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masalachai

Mental Health And Medical School

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Hi, everyone.

 

I visited the forum a few years ago but I've since forgotten my username/password and so I made a new account.

 

This isn't really a 'what are my chances' thread. I messed up my first undergrad degree really badly and I already know that the only way I have a decent shot at a medical school in Canada is with a stellar second degree, amazing MCAT scores, decent ECs and some luck. My question is more along the lines of whether all of this is worth pursuing for someone who has a history of struggles with mental health issues, a struggle that's far from over. My plan for pursuing a second undergrad was derailed for a few years because of a combination of personal problems and mental health issues. This year, I finally thought I had things under control and enrolled in non-degree courses at university, full-time. I was doing really well until I was hit again with severe depression and anxiety during the middle of it all. I had to defer all my final assignments and exams, which I'm now in the process of finishing up.

 

This experience has really made me re-consider my plans for medical school. I know that I have what it takes intellectually. My dismal performance in my first degree was more a result of my horrible study habits, inattentiveness, and struggles with mental health which could have all been avoided had I gotten the help I needed much earlier. But I've come to realize that being in school does exacerbate my mental health issues. And as it turns out, I might also have ADD. Working as a physician would be something I would love to do if I was lucky enough to, but the path to get there is no walk in the park. I really have my work cut out for me, and I'm not that young anymore (currently 28).

 

I can't for the life of me seem to figure out what to do. I'm just here looking for perspective from others who are going through or have gone through similar struggles. Did your mental health put you at a disadvantage on your path to med school? what kind of support did you get? For those who are already in medical school or practicing medicine, has it impacted your ability to be a good physician? And would you do it again?

 

Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks, guys.

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A very brave message.  

I think a question is as a future physician (or healer) whether you feel you would be able to emotionally both handle the demands of med school as well as be able to deliver patient centered care.  My experience is that a second degree is demanding.  Nonetheless, if you feel you are able to commit to a second degree and the subsequent path it may be worth it if you are really interested.  

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I have struggled a lot with mental health issues. Took me a decade to find a medication that worked well enough for me so that my anxiety and depression didn't consume me, and I have spent a lot of time with professionals to help me get to where I am now. The drug was the final piece I needed, and fortunately I found it before I started first year (I'm a first degree non-trad.)

 

Quite honestly, I would recommend getting your symptoms very firmly under control before you progress further. I don't think there is anything wrong with someone who has mental health issues pursuing medicine - I'm doing it myself, after all, currently sitting in an airport since I'm travelling to an interview - but I do think you need to get to a point where you are stable and managing well, or you may well be setting yourself up for a great deal of frustration, as you've clearly already experienced.

 

I would really strongly suggest seeing someone, if you haven't been doing so regularly, and have them help you develop coping mechanisms for the high stress game that this is. Clearly your current coping mechanisms didn't come through when you needed them, so it's time to re-evaluate.

 

I wish you the best of luck in dealing with this.

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Can't give you much specific advice, but I know several academic staff physicians who have struggled with mental illness in one form or another but still have careers where they are respected by their colleagues because they are good docs. 

 

Persevere.

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Many successful doctors have mental health problems. At the family practice I am working at we have had a few residents come in for counseling and mental health management. I have also seen fellow med students at the student wellness center. I'm only shortly into medical school, but I find that when I talk to patients, I am so involved in the conversation and the process that I forget anything going on in my life outside of work. So you can certainly manage from that aspect.

 

However, I think your biggest challenge, as you know, will be studying the material and memory retention when you don't have that distraction of the patient interaction and clinical workflow. Some weeks I put in three times as much effort and stretch out the days studying because energy, mood, and concentration are not on my side. It is doable, but you will have to push yourself to your fullest, and draw upon as many resources as you have access to. Reach out to friends, family, use CBT, exercise, make time for hobbies, and most importantly, since this has been going on for a long time, talk to a good family doctor. 

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Your experiences with depression and anxiety should not stop you from becoming a physician. In fact, they will likely make you a more empathetic one (especially regarding patients that also face MH struggles). I will mention this however - Med school is a strenuous process and many people find their depression or anxiety issues exacerbated. I suffered from mild anxiety prior to med school but I have since developed depression, and more debilitating anxiety since beginning med school. Not saying this happens to everyone, but it's not uncommon. I think it's smart that you are working to take care of yourself. Good luck!

