Personal Statement Example - Medical School
by Ben Frederick MD
on June 5, 2013
Medical School, July 2006
My decision to adopt the lifestyle of medicine was not the stuff of Saturday morning cartoons—no flashing light bulb materialized above my head, nor did a load of bricks fall from the sky and crush me. Medicine has, for as long as I can recall, been as innate to me as composing drafts of this essay right-handed. The earliest queries about my “grown-up” profession were answered by a matter-of-fact “I want to be a pediatrician. That’s a baby doctor.” I could never imagine doing anything else. I wanted to help people who were sick or injured, and I had an avid curiosity about the workings of the human body.
The “B” volume of my family’s World Book Encyclopedia was nearly destroyed by my small hands repeatedly flipping to the ‘Baby’ and ‘Body’ entries, studying the images in an attempt to comprehend pregnancy and birth while puzzling over how those multi-colored organs fit into my own body. Exploration in comparative anatomy began during fishing and hunting trips with my grandparents—cleaning the fish and animals was just as entertaining to me as harvesting them. I wanted to learn more, so I returned to the encyclopedia shelf. Branching out to ‘Bird,’ ‘Dog,’ ‘Ballet,’ and ‘Painting’ quenched a bit of my thirst for more global information, but I never stopped wondering just how the body worked, what happened if something stopped working, and how to fix it. Throughout my childhood, I believed I knew what medicine was, and exactly why I wanted to be a doctor.
Years later, I find myself standing in a cozy kitchen, watching a hummingbird sip red nectar from a feeder outside the window. I cool the running water. I help my grandmother steady herself on reluctant legs, bend forward, and lower her head into the sink. After getting approval of the water temperature, I wet her thin blonde hair and massage in shampoo. I recall frequent baths in her kitchen sink as a toddler and smile. I condition her hair, rinse and gently dry it. I take her into her bedroom and dress her, recounting years of playing dress-up in her fancy dresses just a few years ago. I reflect on all the changes since then, and am in awe of the power of time.
Polymyositis changed my life. When I was seven, my maternal grandmother’s doctors finally gave a name to the phantom causing her escalating symptoms: frequent falls, chronic weakness, and striking loss of muscle mass. The strong, beautiful, dynamic woman who danced with me in her kitchen as we waited for cookies to bake would never be “healthy” again. My young mind could not grasp the long-term consequences of her disease, but I absolutely did not like what happened next. My grandparents sold their split-level home and built a single story with minimal steps in and out of the house. Grandma couldn’t dance anymore. She stopped driving because her legs were too weak to press the pedals, or change between the brake and gas. I had to help her carry small boxes and open jars. About a year ago, she stopped walking. I have always resented the disease that stole so many active years from her; that will never change. However, observing her decline over the last fifteen years has given me a capacity for empathy that I sometimes take for granted. I have seen the shame-filled countenance of a woman who needs help with something most private, but who is embarrassed to ask. I have cried with her after a painful and frustrating fall, and then helped her get back onto shaky feet. I have read countless pages and pamphlets on alternative healing and experimental methods recommended to her by friends and church members, to help her decide which to try next. Despite this, she has never complained. She has remained my dearest friend, and I simply became her arms and legs. Our roles have reversed in several respects, but our love for one another has not diminished a bit. Caring for her has always felt shamefully inadequate compared to her gifts to me. Every time I end a visit, guilt racks me. I want to do so much more for her, but I cannot. Her solution: I should become a doctor and heal others. It seems my grandmother’s altruism is another precious gift.
Medicine has become more than the dream of a five-year-old who ran to aid classmates injured on the playground. Medicine has become my very purpose—improving the quality of life of as many people as I can, using all the information obtainable. My newfound love of social science, ethics, and public policy has led me to a path that combines clinical medicine with a degree in either Law or Public Health, so I can have a significant impact on as wide a range of people as possible. I want the experience of working with my own patients to identify, solve and prevent health problems, but also feel a duty to assist the entire population through education and advocacy.
As I reflect on the winding path that led me to this juncture, I am reassured that I have made the right choice, if one would call it a choice. My entire life has prepared me for this great endeavor in some form or another. I have taken the courses and done the volunteering, spent months in a research lab, and declared a gut wrenching major. I have struggled, but succeeded, yet I become more excited about my future every day. I will be an excellent doctor. I simply need the opportunity to prove it.