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Advice for LGBTQ+ medical school applicants

Road with rainbow stripes painted on
Photo by Jasmin Sessler
Dec 4 2019
Education, Stanford, Students

I applied to medical school five years ago. (Wow, time really flies, doesn't it?). At the time, marriage equality was still being contested in the U.S. Supreme Court, and about one-third of all LGBTQ-identifying medical students reported concealing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity throughout medical school.

As a gay MD/PhD program applicant myself, I knew that I'd be committing seven or eight years of my life to whichever institution I attended; and I wanted to be confident in my ability to "bring my entire self" wherever I ended up. Accordingly, I made sure to ask the program director of every medical school where I interviewed the same question: "I'm gay--what does [medical school name] do to support LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion among its medical students?"

I was surprised to find that most admissions staff had a pretty hard time answering my question. To be fair, I myself wasn't super sure what I was looking to hear -- but I definitely didn't expect the question to take so many people by surprise. Among the more helpful responses were those that mentioned the names of specific students who had volunteered to meet incoming LGBTQ+ applicants, which was nice. Others were focused on quickly affirming the program's general commitment to the values of diversity and inclusion, which was also nice -- but rarely specific enough to be helpful. And one program director, whom I will never forget, simply rambled through a 10-minute story about how one of his colleagues had recently proposed to her female partner and invited their entire division to the ceremony, which he had attended the previous week. It sounded like a beautiful moment, but he didn't really answer my question.

Now, as an out and very openly gay medical student here at Stanford, I am frequently asked by LGBTQ-identifying applicants about being "out" on medical school applications. Is it worth the risk of facing discrimination in the admissions process? Does it make sense to be "out" on your application if you're not an "activist?" How can you know if a program will be a safe place for you, and how do you ask?

Article author Tim Keyes is a 2018-19 and 2019-20 Diversity and Inclusion Innovation Funds (DIF) recipient.