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Learning to cope with depression/anxiety will give you a better handle on how to manage your emotions when faced with stressful situations. People who haven't had to do that work may not know how to handle the challenges medical school or dental school present. I've personally known two very bright 3rd year entrants who both became depressed during med/dental school. They'd never had any such problems before so they really didn't know how to deal.  

 

You may want to look into mindful meditation for stress relief for some coping strategies. However, without medication to lift you out of your initial low, it may be very hard to pursue new cognitive habits. Also, keep in mind that support networks are key. Get a group of people around you who are driven to do well in school and keep to studying with them even if it's initially hard to motivate yourself. 

 

Hope that helps.

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i'm going to do some real talk. You won't like it, but I am trying to speak from a purely objective perspective.

 

You're 28. Getting a 2nd degree will take another 3 to 4 years. Medical school will take another 4 years. Residency will take another 2 to 5 years. You may even need to do another fellowship or two depending on your speciality. All said and done, you'll be in your late 30s, if not your 40s by the time you are fully practicing. This is assuming you get into medical school right off the bat without a hitch and that you get matched to a residency without a hitch. If you need to take a stress leave or medical leave at any point, tack on a year or two on top of that.

 

Like you said, medical school and residency is no walk in the park. Amidst all that, you'll be travelling for electives, moving across the country for medical school or residency, write hundreds of exams, do endless clinical exams, spend nights studying your brains out, be on call 24 hours a day, lose sleep, and be at the beck and call of residents and attendings. If you were in your early 20s with a pre-existing degree that might not be so bad, but your situation is different. You're starting at square one at age 28.

 

It sounds like school is a trigger for your stress and mental health issues. Medical school will not make that any better. Yes, there are student supports and yes, you can ask for exceptions for exams, clerkships, residencies, etc. to accommodate your mental health issues. But the reality is that becoming a doctor is a long grind. Lots of people in medicine, attendings, your fellow peers, professors, other people simply don't care that you have a mental health issues and you'll be treated just like everyone else. You'll be told to suck it up. Is it fair? No. Is it the reality? Yes.

 

Even those without mental health issues have a hard time going through medical school and residency. It will suck at many times during your medical training, and you will have more depression and anxiety because of medical school.

 

Yes, everyone tells you that they know doctors who have mental illnesses and are doing great and well-respected by their peers. But you shouldn't use this to sugar coat the fact that having a mental illness and being a doctor is generally not a healthy mix. There is a reason why 10% of physicians have substance use problems and a 4x higher suicide rate than the baseline population.

 

All said, it's obivously your decision to go for this or not. Ask yourself why do you want to be a physician and be honest with yourself. There is nothing wrong with being a PA, RN, OT, PT, SLP, etc...

 

Don't let the romanticized idea of being a doctor cloud the real impacts of being a physician will have on your existing mental health issues. Because when it's all said and done, ask yourself if the real toll of going through to becoming a physician over the next decade on your mental health is worth it. In my limited opinion, it's not.

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You're 28. Getting a 2nd degree will take another 3 to 4 years. Medical school will take another 4 years. Residency will take another 2 to 5 years. You may even need to do another fellowship or two depending on your speciality. All said and done, you'll be in your late 30s, if not your 40s by the time you are fully practicing. This is assuming you get into medical school right off the bat without a hitch and that you get matched to a residency without a hitch. If you need to take a stress leave or medical leave at any point, tack on a year or two on top of that.

 

......

 

All said, it's obivously your decision to go for this or not. Ask yourself why do you want to be a physician and be honest with yourself. There is nothing wrong with being a PA, RN, OT, PT, SLP, etc...

 

 

I think that the issue is mental health in general. I'm not sure if choosing a different career (e.g. PA, RN,...) would really fully address the OP's problems. The OP really does need to ensure he is receiving good medical care (and other care) and that he is able to cope, regardless of his career choice.

