A typical application for medical school includes the question to add “any information that might explain discrepancies in your academic record.” A quick Google search of this question leads to forums where pre-medical students discuss factors that caused a decline in grades: illness, a death in the family, fraternity parties, and general slacking. There is one issue that sparks a debate over whether applicants should reveal it in their application: sexual assault. Comments range from “you don’t want to come across as a victim” to “you shouldn’t be too cynical.”
Sexual violence does not just impact mental and physical health but is damning for academic and career prospects too. Graduate and medical schools require stellar academic records, something that could potentially be jeopardized by sexual assault.
In a career such as medicine, the trauma of sexual assault survivors could mean the end of their dreams. It is surprising that there is little discourse on the intersection between being a pre-medical student and experiencing sexual violence.
It is the university’s responsibility to ensure survivors receive the justice they deserve. This is not a solicited opinion; it’s federal law under Title IX. Yet this is not reality. Title IX complaints are arising left and right. This, coupled with Donald J. Trump’s administration’s efforts to dismantle the law, leaves survivors with the choice of saying nothing and risking rejection or explaining their trauma in their application through delicate terms.
The latter option could be a potential explanation for poor grades. However, sexual harm faces so much stigma that applicants are reluctant to reveal something that could be subject to negative judgment and interrogation during a medical school interview.
For survivors, there is no reassurance that their experience with violence, if revealed, will not characterize them as “negative” or “weak.” Furthermore, recounting the details of what is undoubtedly the most traumatic experience many students will ever face forces them to relive this trauma every time they fill out a school application.
Colleges Reluctant to Make Change
There are solutions to handling grades affected by sexual violence, but colleges are reluctant to take the initiative. Grades can be changed to pass/no-pass, classes can be retaken, and accommodations can be made.
To make matters worse, in medicine, sexual harm does not end with undergraduate education. A survey published last month showed that one in four doctors reported experiencing sexual harassment from patients in the last three years. A 2016 study revealed that approximately 30 percent of female doctors reported experiencing sexual harassment in the previous two years. However, reporting often results in little to no consequences.
It is important to note that populations disproportionately affected by sexual violence are underrepresented in medicine. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, only 6.6 percent of medical graduates is black, while they represent 14 percent of the United States population. Black women are more likely to experience sexual violence than white women, yet they are less likely to report it.
The solution to this epidemic may be simpler than we imagine. Requiring medical students to take consent training as part of their curriculum and making the medical field a safe setting for survivors could tip the scales. Accommodating survivors so that their chances of medical school admission are equalized could result in more survivors of sexual harm holding positions of power, such as in medical school admissions or hospital administration. This vicious cycle could end.
The medical field requires reform at multiple stages. All medical institutions need to take the initiative to make this happen along all steps of the process: from medical school applications to residency.
Medical schools should accommodate survivors in the application process. Hospitals should provide staff with a system that offers them validation and support. This invisible network of survivors in medicine deserves healing, and there needs to be a movement from the medical community, demanding institutional action to reduce sexual violence in their field.