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Hi!

Growing up I have had multiple chronic illnesses that have shaped my life. In recent years I have been able to be a full time college student without the illnesses getting in the way. After getting my PhD I want to work with children with chronic illness and other health issues. Some mentors have told me to include my health history in my personal statement while others have warned me to avoid it at all cost. Since it directly relates to my research interest and future career goals, should I include my medical history in my application? Thanks!

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Is your PhD in health psychology/relevant to the topics of chronic illness? I can see the first-hand understanding of chronic illnesses/how to cope or overcome them being a great strength for your application. My sense is that chronic illnesses should be less taboo than issues with mental health.

What feels right for you- do you feel you can write a good SOP/personal history while omitting this part of your life? And would you want to work with programs/profs who would reject you based on your conditions? 

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Do you have current research or clinical experiences with chronic illness populations? If so, saying something along the lines of “having X chronic illness made me interested in Y topics in children with chronic illness, so I’ve gained experience doing Z to address Y in college” then it might be okay. I agree, having a chronic autoimmune condition myself, that while it’s challenging, there’s less stigma around chronic illness relative to most mental health topics. 

 

I would be sure, if you talk about it, to make it very clear how well managed it is and how resilient it has made you. 

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Posted (edited)

My suggestion is don't mention it. I'd say it falls under one of the kisses of death mentioned in the Appleby article. They specifically say mental health but I don't see why that advice wouldn't generalize to other chronic illnesses, especially the last bit of this quote: "The discussion of a personal mental health problem is likely to decrease an applicant’s chances of acceptance into a program. Examples of this particular [kiss of death] in a personal statement included comments such as “showing evidence of untreated mental illness,” “emotional instability,” and seeking graduate training “to better understand one’s own problems or problems in one’s family.” More specifically, one respondent stated that a KOD may occur “when students highlight how they were drawn to graduate study because of significant personal problems or trauma. Graduate school is an academic/career path, not a personal treatment or intervention for problems."

A second reason is that the person statement is a misnomer. Personal narrative about how you got interested in or passionate about the topic is fluff; the space is better served talking about your concrete experiences and future research contributions - see Brown (2004).

A third reason is that, unfortunately, chronic illness still carries stigma with some people. They might read it and think, "This candidate isn't going to be as productive or will need a leave of absence before they're done."  That's unfortunate and shouldn't be the case but is what it is.

Edited by lewin

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