Mental Illness and Admissions

Hello everyone,

This being my first post; I would like to say that OPM is the best resource I’ve discovered so far in the dream of becoming a doctor and I would like to thank OPM members for their time to pen their stories and advice for anyone to read and learn from. You all have given me the perspective that I needed to get back on track.

To start, I have a friend who has never been diagnosed for any mental illness but he has his suspicions. He told me that he has thought about seeing a psychologist because there are some aspects of life that he finds very difficult and taking a pill may be able to alleviate those difficulties. On the other hand, my friend has lived this way his entire life and so he has discovered mentally tiring forms of behavior modification to help with his difficulties. Thus, he doesn’t need medication as long as he can get enough sleep. This schism of thinking brings me to my first question: If a medical school applicant has a minor mental illness or personality disorder, (adult ADD or social anxiety) that they eloquently explain under adversities section on the AMCAS application would a COM admissions board dismiss them anyway for it?

Attempting to delineate that first question brings to my mind an experience of talking with an army recruiter over a decade ago. He told me that the army cannot recruit anyone who needs prescriptions as there is a high probability that they could become stranded without their medicine for long periods of time. That’s why I would have to wear glasses instead of contacts.

Are there any similar objective reasons for rejection of a pre-medical student because that student is taking medication to balance brain chemistry? Similarly, if someone has chosen cognitive behavioral therapy over medication for a mental illness, could COM admissions dismiss their application because of how facile they found diagnosis of the illness at the interview? Or, do COM admissions believe that someone with a mental illness could not make a good doctor(no matter the treatment)? Is there a post that already addresses the issue?

As I stated before I’m new to OPM and haven’t had enough time to go over all the posts yet. I’m having too much fun reading up on the references everyone gives in their posts (SOAP notes… brilliant! Kinesthetic learning… wow, that’s me!). Thanks again!

I was diagnosed with ADHD almost 20 years ago, and have been medicated off and on for nearly a decade within that period. Currently I am medicated for it, and while I can function just fine without it, my grades suffer, so I stay on my meds during school.

That being said, I have yet to mention it on any of my essays in my primary or secondary applications. I have refused to apply for or accept any special treatment or accommodations on account of my “disability”. I’m not going to lie or even avoid the subject if someone asks me about it outright, but I want to be judged based on my actual performance and experience, rather than give an excuse for why my grades aren’t amazing.

More than anything I imagine it is going to depend on what your friend’s illness is. Many of the secondary applications have sections for “technical requirements” and outline abilities that all med students must have. Things likes being able to effectively communicate with patients, remember information on short notice, have sufficient motor skills/abilities, etc. So as long as you are capable of those things, I would think he/she should be fine. Overcoming a disability in the pursuit of becoming a doctor is one thing; using said disability as an excuse (and I’m not saying that your friend is or has any plans to) for subpar performance is quite another.

My apologies for the tangent, it’s not directed at anyone in particular, just something I feel rather strongly about.

There is a wide range of diagnoses in the DSM IV. They include learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, substance dependence, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and psychotic disorders. Any one of these could be called “mental illness”. The stigmas and problems with social acceptability are different for each category. I think the critical pieces are:

Is it well controlled on medication? If symptoms are minimal or absent due to good medication compliance then there is no need for anyone to know - no more than if it were diabetes or high blood pressure or HIV for that matter.

Does it limit your abilities in a way that requires accomodations? Such as dyslexia, or in my case dyscalculia. If with accomodations, you still can fully function, the ADA requires schools, and jobs to NOT discriminate on the basis of disability. We have a physician on staff who has some hemiplegia status post CVA. He walks with a cane ( accomodation). He is still one of the best doctors we have. Accomodations include software, large print, use of calculators, etc.

If your friend has an AXIS I disorder, proper diagnosis and treatment means living their life symptom free and with the disorder virtually undetectable.

From someone who diagnoses and treats “mental illness” for a living…

I have a similar question. I was diagnosed with PTSD after my sophomore year of college. I saw my best friend get shot in the chest with an “unloaded” hunting rifle by an idiot we were hanging out with at the time. This is one of the reasons for my poor performance in undergad (3.2 overall after getting A’s for my last two years after a two and half year break). I was curious, would this even be something I mention or just note the break and how well I performed afterwards. I have no lingering issues, it was just a terrible thing to go through seeing that and being the one to hold the towels on the tennis ball sized hole from the exit wound on his back until the EMT’s arrived and being with him every day for three months in the ICU. What are everyone’s thoughts on how I should approach this given that I successfully navigate pre-req’s and MCAT?

This will make for a great personal statement if written properly.

I wouldn’t worry about it now. It is done. Make sure to communicate this, that’s what all these statements are for (most of us had unfortunate moments in the past). I think it will make you look very good in my opinion.

Also make sure to apply broadly and reasonably. Not that you cannot get into Harvard, but given the time, effort and money, perhaps it is wise to be more specific and realistic, at least for us OPMers, when it comes to picking schools. I think many tend to overlook the importance of establishing a good list of schools that will maximize your chances of success.

Best of luck.

as redo-it-all said, that would make for a good experience to write or talk about.

I would not mention the PTSD portion, but the rest is very engaging.

Thanks. I don’t think it was full blown PTSD, but that’s what the shrink said and it was only temporary. It just made me re-evaluate myself and the path I was on.

  • Banker2Doc Said:
I don't think it was full blown PTSD, but that's what the shrink said and it was only temporary.

Most likely Acute Stress Disorder - that's the initial temporary diagnosis for your reference