Charting a course to Medical School: The amsa map for Success

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  • Contact minority medical students to solicit advice on the selection and application process.

  • Seek out minority physicians in your area through local professional organizations (e.g., National Medical Assoc.). Many will allow you to shadow them to get an early taste of life as a physician.

  • Attend medical school information sessions. Medical school minority affairs offices often send recruiters to campuses.

  • Become linked with national medical student organizations such as AMSA and SNMA (an organization of minority medical students).

  • Look for financial resources early. Medical school can be very expensive. Don't forget there is an AMCAS or AACOMAS fee-waiver available for those needing financial assistance.

  • Take advantage of your interviews to obtain vital information.

Applicants with Disabilities
Tips for Premedical Students with Chronic Illnesses and Disabilities

by Phyllis A. Nsiah-Kumi
Medical education can be a daunting task, and living with a chronic illness, mental illness, learning disability, or any other type of disability certainly makes that task more challenging. However, it need not be an insurmountable challenge. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss possible challenges that you as a student with a chronic illness or disability may face in medical school and how to overcome them, specifically focusing on what you can do during the application process to ensure your success.
Individuals in medicine who have chronic illness or disabilities face a number of challenges. Among them are the frequent inflexibility of the system; inaccessibility/inavailability of necessary resources, support services and personnel; ignorance on the part of peers, faculty and administrators; confidentiality issues; a lack of role models/mentors; and prejudice and discrimination. All of these are in addition to the actual challenges posed by your condition itself and the challenges posed by medical school. These challenges are not listed to discourage you, but to give you some hints as to what to expect. If you are prepared for what lies ahead, then you can more capably handle it and get on with the business of becoming a physician.
One of the challenges you will face surrounds the issue of disclosure. The fact that you have a chronic illness or disability is a very confidential matter. When should you disclose your chronic illness or disability, if at all? Should you discuss it in your personal statement? Should you mention it only after you have decided to attend a particular institution? Who do you tell? What policies exist relating to confidentiality? What rights do you have based on current legislation? What questions can you be asked in an interview? How do you respond if these illegal questions are asked? If you were to disclose your disability to a particular individual or office, who else is permitted to know about it without your notification? These are important questions which require careful consideration. This is certainly beyond the scope of this brief chapter. Suffice it to say that this is a decision that only you can make.
Before you can make a decision, you need to be educated on the issues. For more information, contact organizations such as Association for Higher Education and Disability, the HEATH Resource Center, and the Association for People with Disabilities as well as the disabilities services and/or affirmative action offices at the institutions you are considering. (The contact information for the first three organizations is given at the end of this chapter.) Last, but certainly not least, earn about the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When contacting any one of the institutions you are considering, you do not have to identify yourself by name or give all the details right away. Have everyone on a need to know basis. You need to say enough to get you to the right person, and then you should be able to explain things to that one person. At that point, you still do not have to give your name.
There are instances in which non-disclosure is to your advantage. However, if you anticipate needing special services, or accommodations, you may have no choice but to disclose your condition. Even then, it is not necessary to disclose this information during the application process. It becomes most relevant after you are accepted to a particular school. Whatever you decide, know your rights and what recourse you have available to you, should those rights be violated.
Your chronic illness or disability may make you eligible for special testing accommodations for the MCAT, especially if you are currently receiving them or previously received them as an undergraduate. For more information on the procedure, refer to the registration booklet and contact the office of disabilities services at your current academic institution.
As you consider various institutions, you must first determine what you need to succeed and then determine if the institution in question is able to provide it. You need to pick the best school for you. You need an environment that will give you everything you need to succeed and will help you grow as a person.
Contact the student support services office at the school. If they don't have one, check with the affirmative action office; they will be able to point you in the right direction. Again, you do not have to identify yourself by name; you can tell them you are a prospective student. Tell them that you have a chronic illness/disability and may at some point be in need of accommodations. You want to ask about confidentiality, testing, flexibility of courses and curriculum, etc. They will tell you what is available and what sort of certification, documentation, etc. you need. If you need testing accommodations, don't forget that you will need to go through extra paperwork to get them for boards after years 2 and 3. Be sure to ask about this early.
Find out as much as you can about the schools you are considering . Read their promotional literature, go to informational sessions, and talk to students. Your interview is another invaluable opportunity to gain first-hand information.
Find out ahead of time how flexible the curriculum is. Does this school have a five year program? Are there courses you could take in the summer if you had to? Can you go part-time if it becomes necessary? What types of student support services are available? Does the school offer tutoring or study groups? Are there faculty and/or peer mentoring programs? Who would you go to in the event that you had difficulties? These are all important questions to consider.
Be sure to consider other factors as well. Are buildings on the campus accessible? Can the school supply you with any accommodations you may need such as a note-taker, extra exam time, separate testing conditions and breaks during exams? If the weather affects your condition significantly, then you need to consider climate as well. Consider the distance between the school and your interpersonal support system as well. How far will you be from friends, family and mentors? If an institution offers a great curriculum but does not appear to have a good support system, is it really a wise choice?
Take OWNERSHIP of your education. These tips are good to start using now in your premedical years, but they are especially important to remember as you continue your journey to becoming a physician.

