By Ben Feuer, photo by Phil Dolby

There are literally thousands of secondary essays put out by medical schools each and every year. But most of those essays can be subdivided into specific categories and dealt with in groups. In this blog, we’re discussing the ‘adversity’ category.

DEFINITION OF THE ADVERSITY CATEGORY

Any medical school secondary essay touching on a long-term challenge lasting 5 years or more. The challenge can be external or internal in nature, but should constitute a meaningful obstacle to the student’s aspiration to practice medicine. The challenge need not have been fully overcome, and may not be possible to overcome – it is the process of the struggle itself that defines the adversity essay. 

EXAMPLES OF SECONDARY PROMPTS IN THE ADVERSITY CATEGORY

 

Describe a problem in your life. Include how you dealt with it and how it influenced your growth.  DAVID GEFFEN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, UCLA.

 

Briefly describe a situation where you had to overcome adversity; include lessons learned and how you think it will affect your career as a future physician. JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF MEDICINE. 

 

While you were growing up, did you experience any of the following types of adversity? Economic, Educational, Ethnic/Cultural, Family. Please describe the nature of the adversity. OREGON SCHOOL OF HEALTH AND SCIENCE

 

Describe an obstacle you’ve overcome and how it has defined you. STONY BROOK SCHOOL OF MEDICINE.

 

TECHNIQUE FOR ANSWERING THE ADVERSITY CATEGORY

Medical school secondary essays can be divided into two basic subtypes – narrative essays, which require the applicant to tell a story, and factual essays, which require the applicant to answer a series of factual questions.  The adversity essay is a narrative essay, and one of the most challenging essay types for the typical applicant. We find that this is in the top two most challenging prompts to answer for our candidates.

Begin by eliminating challenges that make for bad essays or sound like justifications of a problem or bragging – academic struggles, making second place instead of first in your swim meet,  not having enough time in the day to do everything you want to do.

Avoid discussing trivial problems, such as malaise or stress, self-incriminating problems, such as depression or severe drug addiction, and temporary problems, such as having a broken leg for six months and having to walk around in a cast.

Instead, look to your core strengths – the virtues that make you who you are. Reliability, wisdom, confidence, bravery, or whatever they may be. Ask yourself, is there a dark side, a flip side, to my strengths? Is there a consistent area of my life where I struggle to apply these strengths?

Classic examples (DO NOT copy these – come up with your own!) include overcoming a challenging cultural or learning difference, adjusting to family circumstances (loss of money, sudden wealth, divorce, moving around the country), inter or intra-family struggles (managing relationships with sick loved ones over a long period of time, job loss), or a long-term ambition that didn’t work out (getting most of the way to being a professional baseball player, only to tear your hamstring and end your career).

Once you know the topic of the adversity you are discussing, you must figure out IF you have overcome the adversity, HOW you have overcome the adversity, and HOW you have grown as a result of facing this adversity. Use concrete examples from your life to illustrate your points about growth – I couldn’t have done XYZ years ago, but I can now.

This essay should be written in a warm, engaging personal tone – it should move the reader, and be heartfelt, funny and/or personable, not technical, cold or disengaged. 

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Do you have more questions about this secondary essay, or about other secondary essays?  Feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help.