Applying to Medical School? How to write a winning medical school personal statement
“Your Personal Statement should address why you desire to pursue a medical education and how a medical degree contributes to your personal and professional goals.”
After this open-ended statement lies a blank box on the AMCAS medical school application for you to wow admissions committees with your courageous goals and impressive abilities. Undoubtedly, filling in the 5,200 characters of your personal statement is an intimidating task. Although you have a lot of information to cover, don’t get overwhelmed. Follow a few simple steps to get you started (and finished) in no time.
First, brainstorm. Your personal statement has three main goals: it tells the committee why you want to be a doctor, proves that your experiences have prepared you for medical school, and shows that you have the qualities that will make you a successful doctor. Start by asking yourself a few important questions. “How will medical school help me fulfill my dreams?” “How do my academic work, my community involvement, my clinical experiences, and my future ambitions all relate to medicine?”
After you have answered these questions, it’s time to show, not tell. Find stories from your experiences that will illustrate these ideas. Ask yourself, “What stories demonstrate that I already have a head start on developing the skills of a competent and caring doctor?” You don’t want to start your essay with, “I desire to pursue a medical education because of a, b, and c.” Start with a bang— immediately pull the reader into an engaging story. Effective personal statements weave together two or three personal anecdotes that illustrate why you want to be a doctor—and why you would make a good doctor.
To find your stories, think about aspects from your background that relate to medicine. What patient contact experiences have you had? Think about one specific patient you showed compassion to or helped. When have you been a leader? Strong leadership stories can come out of group projects, clubs, sports teams, tutoring, being a TA, work, etc. What accomplishments have you achieved? Achievements can range from research projects to job performance to advancement in club leadership. Finally, admissions committees love diverse applicants. What are your talents? Compassionate interaction not only shows that you’re well-rounded, but also that you work well with other people—an integral skill for a doctor.
The best stories show your readers your passion, rather than tell them about your experiences and qualities. (Learn more about putting passion into your Medical School Personal Statement from this related article.)Write about pivotal moments by zooming in on the action. Be descriptive and creative. If you write, “I feel that I can be truly compassionate when a patient is in pain,” you are telling your reader something. If you write, “As tears rolled down the girl’s cheeks, I found myself grabbing her hand. I wanted to keep her from squirming. I squeezed her hand tighter and looked her in the eye,” you are showing your reader how you are compassionate when a patient is in pain. Paint pictures for your reader. Anchor images in their mind with descriptions and dialogue. Detail not only makes your writing more interesting, but it also shows that you have an observant mind—and a good memory.
Although there is no formula for a winning statement, there are some tired themes to stay away from. First, don’t just say you “want to help people.” It is assumed that every potential doctor would like to help his or her patients. Although a good motive, the admissions officers will have read hundreds of these “I want to help people” essays. How will you stand out? The second essay to avoid is the “I want to be a doctor because one or both of my parents are doctors.” Perhaps the fact that you were raised in this kind of environment swayed you to follow in the family line, but don’t make this your whole reason for pursuing medicine. You need to have your own passions and career goals. Finally, you don’t want to re-write your resume. Don’t begin your essay with, “Since I was three, I’ve always wanted to become a doctor,” and go on to elementary school, high school, and college accomplishments. A chronological list of events does not show your personality or highlight your most recent and relevant experiences.
Once you find your two to three stories, it’s time to organize them into essay form with good flow and consistency. Your stories do not have to be in chronological order, but they do need to be connected. Consider your anecdotes and write about the insight you gained from each that will make you a better doctor. Next, work on transitional sentences to link the stories. Think about how the stories relate and pull them together with a few transitional sentences. Finally, write a conclusion. Ways to draw your statement to a close are: bringing back an element of your opening story or summarizing how your experiences have prepared you for medicine. Before writing the conclusion, read your statement through a couple times to see what overall impression you get. You might even need to walk away for an hour and read it again. Then you’ll be ready to write a strong, cohesive conclusion for your personal statement.
Your first draft should be between 5,500-6,000 characters (including spaces). This way, by the time that you finish editing and revising, your statement should be at its appropriate length of 5,200 characters or so. During the revising process, cut filler words and repetitive content. Don’t use excessive wordiness such as, “I found myself with an opportunity to be able to assist the doctor with the first patient he had in the morning.” This sentence can simply be cut to: “I assisted the doctor with his first patient of the morning.” Good writing is made up of the three c’s: clear, concise, and cohesive.
Finally, write as you speak. Use a natural voice instead of a formal tone that you would use for a college paper. Writing your personal statement is your chance to get creative! Don’t try to impress the admissions committees by writing what you think they want to hear, or pulling out a thesaurus and using grandiose words to sound smart. You want your personal voice to shine through and the stories of your life to give admissions officers a sense of who you are. The ultimate goal of your personal statement is to interest the committee enough to interview you—and the committee wants to interview a person, not an academic essay.
A very useful shortcut is to model your essay after the winning essays of other med students who were successfully accepted to medical school. You can watch a video about some sample medical school personal statements, including templates and more, here at www.personalstatementsecrets.com. Check it out!
You can also find some interesting tips from Princeton Review’s articles on medical school personal statements.