 

However, that being said different careers may be more accessible. A second degree to partially overcome a lower GPA is work (may only take 2-3 years since electives don't have to be redone), but will only have maximal effect at a handful of places. Most places will look at an overall record, regardless of the issues involved.

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Even those without mental health issues have a hard time going through medical school and residency. It will suck at many times during your medical training, and you will have more depression and anxiety because of medical school.

 

This, this, x 100. Anyone who considers a career in medicine, including those without pre-existing mental health issues, should be aware of this. Medicine is a fantastic career and medical training is awesome in many ways. It is also incredibly difficult. Of course there are many successful physicians with mental health problems, but I would hope that they chose this path with full awareness of the challenges. All premeds should be fully informed about what they are getting into. Other healthcare and non-healthcare professions may be equally stressful for similar or different reasons - I can't comment on that, having never experienced them. All I can say is that medicine is not easy. Your mental health will be challenged. Only you can decide if that's an acceptable price to pay.

 

It is easy to say that mental health problems shouldn't stop you from being a physician, but you have to be able to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. I know so many medical students, residents, and physicians with mental health problems, and they are not any less brilliant, hardworking, or talented than anyone else, but they do pay a price in their mental health for what they contribute to medicine. Some of them would not choose medicine again. My advice to all premeds is just to be self-reflective and honest with yourself about your motivations, your strengths and weaknesses, and your capacity to cope. Only you can decide if this is right for you.

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Thank you everyone for your feedback, it's giving me much to think about. I don't want to be limited by my mental health issues, but I have a deeper awareness and appreciation now for the real obstacles that will be involved in this if I do choose to pursue this goal. Such a tough decision to make...

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I agree that you should first try to find successful mechanisms for managing your mental health.  If you can get some control and find habits and/or medication that really works for you there is plenty of time to pursue medicine.  I am 39 and if I get admitted this year will be 40 before my first day of classes.  There will be stress and hardship, but I have found ways to manage my mental health and hopefully you can too.

 

Take care of yourself first.  Then you can achieve what your intellectual and ethical potential provide for.

 

Keep well,

P

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From what I understand, mental illness is epidemic in health care, especially medicine. The key is getting your symptoms under control with medication and the appropriate non-pharmaceutical therapy. However, some of the axis I conditions may be difficult to control enough to peruse medicine or other high stress careers. Psychotic and dissociative disorders, and perhaps BP1 may not be able to be managed well enough to function in medicine, depending on the severity of course. So, getting an accurate diagnosis (if you do not already have one) is going to be a very important step. If fesable, take this summer off school and focus on getting well. Even if this puts your medical school plan back by an entire year, it's worth it. See a psychiatrist and discuss medication and other therapies (depending on the nature of your illness, CBT has a remarkable track record in RCTs). Just take some time. If you need to work for financial reasons, try to do so part time at a low stress job if possible. If you don't really need to work, maybe do some ECs that you enjoy part time. Just don't overwhelm yourself, some medications take adjusting time. Look at the logistics of your living situation and cut out pretty much everything that could possibly be done later. If you want to go into medicine, mental illness is not a deal breaker, but uncontrolled mental illness is. Make this investment now and you will that yourself for the rest of your life.

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Many medical schools won't discriminate against you based on your age but they will want to see proof of competency.

What does this mean? :)

 

From what I understand, mental illness is epidemic in health care, especially medicine. The key is getting your symptoms under control with medication and the appropriate non-pharmaceutical therapy. However, some of the axis I conditions may be difficult to control enough to peruse medicine or other high stress careers. Psychotic and dissociative disorders, and perhaps BP1 may not be able to be managed well enough to function in medicine, depending on the severity of course. So, getting an accurate diagnosis (if you do not already have one) is going to be a very important step. If fesable, take this summer off school and focus on getting well. Even if this puts your medical school plan back by an entire year, it's worth it. See a psychiatrist and discuss medication and other therapies (depending on the nature of your illness, CBT has a remarkable track record in RCTs). Just take some time. If you need to work for financial reasons, try to do so part time at a low stress job if possible. If you don't really need to work, maybe do some ECs that you enjoy part time. Just don't overwhelm yourself, some medications take adjusting time. Look at the logistics of your living situation and cut out pretty much everything that could possibly be done later. If you want to go into medicine, mental illness is not a deal breaker, but uncontrolled mental illness is. Make this investment now and you will that yourself for the rest of your life.

