How to Write a Medical School Personal Statement
by Ben Frederick MD
on July 14, 2013
Although you spend hours, even days, composing your medical school personal statement, the admissions committee only reviews it for a period of 3 to 10 minutes. This is why it is critical to make an impact right at the beginning. Your personal statement is like a first impression, although your academic qualifications and other achievements are also taken into consideration. Your personal statement needs to set you apart from the crowd, and there is always a crowd applying to medical school.
Understand Why the Personal Statement is Important
Over 50% of medical school applicants do not get accepted into their programs of choice. Most of these applicants have average scores or higher on the MCAT, as well as excellent undergraduate grades. However, grades are not all there is to it. Recommendations from professors and physicians play a significant role in the decision process. In the end, however, it is the personal statement that sets you apart from other equally well-qualified applicants. The medical school admissions committee does not want to fill spots with mediocre candidates. Instead, they want to place candidates that will likely succeed in the medical profession, and that success involves dedication and discipline.
Consider Your Reason to Attend
Although liberal arts graduates who do well in science courses have an equal chance of acceptance when compared with "pre-med" students, medical schools want to see evidence of a real interest in medicine. A genuine interest in this field of study is often due to a genuine interest in people, as medicine is a front row seat at the drama of life. Oftentimes, altruism motivates medical school applicants. There is always the consideration of job security, but no one really goes to medical school these days to become rich. There are easier ways to do that, like investment banking or computer programming. Make sure your reason for attending medical school is the right reason.
Convey What Led You to Pursue Medicine
Before you begin to write your personal statement, realize that you are telling your audience why a medical career is your life's pursuit. This is a very important question, and you should jot down every reason that comes to mind. Often, the decision to pursue medicine is due to a combination of factors, and your essay can reflect that. Your statement creates an impact if you explain the multiple factors in detail, emphasizing specific life experiences and events. You want the reader to have a complete understanding of these factors.
Make Sure You Want to Do This
If you do not know what led you to pursue medicine, or you find that healthcare is not that compelling, you should stop here. Medical school and post-graduate training is an arduous path, and if you are applying to medical school to please your parents or to deal with some external pressure, you will not succeed. Make sure your choice to attend is your own and not someone else’s. Hopefully, after reading this far, you now consider the upsides and the downsides of the medical field.
Ask Yourself These Questions Before you Begin
Medical school committee members look for certain characteristics in their applicants, and this is your chance to showcase your special talents and achievements. Before sitting down with pen in hand, take some time to think over a few things. Some questions that will give insight include:
- Why medicine?
- Why a physician and not a nurse-practitioner or physician assistant?
- What inspires me to work toward this difficult goal?
- What experiences have prepared me for a career that is focused upon helping others?
- What experiences have I had that will allow me to put my patients first?
- Who is my role model as a physician, and what qualities in that physician do I admire?
- Who is my role model in life, and why do I admire this person?
- What people do I admire, and what qualities do they share with me?
- Why do I stand out as a medical school candidate?
- Do start early – Be sure you begin writing a month or so before you plan to submit your application. You don’t want to be pressed for time. Whatever you do, don’t rush!
- Do use proper grammar and punctuation – You may want to brush up on the basics of writing to gain comprehension of correct use of the English language. You don’t want to turn in a statement that is full of grammatical mistakes and punctuation errors.
- Do structure it correctly –You should format your personal statement in a way that catches your reader's attention immediately. How can you capture their interest in your first paragraph? This may be your only opportunity.
- Do allow your reader to know who you are –If this means revealing personal stories or emotions, then, don't be afraid to do so. The personal statement is your monologue to the admission committee. Tell them who you are and what you are about.
- Do show your commitment –You know how difficult the path is that lies ahead. The admissions committee members need to know that you realize years of struggles and difficulties lie ahead, with the actual practice of medicine being your only reward. It is a wonderful gift and privilege. Let the committee know that you realize the path ahead is sometimes arduous, but also let them know that, for you, the practice of medicine rewarding. If it does not appear that gratifying to you, reconsider your application.
- Do relate to your reader –Take original life experiences and relate them to how you hope to practice medicine. Also, include your reasons for doing so. Many pre-med students tend to gain insight by either volunteering on a mission trip or working in the local hospital in the summers. Perhaps you even shadowed a physician during your college years. While this is fine, don't talk about you experiences in generalities. Pick one great story, and tell it well.
- Do organize your essay –Introduce yourself in the first paragraph, and decide what topic or topics you will cover. Cover them succinctly, and conclude each topic paragraph with a strong wrap-up. Your essay should flow easily from topic to topic. Your conclusion should tie the entire essay together smoothly. If you are unable to do that, you may have included too much material, and should refocus on a few key points.
- Do proofread –Five times is not too many. Read through your statement a couple of times for content and structure. Have friends and family read your essay, and ask them to offer comments. Have your college English teacher, or someone who is knowledgeable about writing, take a look at your grammar and punctuation. Before you send in your essay, take a last look at it. This is easy to do, and if you don’t get it right, it could be disastrous.
- Don't regurgitate your transcript – Remember, they have already looked at it. Also, they can view it any time they feel necessary.
- Don’t stray from your topic – Be specific, concise, and direct. You have a subject in mind, so don't stray from telling your story concisely. Keep on point and stay focused.
- Don’t add filler and unnecessary information – You may feel that you need to add content to your statement to make it longer. This is what writers call “filler”. So, when you are tempted to add filler - DON'T.
- Don't rush – Give yourself several months, and revisit your essay after completion. Put it in your drawer and read it again a week or so, when you are rested and have a block of time to sit down and relax while reading. Then, read the statement as though you are reading about someone else, and judge the essay from that viewpoint. Are you interested in getting to know that person? If not, start again.
- Don’t include academic successes that do not pertain to medicine – If you have achieved some unusual academic success, then it is relevant to your aptitude and desire to attend medical school. If you won an essay contest in high school, it is not worth mentioning in the personal statement.
- Don't embellish or use others’ work – Avoid hyperbole and plagiarism. The admissions committee members can see through this, and they always put your essay through a plagiarism program to check for use of others’ work.
- Don’t talk about controversial topics – The personal statement is no place for topics that are of questionable nature. You do not want to alienate someone who has a different perspective than you.
- Don’t discuss emotional experiences - If you relate an emotional experience, assure that you do so in a professional manner. Also, if you do not feel that you can rehash this during your interview, don't write about that experience.
- Don't make excuses for anything – Committee reviewers will not be impressed with your excuses, as your excuses do not excuse you.
- Don't apologize for past mistakes or underachievement – The personal statement is your chance to shine and present your positive aspects. Don't make the mistake of appearing regretful.
- Don’t use clichés – The reader will view this as a poor attempt to appear entertaining. Clichés are so cliché.
- Don't talk about money – If financial gain is why you are entering the medical field, realize that there are easier ways to earn a living. While medicine is lucrative, that should not be the reason for quest for entry into the profession.
- Don’t underestimate or overestimate the medical profession– Medicine is stressful. Patient care is frustrating. A physician is not GOD. The leaders in the medial field pride themselves on discipline, dedication, ability, and humanity. Don’t go into medicine looking for an easy career – you will be in for a real shock!
Now that you understand the steps and components of writing a medical school personal statement, you will have no problem completing this task. As always, medical school is not for everyone, as the profession requires lots of work, long hours, and much dedication, and sincere devotion. Good luck as you embark on this life-changing journey!