O - Overcome Obstacles- determine what they are, and get to work on overcoming them.
W - Work Hard.
N - Never Give Up; Never Be Ashamed of Who You Are.
E - Expect Great Things; Evaluate- from time to time, check up on your progress.
R - Responsibility - be responsible for yourself. No one can do this for you.

Resources- know who and what is available and take advantage of it. Find people who are where you want to be and talk to them.

S - Support System; Socialize.
H - Honesty - Never lie. At the same time, you do not have to share everything with everyone, even when asked. Decline to answer some questions, and learn to dodge others and change the subject when necessary.
I - Independence; Information - know what you are entitled to; know what resources are available. Understand that most people are probably ignorant of your specific condition, unique situation and needs. Be prepared to educate them honestly and connect them with resources when appropriate.
P - Proactive - Do not wait for things to happen; this is being reactive. Plan ahead and make things happen; this is being proactive. Have short and long term goals-academically and personally.
Do not deny that your condition or its impact on your activities of daily living. Figure out what YOU need to succeed and do everything in your power to get it, in advance, even if you may not need it right away. A lot of the process is lengthy and requires lots of paperwork. START AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Always plan ahead. Try to keep as far ahead as possible, since you never know when a down time will strike. Have a safety net. Do not give in to inferiority complexes or discouragement. Be confident. You know yourself better than anyone at the school does. It will be apparent that you are being responsible and proactive. Tell them what you feel that you need and find out what they have available. Be assertive. Do not relinquish your rights by being passive. Decide what is acceptable to you. Do not let someone else decide for you. You have to live with this decision. Do not be afraid to be creative. There is not only one way to do things. Be knowledgeable about available resources.
Early on, get a copy of the disabilities, accommodations information in the school handbook. It is important to know about official policies relating to these issues.
Don't expect breaks because of your illness or disability. Not everyone understands, or even tries. You should expect reasonable accommodations, but not extra breaks. You need to be just as qualified as everyone else in whatever you do, if not more so. Study hard; work hard. Whatever you do, do it with all you've got. Always do your best.
Finally, good luck to you. Refer to the resources below for more information, and do not hesitate to contact AMSA's Committee on Disabilities if we can be of any assistance to you, both now and during your medical school experience.
"..if you can learn to think big, nothing in the world can keep you from being successful in whatever you choose to do"; "Don't go around with a long face, expecting something bad to happen; anticipate good things; watch for them..." Benjamin S. Carson, MD

Lesbian, Gay, & Bisexual Applicants
Out. The word doesn't mean much to a heterosexual pre-medical student, but to an other-than-heterosexual pre-medical student the word can be anxiety-provoking. Being "out" may mean many different things to a gay, lesbian or bisexual individual. When the gay, lesbian, or bisexual pre-medical student is applying to medical schools across the country, he or she may wonder, "Should I reveal my sexual orientation during the application process?" When considering this, he or she should ask the following questions:

Do I need to be in a gay- or lesbian-supportive environment?
The field of medicine is often homophobic, as are many other business and professional careers. Indeed, there are also areas within medicine which are very "homophilic" or accepting and supportive of gay men and lesbians. As a pre-med you may feel that this doesn't matter. But if you feel the need to be in a gay- or lesbian-supportive environment, then you need to find out which schools are the most supportive of gays or lesbians. You can do this in a variety of ways, including contacting other gay and lesbian medical students through AMSA's Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual People in Medicine, a committee in the Standing Committee on Advocacy, or simply investigating the curricula of schools to see if they address gay and lesbian issues. Bear in mind that even in programs that are not gay or lesbian supportive there are "pockets" of support. If you end up in a very non-supportive school, you may find yourself frustrated and alone. This can be especially true at smaller schools.
How out am I to myself?
Before a person can be open with others, he or she needs to find within him/herself the extent to which a gay, lesbian or bisexual orientation exists. If a person is very open to everyone in his/her world, he or she could still not be ready to feel comfortable disclosing this in medical school. Moreover, even if you are very comfortable with yourself, if you are in a non-supportive environment you may not feel comfortable being open. Therefore, you must evaluate, by whatever method you find helpful, how comfortable you are with your own sexual orientation. To this extent, you may also ask yourself several other related questions such as, "How much do I worry about what people think?" "What do I do when I am faced with difficult situations regarding my sexual orientation?" "Do I give or receive support from my gay or lesbian friends?" "Am I uncomfortable with the topic of sexual orientation?" "Do I deny the knowledge of my true sexual orientation to others?" "When do I reveal my sexual orientation?" "Why do I reveal my sexual orientation?"
How important is it for me to be open with others?
Many gay or lesbian individuals find it unnecessary to reveal their sexual orientation to others, while others feel the need to be open. You can only answer this after you evaluate how "out" you are to yourself. If you are an individual who feels very strongly about being open with others, then you may need to be perfectly honest in the application process, regardless of how open you are with yourself or to others. On the other hand, you may feel that being open is unrelated to your medical career and interaction with other health care professionals. If this is so, it would not be appropriate to reveal your sexual orientation. Each individual will find him/herself in a different position based on their life experiences and world view.
What do medical schools think of gay or lesbian applicants?
Rather the question should be, "Will being gay or lesbian affect my chances of getting in to medical school?" Generally, the answer is no since most medical schools have several or many gay or lesbian medical students who are well-integrated into the medical school curriculum. Unfortunately, this is not true of all schools and, as stated before, homophobia exists everywhere, so be warned that if members of the selection committee happen to be especially homophobic, you may not be accepted. While people may deny their homophobia, in reality they often do not even realize how and in what subtle ways they discriminate. However, this should not discourage the pre-med who wants to be open about his/her sexual orientation. Remember, that if you do not get into a school that rejects you based on your sexual orientation, it is probably good that you did not end up there because the atmosphere of the school in all probability is not supportive of gay and lesbian issues or individuals. So, this can be an advantage, since essentially, schools will weed themselves out of your prospective list.
How many gay, lesbian or bisexual pre-meds choose to be open?
You will find that although many gay or lesbian pre-meds are open, they choose not to reveal their sexual orientation during the application process. Many students wait until they have been accepted to medical school to make others aware of their identity. With the constant reality of homophobia in our society, this is probably the most common approach.
Just how open to be during interviewing is an individual decision. But remember to anticipate negative responses, and then decide what is really the negative part -- having the interview go sour and not be accepted or being in a homophobic program which may not have taken you if they knew?
How can I be open in the application process?
If you find that you would like to be open in the application process, you could do so in a variety of ways, depending on how much emphasis you want to give that part of your life. In your personal statement, you could discuss briefly your interest in lesbian and gay issues or you could list your gay and lesbian affiliations in the application itself. There are many other ways as well. However, these are the two most obvious and direct, and both will tend to mark you as a gay or lesbian applicant. You also may choose not to include such information in your application but instead refer to your interest in gay and lesbian issues during your interviews. This will also allow you to evaluate the homophobic or homophilic aspects of the school at which you are looking. You may even ask the admission office to put you in contact with some gay or lesbian medical students at that school.
What can I do if I decide not to reveal my sexual orientation?
If you feel that you do not want or need to reveal your sexual orientation, you need not feel alone. You can still find and access other gay and lesbian support groups within your community and across the nation.
You can feel comfortable that these groups are confidential and that your privacy will be strictly respected. These groups provide support and education to lesbian, gay and bisexual students, physicians, and patients and should be your resource to gay and lesbian issues that come up during medical school. Use them, you will find them rewarding and helpful!
Where do I find gay- or lesbian-supportive health care groups?
In the past, the health care system has neglected homosexual individuals as well as other minority groups within its ranks. One of the first gay and lesbian health care support groups was formed in 1976 by members of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). This group is now known as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in Medicine (LGBTPM), a committee in the Standing Committee on Advocacy and has grown immensely since its inception. LGBTPM is a diverse and eclectic group of several hundred members, of all sexual orientations, who have a variety of interests in lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. LGBTPM is dedicated to promoting quality health care for lesbians, gay men and bisexual individuals, as well as providing networking opportunities and support for lesbian, gay and bisexual medical students. LGBTPM has a large network of medical school chapters around the country which hold meetings and events. Also, LGBTPM publishes individual newsletters for its members. Newsletters contain information about activities at local chapters, news from around the country, conference listings and a directory of contact students at various medical schools. LGBTPM also has workshops and speakers at the annual AMSA National Convention.
Other gay and lesbian health care support groups exist, including the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA, a gay and lesbian physicians group, the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists (AGLP), as well as many local gay and lesbian people in health care groups. These groups can all be easily accessed by contacting the executive director or coordinators of these groups who will be glad to give you feedback or any assistance with your application or any other questions you might have. As a student you are welcome to join any or all of these organizations.
So...should I be open?
Only you can answer this question, and although it is a tough decision, it can be important because it can affect where you end up in medical school and how you go through medical school. Remember to find out how you feel about yourself and how comfortable you feel being open with others. These are the important aspects to consider. Additionally, find out about the gay and lesbian atmosphere of the schools to which you are applying. Try to contact gay or lesbian students at the schools in which you are interested, and if that is not possible contact an LGBTPM Coordinator for more information. Do not let anybody tell you what you should do or how you should do it. Be informed, ask yourself the above questions and then make your decision. Most importantly, trust your feelings about your comfort zone and what you think is best for you.