Would you suggest to OP to cut down on any non essentials, to take it easy, as much as it is possible, so to alleviate the potential effects of more stress on his/her symptoms? 

 

 

 

Also to anybody - to what extent should one (or SHOULDN'T ONE) disclose OR draw upon mental health as an explanation (for things, for previous low GPA, for only applying later in life or whatever), during the admissions process (for ex. in the admissions letter to explain the failures of the past, or whatever)?

 

I actually don't know much about this at all; thanks for any input. 

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What does this mean? :)

 

 

Would you suggest to OP to cut down on any non essentials, to take it easy, as much as it is possible, so to alleviate the potential effects of more stress on his/her symptoms? 

 

Yes I woud.

 

 

Also to anybody - to what extent should one (or SHOULDN'T ONE) disclose OR draw upon mental health as an explanation (for things, for previous low GPA, for only applying later in life or whatever), during the admissions process (for ex. in the admissions letter to explain the failures of the past, or whatever)?

 

I actually don't know much about this at all; thanks for any input.

 

Unfortunately, I believe that discrimination likely still exists in the admissions process. I personally wouldn't reveal a mental illness as I think there is a fairly high risk of it doing more harm than good. This is a pretty sad thing to have to say this day in age, but I do think it's the reality of the situation.

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Hi, everyone.

 

I visited the forum a few years ago but I've since forgotten my username/password and so I made a new account.

 

This isn't really a 'what are my chances' thread. I messed up my first undergrad degree really badly and I already know that the only way I have a decent shot at a medical school in Canada is with a stellar second degree, amazing MCAT scores, decent ECs and some luck. My question is more along the lines of whether all of this is worth pursuing for someone who has a history of struggles with mental health issues, a struggle that's far from over. My plan for pursuing a second undergrad was derailed for a few years because of a combination of personal problems and mental health issues. This year, I finally thought I had things under control and enrolled in non-degree courses at university, full-time. I was doing really well until I was hit again with severe depression and anxiety during the middle of it all. I had to defer all my final assignments and exams, which I'm now in the process of finishing up.

 

This experience has really made me re-consider my plans for medical school. I know that I have what it takes intellectually. My dismal performance in my first degree was more a result of my horrible study habits, inattentiveness, and struggles with mental health which could have all been avoided had I gotten the help I needed much earlier. But I've come to realize that being in school does exacerbate my mental health issues. And as it turns out, I might also have ADD. Working as a physician would be something I would love to do if I was lucky enough to, but the path to get there is no walk in the park. I really have my work cut out for me, and I'm not that young anymore (currently 28).

 

I can't for the life of me seem to figure out what to do. I'm just here looking for perspective from others who are going through or have gone through similar struggles. Did your mental health put you at a disadvantage on your path to med school? what kind of support did you get? For those who are already in medical school or practicing medicine, has it impacted your ability to be a good physician? And would you do it again?

 

Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks, guys.

I went back to my undergrad in science at the age of 28. To anyone that thinks that is too old--your wrong. And Newbie I just want to let you know you can absolutely make your dream of becoming a physician come true. I am 33 (don't look it/don't feel it) and going into fourth year. I am applying with a decent enough MCAT and a 3.8/4.0. I have done this by fighting tooth and nail for my education because of my shear passion for becoming a doctor. As far as the mental health concerns--I had an eating disorder for a decade which left me with a fair amount loose ends to sow up. Once I decided I was on the right path I let that push me past all the anxieties that I had. In all reality so many people in society deal with some level of depression/anxiety/eating problems/low self-esteem....and the list goes on. I thought for some time that my previous issues/weaknesses made me less qualified or able, but it is just the opposite. Every time that you see a patient that is dealing with depression because of a terminal diagnosis, chemical imbalance or just day-to-day life struggles you will be better capable to empathize and properly  guide and treat them. You have much to offer because of your life experiences. Push forward and make it happen!!!!:) Life is played out on a stage...there is no dress rehearsal, only acts one through three. Go steal the show!

