would like to do the post bacc. I just don't want my sub-par undergraduate grades and serious mental illness crises keep me from accomplishing what I know I am capable of and getting into a post bacc program. If I apply to medical school or a post-bacc I anticipate questions relating to these difficulties in my academic record and would like some help in answering them. Can I just say that I got sick and was hospitalized during my last semester as a continuing student? How can I respond to these concerns without raising any red-flags?
I'd appreciate any insight.
Worst comes to worst, I may decide to apply to a nursing program or master in healthcare administration program to satisfy my desire to work in healthcare but I’d hope to not have to.
Thank you for reading.
 
Jun 13, 2015
65
7
Status
  1. Pre-Medical
Also, to address any concerns relating to previous posts, I lied and said I had a concussion as I was too ashamed to admit my mental illness even in an anonymous forum.
 
Aug 23, 2019
47
73
I just want to thank you for sharing your story with us and that I hope you are able to continue to find peace with your background. I'm sorry I don't have much to contribute.
 
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Goro

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Jun 10, 2010
63,656
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You can say "health issues" and that's as far as you have to go.

You need to go into this eyes open. Medical school is a furnace, and I've seen it break even healthy students. The #1 reason my school loses students to withdrawal, dismissal or LOA is to unresolved mental health issues. Honestly, I made an involuntary gasp when I read your story. A long stretch of academic excellence will allay any Adcom's concerns, however.

@Mad Jack , what say you?
 
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Reactions: 1 user
Jun 13, 2015
65
7
Status
  1. Pre-Medical
You can say "health issues" and that's as far as you have to go.

You need to go into this eyes open. Medical school is a furnace, and I've seen it break even healthy students. The #1 reason my school loses students to withdrawal, dismissal or LOA is to unresolved mental health issues. Honestly, I made an involuntary gasp when I read your story. A long stretch of academic excellence will allay any Adcom's concerns, however.

@Mad Jack , what say you?
Thanks for the response.
 
May 16, 2020
577
1,405
Somewhere in New England
Status
  1. Attending Physician
  2. Academic Administration
You are still very young, so you have time. Do a post-bacc. Volunteer, shadow, etc. Give yourself enough time in recovery that you are certain that the stress of going to medical school won't cause another meltdown.
 
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Jun 13, 2015
65
7
Status
  1. Pre-Medical
You can say "health issues" and that's as far as you have to go.

You need to go into this eyes open. Medical school is a furnace, and I've seen it break even healthy students. The #1 reason my school loses students to withdrawal, dismissal or LOA is to unresolved mental health issues. Honestly, I made an involuntary gasp when I read your story. A long stretch of academic excellence will allay any Adcom's concerns, however.

@Mad Jack , what say you?
What is LOA
You are still very young, so you have time. Do a post-bacc. Volunteer, shadow, etc. Give yourself enough time in recovery that you are certain that the stress of going to medical school won't cause another meltdown.

Thanks. I don't think stress caused my mixed episode. I think it was something that just happened to be getting worse over a long period of time. As I started to sleep less and less I think it just got worse. I think I thought I could power through it but I couldn't, it just got worse.
 

Bloobury

7+ Year Member
Feb 10, 2013
110
328
Status
  1. Non-Student
I can't advise re: how to frame it in your application, but I do know three MD's who had substance use problems during undergrad/med school/residency and I've done some work with people with co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders.

- One had to take a LOA during residency to go to inpatient treatment for alcohol use and has now been sober for a few years but has to do UA's every month as part of a 5-year monitoring program
- One left residency/clinical practice after some legal issues related to alcohol use and now does non-clinical work and has been sober for a number of years
- One had ALL kinds of problems (including risky behaviors, stealing drugs, etc) and lost their license, went to jail, and can never practice medicine again

I don't know the third well at all (just met in passing while I was doing a training for a residential treatment facility in which the person was residing as part of their sentencing), but I can say that one of the others is completely burned out and feels like residency was an awful experience, even without having a mental illness. I follow some people on twitter who are open about their experiences with mental illness in the medical profession and seem to be doing well. It's not impossible, but it does sound very hard.

If you can get to a few years of stability and sobriety and have a really solid support system and understanding of yourself, I'm sure it's possible. If you're really strongly interested in medicine, I'd say just do the postbacc and see how you do. You may be able to find a mentor who is a physician in recovery/or diagnosed bipolar if you put yourself out there by asking around. There are special AA groups for medical professionals (caduceus groups) and other resources for physician wellbeing. Someone who has been through it directly would be the best to talk to, IMHO.
 
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TragicalDrFaust

2+ Year Member
May 27, 2017
222
205
Status
  1. Medical Student
We have some significant commonalities in our backgrounds. PM if you want to know more. According to my applications essays and my interviews, I took 3 years off after my freshman year for "financial reasons", which... wasn't untrue, and immediately pivoted to how much I learned working full time to support myself as a shift leader at a coffee shop at age 19. You can definitely spin it. Take control of the narrative before they can ask. And if you must, once you say "health reasons" they're not going to be able ask anything else. Your mental health, since you're taking care of it, needn't stop you from getting into and succeeding in medical school. That being said, it seems like you have a lot of GPA repair to do. I would suggest buckling down for 3 months to study for the MCAT and use that to diagnose the viability of your application before investing time and finances in dedicated GPA repair.
 
Jun 13, 2015
65
7
Status
  1. Pre-Medical
We have some significant commonalities in our backgrounds. PM if you want to know more. According to my applications essays and my interviews, I took 3 years off after my freshman year for "financial reasons", which... wasn't untrue, and immediately pivoted to how much I learned working full time to support myself as a shift leader at a coffee shop at age 19. You can definitely spin it. Take control of the narrative before they can ask. And if you must, once you say "health reasons" they're not going to be able ask anything else. Your mental health, since you're taking care of it, needn't stop you from getting into and succeeding in medical school. That being said, it seems like you have a lot of GPA repair to do. I would suggest buckling down for 3 months to study for the MCAT and use that to diagnose the viability of your application before investing time and finances in dedicated GPA repair.
Thank you for your thoughtful reply.
 
Jun 13, 2015
65
7
Status
  1. Pre-Medical
I can't advise re: how to frame it in your application, but I do know three MD's who had substance use problems during undergrad/med school/residency and I've done some work with people with co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders.

- One had to take a LOA during residency to go to inpatient treatment for alcohol use and has now been sober for a few years but has to do UA's every month as part of a 5-year monitoring program
- One left residency/clinical practice after some legal issues related to alcohol use and now does non-clinical work and has been sober for a number of years
- One had ALL kinds of problems (including risky behaviors, stealing drugs, etc) and lost their license, went to jail, and can never practice medicine again

I don't know the third well at all (just met in passing while I was doing a training for a residential treatment facility in which the person was residing as part of their sentencing), but I can say that one of the others is completely burned out and feels like residency was an awful experience, even without having a mental illness. I follow some people on twitter who are open about their experiences with mental illness in the medical profession and seem to be doing well. It's not impossible, but it does sound very hard.

If you can get to a few years of stability and sobriety and have a really solid support system and understanding of yourself, I'm sure it's possible. If you're really strongly interested in medicine, I'd say just do the postbacc and see how you do. You may be able to find a mentor who is a physician in recovery/or diagnosed bipolar if you put yourself out there by asking around. There are special AA groups for medical professionals (caduceus groups) and other resources for physician wellbeing. Someone who has been through it directly would be the best to talk to, IMHO.
I'll check out what you mentioned, sounds interesting.
 

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