Personal statements and dark secrets... keep in the bag or let out?

Quik

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Alright people, I'm at least a year out from beginning the drafting of my personal statement, but this question has been on my mind quite a bit lately, and I can't decide one way or the other on how to frame my past in the context of my personal statement....

So, say you had some very dark secrets in your closet about your past and/or your family, contributing to why you want to become a doctor and are applying to medical school. Say these secrets involve your "daddy issues" like, maybe your father was an abusive drug dealer and unfortunately you were raised by his influence, which may have contributed to some less than stellar decisions and or actions in your past (let's not make any assumptions about what decisions, we'll likely be wrong). However, after being awakened to and conquering your own problems, you found what was your calling into medicine and pursued it with determination and focus.

While revealing this type of dramatic juice may be shocking and get the adcoms attention, I'm not sure it would be for the better. Thus, I bring it to the masses through the anonymity of the internet to get a sense whether or not this may be wise for one to divulge in the admissions process.

What do you think? Any suggestions on how to frame this?
 

kekes

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Nov 28, 2010
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I would be as honest in your application as is necessary to explain who you are & what you'd like to accomplish. If events in your life have influenced your decision making and you can reflect upon that experience in an articulate manner (and wise enough to know better), you should include that information. This is especially true if this problem/secret influenced any negative aspects of your app such as poor academic semester, bad mcat performance, etc. If the info is really integral to who you are, you should also prepare to talk about this aspect of yourself in interviews. If it's really crucial & you can tell your story well (and I certainly hope you have someone who can give you essay feedback) include it. But if you think that the problem /secret makes no difference to who you are as a person, leave it in the past.
 

Goro

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It's OK to mention something bad in the context of how you've overcome it. I've read essays from people who were rape victims, or were the children of abusers, criminals, alcoholics, drug addicts, or mentally ill, or combinations of the five!

Do NOT use a "dark secret" as an explanation for poor academic performance, that's an excuse, not an explanation.

Alright people, I'm at least a year out from beginning the drafting of my personal statement, but this question has been on my mind quite a bit lately, and I can't decide one way or the other on how to frame my past in the context of my personal statement....

So, say you had some very dark secrets in your closet about your past and/or your family, contributing to why you want to become a doctor and are applying to medical school. Say these secrets involve your "daddy issues" like, maybe your father was an abusive drug dealer and unfortunately you were raised by his influence, which may have contributed to some less than stellar decisions and or actions in your past (let's not make any assumptions about what decisions, we'll likely be wrong). However, after being awakened to and conquering your own problems, you found what was your calling into medicine and pursued it with determination and focus.

While revealing this type of dramatic juice may be shocking and get the adcoms attention, I'm not sure it would be for the better. Thus, I bring it to the masses through the anonymity of the internet to get a sense whether or not this may be wise for one to divulge in the admissions process.

What do you think? Any suggestions on how to frame this?
 

wholeheartedly

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I'm intrigued and interested. I think you should write about it in your PS.
That's really not a good reason. The point isn't to be intriguing or interesting.

OP. I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about this question as well. My friends still can't believe I am where I am after the crap I went through and it did play a big role in how became interested in medicine, albeit through slightly indirect means. At the very least it could sure point to an ability to overcome adversity or deal with challenges as gets asked about in secondaries. I won't be mentioning it my personal statement or anywhere else in my app though.

The goal of the personal statement is to answer the question why medicine. If your experience plays a large role in how you came to medicine, then it might be relevant.

The problem is its a very delicate balance to strike to weave that in while coming across the right way. Overall you want the personal statement to have positive tone. You want the reviewer to advocate for an interview invite or whatever, not be depressed or want to strangle your dad after reading it. You might open the door more to questions like why not psychology or social work, which might be easy enough to answer. You might accidentally come across as maybe wanting pity for your experience or as Goro mentioned looking to excuse poor decisions.

You might write about it and totally knock it out of the park, but I think you need to be careful going that route and have lots of people review it for tone, content, and how well it answers the question. Be prepared to talk about anything you write about in an interview, so if its still painful or uncomfortable or likely to bring on some tears you might not want to add that to an already stressful day.
 

WaterCLurker

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Nov 6, 2013
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I've helped a lot of friends with their personal statements and whenever they wrote about a personal tragedy inspiring them to pursue medicine, they never quite incorporated it well enough that it flowed. Consequently, it read like they were taking a deeply personal and emotional tragedy and turning it for shock value; if the experience really shaped them in such a profound way, how could they speak about it so briefly/flippantly and lump it together with some relatively meaningless extracurricular in the same paragraph (e.g. dying cancer kid and winning my intramural football tournament really inspired me to pursue my dreams)? So I suppose what I'm saying is that if you can write about the event well enough to do it and yourself justice, then go ahead. If not, it's probably best to focus on something else.
 
