Common QuestionsApplying to medical school presents a complex, sometimes intimidating process for all students. LGBTQ students often have additional questions about navigating their identities during application. Here are some of the common questions LGBTQ applicants might have and how they might be answered.
Should I be "out" on my application?
It is entirely your decision whether or not to share your sexual orientation or gender identity on your medical school application. Additionally, there is no right or wrong answer. This should be a personal decision that you feel good about.
If you decide to be “out” on your application, it is also up to you just how out you want to be. Some applicants may decide to check a box (if offered) on a secondary application indicating an LGBTQ identity and say nothing more about it. Other applicants may decide to share their identity as part of their narrative in a personal statement. Still others may share their identities as part of an extracurricular description. Be as out as you are comfortable being on your application, and if you are not sure how out you want to be, seek out a trusted advisor or mentor to discuss your decision.
If you decide to share your LGBTQ identity prominently on your application, it can be advantageous to demonstrate clearly to medical schools how your identity and the perspective you have gained from it will contribute to their diverse medical community.
Questions you might consider or discuss with an advisor include “What is the relevance or significance of your identity to the overall story you are trying to tell on your application?” and “What is your comfort level discussing your sexual orientation or gender identity with an interviewer in the event it comes up?” Remember: Anything on your primary or secondary applications is fair game for interview discussion (if the school makes your application available to interviewers).
Some LGBTQ applicants decide not to share their identities on primary applications, which are sent to all the medical schools to which they choose to apply, and then selectively share their identities to certain schools they trust with that information on secondary application, which are only sent to the specific school that provided it.
Note: It is inappropriate for a medical school interviewer to ask you your sexual orientation or gender identity if you have not disclosed it.
If I decide to be “out,” how should I share my identity during application?
There are several ways you might share your identity during the application process, should you choose to do so. There is no single approach that will work for everyone, and your approach should be one with which you feel comfortable. A few examples:
- “Check box” – The AMCAS and AACOMAS primary applications currently provide an optional space to share gender identity and personal pronouns (but not sexual orientation) by simply checking a box. Some schools’ secondary applications offer a similar space to optionally share an LGBTQ identity. It is OK to do this without discussing your identity further.
- Personal Statement – You may discuss, be it briefly or at more length, your identity in your personal statement, particularly if your identity is relevant to your decision to pursue a career in medicine. Perhaps you want to serve the LGBTQ community as a medical professional. Or maybe an experience related to your identity motivated you to pursue medicine.
- Work & Activities – Some applicants may discuss an LGBTQ identity in relation to an extracurricular activity, such as volunteering or a student organization. Other applicants may be more comfortable simply listing involvement with an LGBTQ-related organization without discussing their own identity.
- Secondary Application Essay – Many schools ask applicants on their secondary applications how they would contribute to the institution’s diversity. Some applicants take this opportunity to discuss their identity and related experiences, often after having not shared their identity on the primary application (if you have already written about your identity on the primary, only do so again here if you have additional context or something new to add). Other secondary essay questions (such as describing a challenge you have overcome) may present opportunities to share identity as well. Secondary applications also often include open-ended questions like “Is there anything else you want to discuss or would like the committee to know?”
- Interview – Some applicants wait until the interview phase to discuss an LGBTQ identity, after they have had the chance to learn more about the school and get an in-person sense of how welcoming the school might be to LGBTQ students.
If you share your identity in one of these written forms, consider having a friend or advisor read what you have written. Ideally, this person would already understand your motivation for coming out on the application and focus on language and tone.
Does my identity have to be related to my decision to pursue a career in medicine for me to share it on my application?
If I decide to share my identity on my application, how will schools use that information?
How a school uses the information you share about your identities will vary. Some schools are restricted by law to not include identity (particularly race and ethnicity) in their considerations. Others may limit their considerations of identity in the admissions process to race and ethnicity as they work to craft a diverse class of students. Further, some schools take a broad approach to diversity and will consider LGBTQ representation an important component of a diverse medical school class. A 2013 study examined how some U.S. medical schools approach definitions of diversity in admissions and programming.
Some schools will use LGBTQ identity disclosures to connect applicants with opportunities at their institution, including the chance to meet with or talk to current LGBTQ students, the chance to interview with a similarly identified faculty member, or an invitation to a diversity event during interview day.
If your identity has played a role in your overall narrative or trajectory and you choose to share it, schools may consider that identity as part of their holistic review the same way they might consider the role race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, life experiences, and other aspect contribute to an applicants’ journey to the point of application.
Are LGBTQ applicants considered underrepresented minorities or underrepresented in medicine?
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) currently defines underrepresented in medicine as “those racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population.” Thus, by definition, LGBTQ applicants are not considered underrepresented in medicine by the AAMC. However, some medical schools adhere to their own institutional definitions. A 2013 study showed about one-third of participating institutions considered diversity factors beyond the AAMC’s definition.
A small number of schools, including the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, publicly state sexual and gender minorities are considered underrepresented in medicine by the institution.