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I am honestly not trying to steal this post from OP but since a lot of people with mental health issues are posting and replying I might as well add a related but different question. 

 

I have had an anxiety disorder and managed to pull through it and still maintain my grades.

 

My question is: should I use this experience as an evidence of personal strength (e.g. in my personal statement or interviews) or is it better to stay away from the fact that I have had a mental health disorder ?

 

I won't be applying for special consideration or anything of that sort so med schools don't have to know about it.

 

So what do you guys think: should I use it or just keep quiet about it ? Will it benefit me or harm me ?

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I am honestly not trying to steal this post from OP but since a lot of people with mental health issues are posting and replying I might as well add a related but different question. 

 

I have had an anxiety disorder and managed to pull through it and still maintain my grades.

 

My question is: should I use this experience as an evidence of personal strength (e.g. in my personal statement or interviews) or is it better to stay away from the fact that I have had a mental health disorder ?

 

I won't be applying for special consideration or anything of that sort so med schools don't have to know about it.

 

So what do you guys think: should I use it or just keep quiet about it ? Will it benefit me or harm me ?

This is something that I am currently grappling with. Instead of saying that I had an eating disorder outright I am saying that for a time in high school I had an unhealthy relationship with food. I will explain how learning what proper nutrition and fitness really are contributed to my respect for the body, health and medicine. Also that it will aid in my sensitivity and understanding towards my future patients with situations similar to mine. If you are to include this you need to find the positives that have come from your hardships and show how it will aid you in treating others. Good luck! 

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I would be VERY careful. There is a lot of stigma. You'd think and hope that it would be less in the medical profession but honestly? I would not be open about having a mental illness.

 

At most I would say "illness" and be very vague. But I avoid that for the most part. It's just too much of a gamble.

 

In an ideal world people would understand how much strength it takes to battle mental illness. In this world it can be seen as a weakness and you just can't risk it IMO.

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I have sacrificed a lot for my career and I continue to do so. The toll of keeping such a lonely secret AND coping with the illness itself feels unbearable at times. At times this work has made me sicker and/or interfered with my treatment. There will be licensing hurdles.

 

But I would do it again. It sounds hokey but I feel called to do this work. I feel that this is the purpose I can find in my suffering and pain. And as much as it has been painful, medicine has also helped give me meaning in my life.

 

The one advice that I give everyone I talk to (and I talk to LOTS of people) is that you need to get your health under control first. Not necessarily 100% better. But a good handle on it. And ask for help but be careful with maintaining your privacy.

 

It can be done. To some extent it should be done. It's important for people with lived experience to contribute to the medical profession.

 

I am mildly post call. I may or may not make sense.

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Sadly, I agree with ellorie.

 

I know that, by including it, you hope to show your personal strength. However, you risk that, whoever reads your app, will think of it as a potential negative. They may not be doing it consciously, but there is the risk that comes from the long-held stigma of mental illness.

 

If you don't need to talk about it, as you're not applying for special consideration, I would be very careful about including it.

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I have sacrificed a lot for my career and I continue to do so. The toll of keeping such a lonely secret AND coping with the illness itself feels unbearable at times. At times this work has made me sicker and/or interfered with my treatment. There will be licensing hurdles.

 

But I would do it again. It sounds hokey but I feel called to do this work. I feel that this is the purpose I can find in my suffering and pain. And as much as it has been painful, medicine has also helped give me meaning in my life.

 

The one advice that I give everyone I talk to (and I talk to LOTS of people) is that you need to get your health under control first. Not necessarily 100% better. But a good handle on it. And ask for help but be careful with maintaining your privacy.

 

It can be done. To some extent it should be done. It's important for people with lived experience to contribute to the medical profession.

 

I am mildly post call. I may or may not make sense.

I have already written two copies of my personal statement with one omitting the issues with food. I understand that people may not mean to think or interpret something as a negative, but we all carry stereotypes in our subconscious. I appreciate your insight. I have been able to pull from some quality experiences given the fact I am 33 and had a previous career. It also helped that my mother has been a health professional my entire life. Any advice is greatly welcome. 

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