Tildy

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I am currently beginning the process of applying to medical school.
I have a good GPA (3.87) and I attend a high-ranked school.

I was abused when I was a child, and since then I have been suffering from severe mental illness (recurrent major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder).

I began receiving treatment last year, after having a massive episode that resulted in my having to drop out of school for a semester.

My GAD/MDD/PTSD are all currently in remission, and my BPD is controlled and getting better all the time.
Even while extremely sick, I have managed to achieve a high GPA and both my psychiatrist and I believe that I will be able to handle the stresses of medical school (I figure she'd know, being an MD herself).

However, I am interested in a career in psychiatry because of my experiences. Also, my volunteer experiences (crisis line work, running support groups for abuse survivors, LOTS of work related to mental illness and supporting others with mental illness) are REALLY tied to my own illness.

I'm not sure how to best present this in my applications/interviews.

I know that I can explain the gap in my transcript by just saying that I had a medical reason, but I feel like I will have to talk about my illness in at least some detail to really say why I want a medical career, and why I am qualified. Just by looking at my extracurriculars, it's pretty obvious that I'm mentally ill.

I'm not really sure how to spin this so that it doesn't look like I'm incompetent to practice medicine, but also have the chance to talk about my real assets and skills and reasons for wanting to be a doctor. Thoughts?
 

holyhekshler

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Jun 18, 2009
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Well - Who the hell knows if I'm in any way qualified to answer this question but I'm going to give it a shot : )

First off - as you already know, mental illness is most definitely tabu amongst healthcare practitioners and you are going to have to proceed with caution. However, I do not think it will disqualify you from the running. I wrote about another Very tabu subject in my PS - my own struggle with chronic pain. Like you, I am most interested in entering the field of pain management because of my experiences, and I know that I am a better person and will be a better doctor because of what I've been through. Many people advised me not to write about what I wrote about and I still got 5 interviews ( with pretty mediocre stats ) - clearly writing about something tabu is not a death sentence.

That being said - the tone of your post worries me a little. I come from a family with a lot of metal illness, and struggle with panic attacks and anxiety myself, and to hear you describe yourself as 'severely' mentally ill gives me pause. Severe is a strong word (one I certainly would not use on your apps:p). I just want to make sure that you yourself are certain that you will be able to handle the stress of med school without it being really detrimental to your health. I believe that you are the best judge of this but sometimes it is hard to be honest with ourselves. Needless to say, I'm sure there are tons and tons of doctors out there who deal with mental illness in some way or another. One of my family members struggles with what I would call 'moderate' mental illness but is totally functioning in a high stress job where they have to take care of people. It does not seem to after their work at all.

I took the mcat - and had a panic attack right smack in the middle of it (my worst fear realized!) - but kept on truckin. It was awful, but like you, I refuse to let panic (e.g.) hold me back. We all have stuff we deal with and no matter how alone you feel their will always be others dealing with similar issues - I see this more and more as I get older.

I think your strategy should be this:
Come right out and give them your motivations for wanting to be a physician - if one of them is overcoming mental illness then just say it. I would not, however, treat it as a current thing that is in any way out of control- I think this will certainly raise red flags. Treat it like it's in the past - something that you have learned from and can now move on. Be as non-dramatic as possible. DO NOT tell a sob story (this is not my personal opinion of you just what I think will make you more credible less 'mentally ill' looking). I had to make my story as dry as possible for it to work. Talk to as many people as you can about your experiences - doctors/premed counselor/parents/friends - find a way to tell your story without making people feel uncomfortable (again not my personal opinion). Have these people read your PS. I hope you get what I'm saying.

As I said, I'm glad your psychiatrist is on board with the med school thing but just be sure that you yourself are ready. The MCAT is a good test of a very high stress situation, see how you cope. The western approach to mental health has many flaws - this idea of being sick(another word you used) for life, etc - I'm sure you already know that most other cultures do not view mental illness this way and most of them are much more forgiving in terms of be able to get over mental illness, get well again etc.

If you want to pm me with any thoughts or questions (or your ps:p) I would be happy to share my thoughts. Good luck!
 

eforest

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I agree- definitely do not mention borderline personality disorder. Although it isn't really fair, this particular diagnosis has a tremendous stigma, even within the field of psychiatry. I know that the criteria for borderline allow for many different presentations- but there is still the huge stigma.

I also struggle with mental illness and had to explain an absence from school during residency interviews. I played it as something that happened but something that was unlikely to affect my ability to proceed through residency.

That is great that you have overcome so much!

Good luck:luck:
 

error404

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I agree- definitely do not mention borderline personality disorder. Although it isn't really fair, this particular diagnosis has a tremendous stigma, even within the field of psychiatry. I know that the criteria for borderline allow for many different presentations- but there is still the huge stigma. ...

Good luck:luck:
The huge stigma is because we're taught that personality disorders are not the result of childhood trauma and are not treatable. Any doctor who's had a patient with BPD knows how stereotypically insanely hard they are to work with (pardon the pun).