I promised I would give an example of how I answered the inevitable leave of absence question during interviews. This is something I searched for high and low before interviews and finally I just decided to do my own thing, since there was barely any information out there in medical student forums.
Because I am beyond exhausted right now (I had my last interview this week), I’ll leave you guys with a short explanation. I usually answered something along the lines of the following:
“I took a leave of absence because I had some personal issues that caught up with me and prevented my performing to the best of my abilities in medical school. It was a tough decision, but I decided to take a break to tend to these issues as they had been snowballing for some time. In addition to that, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the same time and being her caregivers took a toll on my family. I am not afraid to say that I had depression during that time. However, it proved to be the best decision of my life, ironically, because I learned so much about myself. I learned about self-care, prioritizing my health, getting to know my strengths, weaknesses, and limitations, things I had never bothered to learn before. I am a completely different person today than I was back then, thanks to the leave of absence.”
I would also explain that during that time I kept busy doing research and going back to my long-held hobbies. In addition, I would mention that I was set to return after a year but actually only took 6 months off. Sometimes I would also add that I’ve always thought that you can’t take care of your patients if you can’t take care of yourself….I think interviewers always agreed with that. Other times I would mention that I was also dealing with the stress of med school and a break-up on top of all that (the “break-up” being The Ex).
So, I took ownership of this answer since day 1, and I think it was because I was just being 100% honest and truly believe what I was saying. The leave of absence was good for me. I made sure to look them in the eye and give off a waft of strength when answering, because that’s what I am now: stronger than before.
They always seemed satisfied with the answer. Most would agree and whatnot, were impressed by what I was saying, one confessed he himself took a leave of absence due to depression and said he thought my seeing the leave of absence as something good was a strength I had…They were all very understanding.
Only one interviewer really bothered me with the follow-up question, which was: “Do you think you’ll need time off in residency?” That was at the top program. I was like: Uh…no? I think it’s pretty implicit in what I just said?
I tried to strike a balance between being informative enough and not being TOO informative, which is precisely the advice R gave me before I began interview season. Hopefully that’s what I did and I didn’t cross the TMI line. We’ll see if that’s true come Match Day.
In summary: honesty is the best policy, and always, always, ALWAYS, give them that silver lining. Always look for the positive twist in your application’s red flags.
PS: Any specific questions on this topic are welcome. As always.