How To Write The Perfect Diversity Essay For Medical School

December 21, 2023
Contents

”Akhil

Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 5/19/23

Wondering how to write the perfect diversity essay for medical school? Stick around to find out our top tips!

The medical school admissions process is becoming increasingly holistic. Admissions committees look at more than just your GPA and extracurricular activities to decide your candidacy.

There is a significant need to diversify the medical field, so various other selection factors play an important role in your success. Many medical schools require secondary essays as part of their application materials to help them assess candidates’ strengths, desirable qualities, experiences, and insights. 

Some schools require the medical school diversity essay, so it’s essential to understand the ins and outs of what makes a compelling essay stand out. This blog will review the definition of diversity in the context of medical school applications and provide examples of prompts from top schools. 

You will also learn how to write a diversity essay, including tips on what to include and the proper format to follow. Lastly, we’ll provide an example that tells an interesting story and connects a candidate’s diversity with a medical school’s mission and vision.

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What is a Diversity Essay for Medical School?

A diversity essay is required or recommended for many medical school secondary applications. In the cases that the diversity essay is recommended, you should still consider it as a requirement, as submitting additional, strong materials maximize your chances of acceptance. 

Admissions committees matriculate well-rounded, diverse, and experienced candidates, so sending more materials will help them gain a better overview of your unique background. 

If you look at medical school websites, there is a common theme among mission and vision statements: diversity. This is because the medical field needs to diversify health care practitioners who can empathize with and effectively treat various types of patient populations.

Some schools even have separate diversity statements that show their ongoing commitment to matriculate a diverse student body, representing every race, religion, sexual orientation, identity, educational/professional background, and more. 

In fact, admissions committees are even seriously considering and matriculating non-traditional applicants from non-science backgrounds to further serve the benefits of diversity in medicine. 

Infographic outlining the factors that make candidates diverse and how to write a diversity essay.


What Counts as Diversity?

If you’re worried that you don’t count as a diverse candidate because you don’t belong to a historically underrepresented group, cast your concerns aside. Diversity in the context of diversity essays for medical school is not a code word to only matriculate ethnic or racial minorities. 

Yes, candidates from minority groups are diverse and are encouraged to apply to medical school, but diversity doesn’t end there. Rather, diversity is broadly defined to include many categories. Everyone is diverse because everyone has their own unique experiences and backgrounds to draw from, which is valuable in healthcare.

There are many distinguishing factors and characteristics that can make candidates diverse:

  • Non-traditional applicants (2 or more gap years before med school)
  • Candidates who are non-science majors
  • Career changers
  • Candidates with a disability
  • Historically underrepresented groups (racial, ethnic, gender and gender identity, linguistic, sexual orientation, religion, and more)
  • Older returning students
  • Applicants with military service
  • Parents returning to the workforce
  • Candidates who overcome extreme challenges and adversity
  • Applicants with a difficult socioeconomic background

If you broaden your understanding of diversity to include your unique learning experiences and worldviews, you will have a plethora of examples to choose from to write a powerful diversity essay. 

Examples of Diversity Essay Prompts

The following are previous diversity essay prompts from top medical schools to give you an idea of what a diversity essay prompt looks like. You’ll notice there is a similar thread in all of these prompts: medical schools want to know about your diversity in broadly defined terms, and most importantly, how it will enhance the school’s mission, vision, and student body.

Prompt: Stanford University School of Medicine

The Committee on Admissions regards the diversity (broadly defined) of an entering class as an important factor in serving the educational mission of the school. The Committee on Admissions strongly encourages you to share unique, personally important and/or challenging factors in your background which may include such discussions as the quality of your early education, gender, sexual orientation, any physical challenges, and life or work experiences. Please describe how these factors have influenced your goals and preparation for a career in medicine and may help you to uniquely contribute to the Stanford learning environment.”

Prompt: Wake Forest School of Medicine

“We seek to train physicians who can connect with diverse patient populations with whom they may not share a similar background. Tell us about an experience that has broadened your own worldview or enhanced your ability to understand those unlike yourself and what you learned from it.”

Prompt: Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont

 “The Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont recognizes that diversity extends beyond chosen and unchosen identities and encompasses the entirety of an individual’s experiences. Reflect on a time you learned something from someone or a group of people who are unlike yourself.”

