Questions to Ask Yourself
From pre-application through deciding where to attend medical school, it is important for all applicants to routinely ask themselves several questions. LGBTQ students may ask themselves some of the following questions.
Do I want and/or need to be “out” on my application to medical school?
Where do I want to apply?
Several factors can have an impact on how supported and comfortable you may feel at specific medical schools, including location (regional, urban vs. rural), institutional affiliation, and institutional policy. For example, at least one U.S. medical school reserves the right to discriminate based on religion, including sexual conduct inconsistent with its teachings (this is NOT the case at most religiously-affiliated institutions).
As you build a list of schools to which you will apply, consider these factors. Also, see the “Things to Look for” section for a more detailed review of factors you may want to consider as you decide where to apply.
What kind of support do I need during medical school?
The answer to this question will vary for everyone. Some students may not feel they need any specific supports in place related to an LGBTQ identity. Others may feel they need a strong LGBTQ student community with strong, clear institutional support for LGBTQ students and issues. Your answer to this question may be somewhere in between. Consider what you want or need from a place you may be spending at least the next four years.
During the Application Process
If I decide to share my LGBTQ identity, how do I want to frame it?
It is important to consider the context in which you want to share your LGBTQ identity. Some applicants may only wish to share an identity briefly, such as in a demographic “check box” on a secondary application or a quick mention in a personal statement, without further elaboration. This is OK! You are not required to elaborate or share more than what you are comfortable with on your application. Other applicants may feel that their LGBTQ identities relate directly to their motivation to pursue a career in medicine or were central to the activities and experiences they chose to discuss on their application.
These more direct connections may offer an opportunity to share more about how your identity has shaped your narrative and provide an opportunity for medical school admissions reviewers to better understand who you are as an individual. Brief mentions are relevant too – your identities matter! – but present less need for elaboration.
Am I comfortable with the possibility of someone asking about my LGBTQ identity during an interview?
If you share an LGBTQ identity on your primary or secondary application, be prepared for the possibility that an interviewer might ask you about it. Further, be prepared for the reality that not all interviewers will be equipped to ask about it in the appropriate, thoughtful manner some interviewers will. An interviewer bringing up your identity can lead to a positive, affirming experience (such as a reassurance about the support for LGBTQ students at that school), but at times it could lead to a bit of awkwardness. Make sure you are comfortable with the prospect of handling the latter situation.
Does a school’s secondary application offer any indications of its focus on LGBTQ applicants and students?
A small number of medical schools, including Northwestern and Harvard, ask applicants directly on their secondary application if they hold an LGBTQ identity (response is optional). This should be a sign that a school values your LGBTQ identity and wants to understand what kinds of people are represented in their class. This is a relatively new practice, though, and only a handful of schools have adopted it, so do not take the absence of this to mean a school does not value and support LGBTQ students. Other indicators might be a space to share your pronouns or a statement about diversity and inclusion that mentions LGBTQ identities.
What do I want to learn from medical school interviews that will help me understand my fit there?
Before going on medical school interview visits, considering setting an agenda or a few goals for yourself that will help you understand and reflect on your fit there. Include in this something about your LGBTQ identity if that is something you want to learn about during your visits. Going into your interviews/visits with a clear understanding of what information or dynamics you want to know will help you get what need out of the day to make an informed decision about where to attend medical school.
Did your identity come up at all, and if so how did you feel about it?
If you shared your LGBTQ identity on your application, it may or may not come up during your visit to a medical school. If it did come up, reflect on how you felt about the conversation. Did you feel positive about? Did it come up in a supportive, affirming way? Or were you uncomfortable with how it came up?
What were your interactions with students like?
Consider what impression you got of a medical school and its community based on your interactions with current students during interview day. Did you feel included and welcomed? Did students seem comfortable, happy, and supported? If you interacted with any current LGBTQ students, did they offer any insight or indication of what the community is like for LGBTQ students?
Would you feel happy and supported at that school for four years?
As one student put it in a 2013 article in The Advisor, “The four years of medical school is a long time to be at an institution that does not have resources or support networks for LGBT students.” Consider how you felt during your visit in regard to your identity: Did you feel like you could be yourself there? Did you feel like you would have whatever level of support you believe you will need during medical school? Did you feel that you would be able to find community at that school if you wanted to? Were there available resources to support LGBTQ students?