Below are some additional resources to help you in your journey to medical school:

  • General Applicants

  • Minority Applicants

  • Applicants with Disabilities

  • Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Applicants

MCAT Program Office

2255 North Dubuque Road

P.O. Box 4056, Iowa City, IA 52243-4056

(319) 337-1357

Association of American Medical Colleges

2450 N Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037-1126

(202) 828-0400 / (202) 828-1125 fax
Associaton of American Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine

5550 Friendship Blvd, Suite 310, Chevy Chase, MD 20815-7231

(301) 968-4100 / (301) 968-4101 fax

AMSA Race, Ethnicity and Culture in HealthAction Committee
Financial Aid for Minorities in Health Fields

Garrett Park Press, 1996.

ISBN 0-912048-96-4

Approximately 60-80 pages long, revised every 18 months

To order a copy ($5.95 + $1.50 S&H) write to:

Garrett Park Press

PO Box 190, Garrett Park, MD 20896

(301) 946-2553

(301) 949-3955 FAX
National Hispanic Scholarship Fund

One Sansome Street, Suite 1000, San Francisco, CA 94101

(877)HSF-INFO (473-4636)


National Association for Hispanic Elderly

Asociacion Nacional Por Personas Mayores

1452 West Temple St, Suite 100, Los Angeles, CA 90026-1724

Ph: (213) 487-1922 | Fax: (213) 208-5905

Youth Opportunities Foundation

PO Box 45762

8820 South Sepulveda Blvd, Suite 208, Los Angeles, CA 90045

(213) 670-7664

League of United Latin American Citizens

(202) 408-0060

Brent Wilkes - executive director -
AAUW Educational Foundation

2401 Virginia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20037

(for women in final year of medical school)
Mexican American Women's National Association Raquel Marquez Frankel Scholarship Fund

1201 16th Street Northwest, Suite 203, Washington, DC 20037

Comison Fememil de Los Angeles

379 South Loma Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90017

(213) 484-1515
Alpha Epsilon Iota Scholarship Fund

Ann Arbor Trust Company

PO Box 12, Ann Arbor, MI 48107
American Indian Scholarships, Inc.

Box 1106, Taos, NM 87571

Association of American Indian Affairs

Emergency Aid Scholarship Fund

432 Park Ave South, New York, NY 10016
Navaho National Scholarship Assistance Program

Department of Higher Education

PO Drawer S., Window Rock, AZ 86515
Insurance Medical Scientists Scholarship Fund

1295 State St, Springfield, MA 01111

Minority Scholarship for Texas Medical School Scholarship Listing
California Chicano/Latino Medical Student Association Minority Medical Students

AMSA Community & Environmental Health Action Committee
American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)

1819 H Street NW, Suite 330

Washington, D.C. 20006
Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)

107 Commerce Center Drive, Suite 204, Huntersville, NC 28078

voice and text: (704) 947-7779 fax: (704) 948-7779

HEATH Resource Center

National Clearinghouse on Postsecondary Education for Individuals with Disabilities

American Council on Education

One Dupont Circle, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20036-1193

202-939-9320 (both Voice/TTY)

Fax: 202-833-4760

Maximizing Success for Young Adults with Chronic Health-Related Illness

Edelman, A; Schuyler, VE; White, PH. Transition Planning for Education After High School. HEATH Resource Center. 1998.

National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY)

PO Box 1492, Washington, DC 20013-1492

AMSA Gender & Sexuality Action Committee
Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists

AGLP National Office

4514 Chester Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19143-3707

(215) 222-2800
Gay and Lesbian Medical Association

459 Fulton St, Suite 107, San Francisco, CA 94102

(415) 255-4547

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