Prompt: Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

 “Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons values diversity in all its forms. How will your background and experiences contribute to this important focus of our institution and inform your future role as a physician?”

Prompt :University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine

“At the University of Chicago, in an atmosphere of interdisciplinary scholarship and discovery, the Pritzker School of Medicine is dedicated to inspiring diverse students of exceptional promise to become leaders and innovators in science and medicine for the betterment of humanity. Our mission statement is an expression of our core purpose and educational philosophy. In particular, it highlights the value we place on diversity since we regard the diversity of entering class as essential for educational excellence. Please write an essay on how you would enhance diversity at Pritzker and advance the Pritzker mission.”

 Use our tool to discover every U.S. medical school’s secondary essay prompts! 

How to Write a Diversity Essay

If you’re having trouble figuring out how to write a diversity essay, take the following steps:

1. Identify What Makes You Unique

First, before you even begin to write, brainstorm the things in your background that make you unique. In particular, think about your education, work experience, extracurricular activities, upbringing, family life, and other aspects of your journey to medical school.

Brainstorming ideas is meant to get your creative juices flowing. At this point, don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. Your goal is to get as many ideas on paper as possible so that you can begin to craft a story that uses one to three examples for your diversity essay.

You can ask yourself the following questions to get started:

  • Who are you at your core, at your best self?
  • What experiences have defined you?
  • How do you identify yourself, and how does this differ from society’s expectations of your identity?
  • How have you overcome challenges, adversity, or rejection?
  • Where did you grow up, and what was it like to live there? How do your geographic roots inform your worldview?
  • What was your family life like?
  • Have you faced a disability, injury, or illness? What did you learn, and how did you overcome these challenges?
  • Are you a part of any teams, groups, or organizations? How have they contributed to your interpersonal skills?

Remember, admissions committees are interested in your story. You should never falsify information in your essays. Write what you know!

2. Pick 1-3 Meaningful Experiences to Potentially Write About

A compelling diversity essay consists of one or a few meaningful experiences instead of overloading the essay with brief mentions of too many examples. You should prioritize quality over quantity and weave a story that’s memorable to the admissions committee.

You should also be mindful of character limits. Every school has different requirements, so be sure you achieve the minimum character count and stay within the upper limits. 

3. Outline the Structure of Your Diversity Essay

No matter the length of your secondary essays, you should always structure it with the following: 

  • An introduction that hooks the reader. 
  • A body that details your experience(s). 
  • A conclusion that concisely ties everything together with the school’s mission.

The introduction should begin to tell your main story. It should introduce your main talking points so that the reader knows what to expect in the essay. Strong introductions often have a hook, which can appear as the beginning of an interesting and evocative anecdote.

The body of your diversity essay should delve into your unique experience through reflective storytelling. Here is where you will go into compelling details about your examples. The body will also demonstrate how your diversity will be an asset to the school and your peers and colleagues. 

It’s also important to show rather than tell. For example, rather than list all of the personal characteristics that make you diverse, use imagery and storytelling to show these personal characteristics in action. 

Finally, the conclusion should neatly tie in your meaningful and diverse experiences to the pursuit of medicine. Your last sentences should leave the reader with a strong impression of why your diversity will be an asset to the school.

4. Write the First Draft

Draw from your notes and outlines to write the first draft. Excellent writing involves an evolution of multiple drafts, so don’t be discouraged if the first draft isn’t perfect. 

You’re not striving for perfection here—you’re still in the beginning stages, so you should prioritize fully addressing the essay prompt with strong examples from your diverse background. Polishing your first draft can come later.

5. Revise and Edit Your Diversity Essay

Go over your draft with a critical eye. Ensure that all prompt components are thoroughly answered, check for spelling and grammatical mistakes, and proofread for proper syntax and sentence structure. 

Look at the flow of your essay. The transitions from introduction, to the body, to the conclusion should be seamless and make sense. If you’re writing about a few experiences, ensure that they make sequential and logical sense. The transitions should feel natural, not jarring or out of place.

Have someone else look at your essay to offer objective feedback. This can be a trusted friend, family member, instructor, employer, peer, or mentor. Be open to constructive criticism and revise any areas that need improvement or further clarification/elaboration. 