The AAMC also does not currently consider LGBTQ applicants underrepresented minorities for the purposes of admissions. Again, individual schools may take a different approach, even if they do not say so publicly.
Could I be discriminated against if I am “out” on my application?
While the vast majority of U.S. medical schools have a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity (and in some cases gender expression), some LGBTQ students still experience discrimination during the application process, be it directly or more subtly.
In a 2019, Northwestern IRB-approved study conducted by an HPA advisor (submitted for publication), 9.5 percent of respondents said they had experienced discrimination while applying to medical school. Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) also shows a small percentage of graduating medical students report discriminatory experiences based on sexual orientation or gender.
In rare instances, LGBTQ applicants may face overt discrimination, such as intrusive or inappropriate interview questions. More often, LGBTQ students report facing subtle discrimination, such as heteronormative or cis-normative interview questions or a lack of gender-neutral facilities.
Some students see being out on their application as a way to determine if they would feel safe and supported at a school. If a school were to discriminate based on an LGBTQ identity, it is not likely a place an LGBTQ student would feel comfortable and happy learning.
The bottom line: Though it is prohibited and not common, discrimination on the basis of LGBTQ identities still occurs, just as it does on the basis of gender, race/ethnicity, disability, and other attributes. Consider how you might handle an instance of discrimination, both in the moment and after the fact. Being prepared will help you handle discrimination if you encounter it.
What do I do if I feel I have been discriminated against? / How do I report discrimination I have experienced during application?
If you feel like you have experienced discrimination or bias, you have a right and a responsibility to report it. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), medical schools are responsible for establishing procedures by which applicants can report discrimination confidentially, and those procedures should be shared with applicants prior to interviews. The AAMC offers more insight on this, as well as examples of inappropriate interview questions and ways you might want to respond.
If a medical school did not share its confidential reporting procedures with you, the AAMC recommends reporting the incident to an admissions officer during the interview day, if possible, or afterward by email. Further, the AAMC also says you have a right to request another interview in order to receive an unbiased evaluation of your candidacy.
If you are concerned about reporting an incident of discrimination or bias, particularly if a school does not have a confidential process, consult with a trusted advisor or mentor on your options for what to do next. While some students may choose not to report incidents out of fear it will have a negative impact on their application, doing so helps schools address problems and prevent future incidents for other applicants.Even if you made your decision about reporting or not reporting on your own, consider discussing your experience with your premedical advisor. They will appreciate knowing this information for a number of reasons.
What resources are available to me as an LGBTQ applicant?
As you go through the application process, there are several resources that may be helpful. Consider the following:
- Out Lists – Some medical schools have an “Out List,” a publicly available and voluntary listing of LGBTQ-identified faculty, staff, and students that have chosen to make themselves available as a resource to applicants, students, and community members. These individuals will likely be able to provide good insight from an LGBTQ perspective about their medical school. Some schools may also have an “Ally List” of self-identified LGBTQ allies. Look for these on medical schools’ websites or doing a search with a school’s name + “Out List.”
- Student Groups – Most medical schools have an on-campus LGBTQ student affinity group. Reaching out to the leaders of these groups could be another way to get a similarly-identified student’s perspective on the medical school’s culture, inclusiveness, and your fit.
- Interview Day Hosts – For students with an interview offer, many schools provide the opportunity to stay with a current medical student during your interview visit. When offering this opportunity, some schools will ask applicants if they would like to be hosted by a similarly-identified student. If a school where you are interviewing offers the chance to stay with an LGBTQ student, this could be another chance to get relevant perspective.
- Diversity & Inclusion Offices – Medical schools increasingly have an office within them dedicated to diversity and inclusion. These offices are a good place to look for programs, initiatives, and resources aimed at supporting LGBTQ students.
- Undergraduate Resources – If your undergraduate institution has an office or an individual that works with LGBTQ students, they may be a good source of support as you navigate the medical school application process.
- Previous Applicants – If you know a previous LGBTQ medical school applicant or can connect with one through friends, they could likely provide insight on being an LGBTQ applicant based on their experiences and on the medical school they attend (if applicable). Your health professions advisor may be able to connect you with an LGBTQ alumnus of your institution who is currently in medical school and is willing to talk to current applicants about their experiences. Tip: Consider seeking out students that share your specific identities and also students with different identities; hearing multiple different perspectives is important.
- For Northwestern students: HPA is developing an alumni network of past LGBTQ applicants in medical school now that are willing to be a resource. Ask your advisor about this!
- National Organizations – Professional and student organizations like the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) and GLMA have resources oriented toward current LGBTQ medical students.
- HRC Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) – The Human Rights Campaign’s HEI “evaluates healthcare facilities’ policies and practices related to the equity and inclusion of the LGBTQ patients, visitors and employees.” Factors evaluated include patient and employee non-discrimination, visitation rights, training in LGBTQ patient centered care, and transgender inclusive health insurance.
- Point Foundation – The Point Foundation “empowers promising lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential,” and has provided scholarships to LGBTQ medical students.