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I am a nontraditional applicant for medical school and wanted to ask questions about my application here. I was previously enrolled in another MD program. I had an undiagnosed disability that resulted in some abnormal behavior, including research misconduct (data fabrication). It led to me withdrawing from medical school program, but I have spent several years recovering. I have finished a PhD. I have published many papers including a few at top journals (Cell) since then.

I maintain a strong interest in academic medicine and I am ready to take another go at it.

How might my application be processed differently? How successful could an applicant like myself be? Do you have advice on how I can present myself in the best manner? Do I have a chance?

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  • Do many MD programs take PhDs? I know MD/PhD programs exist but I know of few people who went PhD -> MD. (Occasionally, the other way 'round). Nov 24 '20 at 18:20
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    I do think MD programs take PhDs.
    – J. Doe
    Nov 24 '20 at 20:06
  • @AzorAhai-him- I know one person who got a Ph.D. in mathematics and later went to medical school and got an M.D. Nov 24 '20 at 20:10
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    There's no reason why it wouldn't be possible. The question in my case is what I can do given the history of academic misconduct.
    – J. Doe
    Nov 25 '20 at 9:56
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+25

I think the road is uphill and very steep. Research misconduct is bad, but in medicine it is deadly. Literally deadly. You will need to find a way to convince people that the past isn't going to be repeated - has no chance of being repeated.

But it is difficult for a person to reassure others, on their own, that they will be good, now, where before they were bad..

I think your chances depend very strongly on what kinds of recommendations you can get from others who know you well and are aware of your past as well as your present capabilities and attitudes.

It may be that people will take your previous "undiagnosed disability" as an ameliorating factor, but even then will need assurance that it won't/can't return. Again, others can speak for you and if they are putting their own reputations on the line for you, can make the difference. But people will need to be wary, because of the possible consequences.

The same concerns wouldn't be there if you were studying, for example, CS or math. But medical research is qualitatively different.

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    Unfortunately I agree with @buffy here. You have to imagine a search committee considering lots of candidates for a limited number of positions, and whether "this one committed data fabrication" won't be a deal breaker before they even look at anything else. Your best chance may be to apply to a program where you have a personal relationship with a faculty member who believes in your reform and can get you past that initial hurdle.
    – Jeff
    Nov 27 '20 at 15:02
  • Even with the caveat that the data fabrication was caused by a disability and has been treated now?
    – J. Doe
    Nov 27 '20 at 15:53
  • @J.Doe, not knowing the nature of the disability, yes. Can it recur? It is likely to be a concern if there is nothing to counter it.
    – Buffy
    Nov 27 '20 at 15:58
  • It is mental illness. I have been treated for years now and it is believed that the risk of recurrence is very low.
    – J. Doe
    Nov 27 '20 at 16:07
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    Excellent. But it is still best if others speak for you.
    – Buffy
    Nov 27 '20 at 16:20
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I had an undiagnosed disability that resulted in some abnormal behavior, including research misconduct (data fabrication).

The first thing you will need to deal with is the fact that this explanation sounds completely implausible. I am not medically trained, but it is not clear to me how any disability (other than a moral "disability") would cause a person to fabricate data. Unless you have some pretty convincing details for that, colour me skeptical.

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  • A mental disorder would not cause someone to fabricate data, but it could be a contributing factor. Obviously the specific disorder in question matters (consider ADHD vs schizophrenia).
    – forest
    May 10 at 22:10
  • Even if it were a "contributing factor" (I am yet to see a mental disorder in the DSM-IV that lists data fabrication as a symptom), I would be highly skeptical of any explanation that gives a chain of causality that goes directly from the disability to the fabrication of data, without some intervening discussion of the bad decision-making in between. Such an answer demonstrates that the student is unwilling to self-reflect on their own culpability in the process, which bodes poorly for any re-application.
    – Ben
    May 10 at 22:20
  • Do you really expect "fabrication" to be listed as a medical symptom? Regardless, it would be bizarre to call any actions taken during (say) a psychotic episode bad decisions. Now, I'm not claiming that OP suffered from a psychotic episode, but it is an undeniable fact that psychosis can cause people to do things they would never, ever do otherwise. This begs the question: did OP fabricate data because they had ADHD and didn't want to wait to find the real results, or were they in a delusional state and thought that their bones would turn to liquid if they didn't falsify data?
    – forest
    May 10 at 22:45
  • And before you say that no one could possibly function well enough during a psychotic episode to falsify data while otherwise appearing normal, you should look at Terry Davis, a man with schizophrenia who managed to develop an entire functioning operating system during his episodes.
    – forest
    May 10 at 22:49
  • I needn't look at any of that, because the onus is on the student to explain the circumstances of their misbehaviour.
    – Ben
    May 10 at 22:58
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Present your case: Argue that your undiagnosed disability led to research misconduct. You've since been diagnosed and recovered, and any future research misconduct would be entirely your own responsibility.

Acknowledge your misconduct, explain it was out of your control, and take responsibility moving forwards.

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