Diversity Essay Examples

The following diversity essay examples both tell compelling and memorable stories. As you read, consider how the essay transports you to another location and invites you to view medicine and health care from a unique perspective. 

Note how the essay ties into the school’s mission, vision, and goals for diversifying health care. Finally, consider the overall structure of the essay: there is a tangible introduction, body, and conclusion.

“Being South Asian, I have firsthand knowledge of what it means not to access basic health care. As a child, my mother took me to Pakistan every year, where I spent summers with my grandfather, a top pediatrician in the nation.

He had a free clinic attached to his home in Faisalabad, and his practice was so renowned and respected that people from all over the country would travel great distances to have my grandfather treat their children. 

Pakistan is a third-world country where a significant part of the population remains illiterate and uneducated due to the lack of resources and opportunities. This population is the most vulnerable, with extremely high numbers of infectious disease and mortality rates.

Yet, it is entirely underserved. With the lack of hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices in rural Pakistan, parents of ailing children must travel great distances and wait in long lines to receive proper health care. 

Every summer at my grandfather’s clinic, from ages five to 17, my job was to open the doors to long lines of tired, hungry, and thirsty parents with their sick children. I would pass out bottled water and pieces of fruit. I would record names, where the patients came from, and the reasons for their visits.

I would scurry back inside with the information for my grandfather to assess, and then he’d send me running back out again to let the next family inside. I learned in my formative years how to communicate with diverse patient populations with special needs and a lack of basic necessities.

I learned to listen to every family’s unique reasons for their visit, and some of their desperation and pleading for the lives of their children will stay with me forever.

When I get into medical school, I hope to share the story of how Gulzarah carried her dehydrated daughter for 12 miles in the Pakistani summer heat without rest (thanks to my grandfather, she later made a full recovery).

I want to tell my peers that doctors like my grandfather are not only healers in biology but healers in the spirit by the way he made up heroic songs for the children and sang the fear out of their hearts. I want to show my peers that patients are unique individuals who have suffered and sacrificed to trust us with their health care, so we must honor their trust by providing quality treatment and empathy.

My formative experiences in pediatrics contributed to my globally conscious mindset, and I look forward to sharing these diverse insights in my medical career.”

Example 2: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

“‘911 operator, what’s your emergency?’ ‘My friend has just been shot and he is not moving!’ ‘Is he breathing?’ ‘I don't think so!’ ‘Are you hurt?’ ‘No.’ ‘Stay there, the paramedics are on their way.’ 

On April 10th 2003, at approximately 11pm, my best friend Kevin and I, intending to see a movie, headed out my front door. We never made it to see a horror movie; but our night was nothing close to mundane, when we became innocent victims to gang crossfire. As we descended my front door stairs two gunshots were fired and one person fell to the floor. Kevin was shot! I vividly recall holding him in my arms, and while he lost blood I almost lost my mind. All I wanted was to help, but there was nothing I could do. At 1am that morning Kevin's family and I sat in the emergency waiting room at Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn, hoping and praying that the chief surgeon would bring us good news. While this event started me on my quest to become a medical doctor, at that moment all I could envision was a life of despondency. 

According to author Jennifer Holloway, ‘tragedy is a substance which can ignite the soul.’ When Kevin’s surgeon walked through the door of the emergency waiting room he did not have to say a word. Kevin’s family cried hysterically. I, on the other hand, could not cry. As fast as despondency had filled my heart, it was now gone; I was consumed by anger, frustration and motivation to change my life’s direction. The death of my best friend compelled me to pursue a career in medicine. This, I hope, will enable me to help save the lives that others try to take. 

In the fall of this event, I took my first biology and chemistry courses. By the end of the year I excelled as the top student in biology, received the Inorganic Chemistry Achievement Award and was encouraged to become a tutor in general biology and chemistry. 