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Pose

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I wrote my PS about my very dark past and childhood. I made sure to not seem like a complainer, and to tie it directly into why I want to be a doctor, and how it helped prepared me (resourcefulness, adaptability, etc.). It seemed well received by my interviewers. But try to spin it in a positive or something. Don't use it as an excuse.
 

Beandog

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Be yourself. If that history is a part of who you are today and is directing your future (as desire to a physician), it is pertainant information. When written so as not to cover up or shock, but to explain your direction and ambition, I would consider it a great part of a PS.
 

pietachok

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That's really not a good reason. The point isn't to be intriguing or interesting.
Given a pile of essays that all are very similar to one another, yes there is merit to being intriguing or interesting. If someone wants to speak to you because they are intrigued that you could overcome such adversity, that's in your favor. If someone think's you sound so interesting that you'd brings something unique to their student body, that's in your favor.

Alright people, I'm at least a year out from beginning the drafting of my personal statement, but this question has been on my mind quite a bit lately, and I can't decide one way or the other on how to frame my past in the context of my personal statement....

What do you think? Any suggestions on how to frame this?
Only do it if you can do it maturely (i.e. avoiding terms like "daddy issues" of course) and in a way that is clearly relevant to your desire to pursue medicine and/or does not seem like a sob story. Do not use your PS to explain bad academic performance (if you mention your life was totally derailed and that's part of your path to becoming a physician, that's fine, but don't specifically start making excuses for academics, etc.). If you need to explain how your family drama and trauma has hurt your academics there are additional prompts that allow you to convey that, including "disadvantaged status" on AMCAS and a wide variety of applicable questions on secondaries.
 
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It's worth considering that you will write many application essays, most of which will center on a core handful of topics, including the 'challenge' or 'greatest challenge' essays. Some schools also ask for narrative biographies of a type.

Your personal statement should answer the question 'why medicine?'. If these topics are part of that explanation, then sure, use them. But if it isn't quite working in the personal statement, there are likely to be other places on your applications it could be appropriate to bring up your history. I would start looking at the secondary questions for schools you are likely to consider (they are posted in the school-specific threads, and rarely change from year to year) to get an idea about what you'll need to write about beyond the personal statement.
 

wholeheartedly

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Given a pile of essays that all are very similar to one another, yes there is merit to being intriguing or interesting. If someone wants to speak to you because they are intrigued that you could overcome such adversity, that's in your favor. If someone think's you sound so interesting that you'd brings something unique to their student body, that's in your favor.

My point wasn't that you shouldn't be interesting or intriguing, rather that your objective is to answer "why medicine?" After reading quite a few posts by adcoms over the years it seems that objective gets forgotten/overshadowed sometimes by people trying to write about interesting experiences and making themselves sound unique without tying into the why medicine question. So yes if you're really awesome, you do both.
 
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Quik

Quik

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Thank you, all of you. All of your points are well taken. For the record, the "daddy issues" comment was just an attempt to keep it light and somewhat humorous here in the forum.

It seems the overarching sentiment here is that, if it plays a role in my choice to pursue medicine, then yes, write about it in the PS. If not, maybe write about it elsewhere. While it certainly does play a role in my choice, it's a story of many twists and turns, exposing many of my skeletons that while I'm comfortable talking about, I'm not certain they're what I want my Personal Statement to focus on. Well, I'll have plenty of time to consider it, and will likely draft half a dozen personal statements and again run them by the PS reading crew on here.

Thanks again!
 
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vc7777

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My point wasn't that you shouldn't be interesting or intriguing, rather that your objective is to answer "why medicine?" After reading quite a few posts by adcoms over the years it seems that objective gets forgotten/overshadowed sometimes by people trying to write about interesting experiences and making themselves sound unique without tying into the why medicine question. So yes if you're really awesome, you do both.
This isn't a screening for next season of Jerry Springer. :) This is a medical school interview. Keep you eye on the prize and answer the question sufficiently. Don't expect special consideration simply because of your circumstances. You can use it to explain your intended career path, but no matter what you say you can be assured there is another applicant with a bigger/crazier/more amazing story than yours.
 
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LizzyM

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Although listing your parents by name is an option and not a requirement on the AMCAS application, most applicants list their parents names. If you choose to "bad mouth" your father and reveal his illegal and/or immoral activities, I would strongly recommend that you omit his name. He many not have a good name to be sullied but he does not deserve to have his misdeeds advertised to your supposed advantage in med admission. You wouldn't be expected to spill a patient's dirty laundry to make yourself look good, all the more so you should treat your father with dignity, he deserves as much as a human being.