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sexual assault and "stigma" in med school apps

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Hi all! I've been using premed101 a lot recently and just decided to create an account.. I've read through a lot of the posts and honestly felt that it's a very safe and honest community. So here I am, after a lot of debate, posting a question that I have been thinking A LOT about recently.

A few years ago, I was sexually assaulted. I won't get into the details of it, because what's more relevant to me is the outcome. I will admit that it did impact me a lot in a sense that it made me very critical of certain issues in society that perpetuate rape culture and, in many instances, dismiss the severity of sexual assault. This past year (3rd year undergrad) I decided to take courage into my own hands and start a society that aims to educate individuals on the issue of sexual assault, particularly on university campuses. In addition to that, we raise money to provide to 3rd party organizations that aim to provide resources to survivors.

I do want to mention that I am not traumatized by what happened. It definitely impacted my life to a great extent. For the longest time, there wasn't a day that went by where I didn't think about what happened. What happened to me has shaped me into the person I am today and I mean that in a good way. It has changed certain goals I had. I could go on and on about how I my take on what happened to me is what has made me stronger and a different person in many ways.

Unfortunately, I know that not everyone will have the same view. I realize that there is some sort of "stigma" surrounding survivors. There is this idea that they are "traumatized", "damaged", "weak". All of which are things I don't agree with.

I will be applying to Canadian medical schools this year so I am here to ask for advice and help. I know many medical schools ask applicants (whether during the paper application or interview) about a difficult time in their life and to describe how it impacted them. Would describing my situation be a bad idea? I am really looking for an honest answer. As mentioned previously, the reason I want to talk about it is because it has made be who I am today (I really don't mean for this to be cliche). And I feel like not disclosing this information would be hiding a part of what made me who I am today. But , at the same time, because of the stigma surrounding such as issue, I don't want it to be the reason why I am rejected.

Thank you

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I'm sorry to hear about your experience and it's good that you were able to recover and beyond that even turn it into something positive for your university campus. I would definitely include founding and running this group in your application. It highlights your ability to act as a leader and an advocate. However (there may be differing opinions on this), I would leave out your personal experience being sexually assaulted. I realize that many evaluators will not (and should not) consider that a red flag, but I doubt that writing this would add any points to your application. For OMSAS, you have very limited character space so I would suggest omitting that detail in order to fully explain your role in organizing and managing the society you founded.

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In that instance, I think it would be appropriate to talk about in interviews, for sure.  It sounds like it's a big piece of why you started the organization.  Also something you could talk about in an essay about adversity.  In terms of OMSAS it's probably less relevant for the tiny space that you have to describe the organization you started.  I think there's less stigma around having been sexually assaulted in the past versus if you talked about having PTSD or something like that.

As long as it feels comfortable for you to talk about something like that - because anything you talk about, you may be asked about in interviews - I think it would be okay.

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If you come across a relevant question where bringing up what you went through would be a meaningful part of honest and thorough answer, I'd say you shouldn't feel the need to shy away from telling this part of your personal journey towards a career in medicine. Especially considering the growth you've shown in response to it, I would be very surprised (and deeply disappointed) if it were in any way held against you.

By the same token, however, don't feel that not talking about this part of your life is somehow deceptive towards interviewers. I'd go even further and suggest that you not go out of your way to disclose what you went through, not because I think it'll stigmatize you, but rather because doing so can land you into a bit of classic trap interviewees frequently fall into - drawing attention to aspects of your story important to you, rather than the aspects important to their interviewers. The key part of your story to sell is that you proactively took on an advocacy role and provided support for a group of victims. As an interviewer, while I do care about the motivation behind those actions, it's by far a secondary consideration - I would still think highly of what you've done if you hadn't been assaulted, even while acknowledging the strength it takes to turn such a negative experience into positive action.

Edited by ralk
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