Tutoring was a captivating experience for me. Questions raised by students challenged my understanding of scientific concepts and their application in patient care. To further develop my knowledge of medicine, I volunteered in the emergency department at Albert Einstein Hospital, in Bronx, NY. While shadowing doctors, I was introduced to triaging, patient diet monitoring and transitioning from diagnosis to treatment. This exposed me to some of the immense responsibilities of a doctor, but my 5 experience helping in the cancer ward was where I learned the necessity of humanity in a physician and how it can be used to treat patients. Peering through a window I saw Cynthia, a seven-year-old girl diagnosed with terminal cancer, laughing uncontrollably after watching her doctor make funny faces. For a moment not only did Cynthia forget that she was dying, but her smile expressed joy and the beauty of being alive. This taught me that a physician, in addition to being knowledgeable and courageous, should show compassion to patients. It also became clear to me that a patient’s emotional comfort is as important as their physical health, and are both factors that a physician considers while providing patient care. 

Although focused on medicine, I was introduced to research through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation in Science. Here, I learned organic synthesis techniques, while working on a project to elucidate the chemical mechanisms of oxygen protein binding and its relationships to anemia. I also received the United Negro College Fund/Merck Science Initiative Research Scholarship that allowed me to experience cutting edge research in Medicinal Chemistry, with a number of world-class scientists. At Merck Research Labs, I learned the fundamentals of synthesizing novel compounds for drug discovery, and we focused on treatments for cardiac atrial fibrillation. This internship changed my view of medication and their origins, and left me with a deep appreciation of the challenges of medicinal research. I also now understand that medical doctors and research scientists have similar responsibilities: to solve current and future health issues that we face. 

Despite the tragedy that brought me to the hospital on April 10th 2003, the smells, the residents and the organized chaos of the emergency room have become an integral part of a new chapter in my life. On the day that my friend lost his life I found my soul in medicine. Today as I move forward on the journey to become a physician I never lose sight of the ultimate goal; to turn the dying face of a best friend into the smiling glow of a patient, just like Cynthia’s. A patient’s sickness can be a result of many things. But with the right medications, a physician’s compassion and some luck, sickness can be overcome, and the patient helped. In time and with hard work it will be my privilege to possess the responsibilities of a physician in caring for life.”

FAQs: Med School Diversity Essays

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about how to write a diversity essay for medical school. 

1. I’m Not an Underrepresented Minority, so How Can I Write a Diversity Essay for Medical School?

Diversity in the context of medical school secondary essays is not limited to race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or other historically underrepresented groups. Think of diversity in broader terms that include your unique experiences and insights, and write about how your diverse skill sets will enhance the school and the student body.

2. How Can I Write a Diversity Essay that Stands Out from Other Candidates?

Brainstorm unique experiences that you have had and narrow down one or two main experiences to weave compelling stories with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion. You should prioritize the quality of your experiences and elaborate upon them rather than pack too many bullet points in a limited space.

3. I’m Not a Strong Writer, How Can I Improve My Diversity Essay for Medical School?

Writing is not a linear process, and even bestselling authors need skilled editors. Start small with outlines and notes, then flesh out the essay with details. Write multiple drafts. When you’re happy with a draft, ask friends, family, peers, colleagues, instructors, or mentors for objective feedback. You can also consult with our team of experts to help you. 

4. Why Do Some Medical Schools Require Diversity Essays?

Medical schools want to diversify the field and accept candidates with unique backgrounds and skill sets. These students will go on to be leaders in health care, so a holistic admissions process ensures that the world’s future doctors represent diverse groups, perspectives, talents, and skill sets. 

5. Where Can I Find More Prompts and Examples of Diversity Essays?

Browse the medical school’s website and read their application procedures. You can also contact the school’s admissions committee helpline for more information.

6. What Should I Avoid in my Medical School Diversity Essay?

Avoid spelling and grammar errors, an unprofessional or casual tone/language, controversial or offensive statements, embellishing stories, and negative outlooks. If your diversity essay addresses facing adversity, make sure to focus on a growth mindset, what you learned, and the positive outcomes of that experience.

7. How Long Should a Diversity Essay Be?

Every school has its own character limits and requirements for secondary essays. Be sure to follow the recommended application guidelines and secondary essay requirements, including the school’s specific diversity prompt. You can use the same stories for each diversity essay but repurpose them to answer different prompts. 

8. How Important is a Diversity Essay for Med Schools?

Essays are generally considered a highly important piece of your med school application as they allow you the most room to express who you are and stand out from others. So, writing a thoughtful, compelling diversity essay can seriously improve your chances of acceptance - making them an important piece of your overall application.

Final Thoughts

The diversity essay for medical school is an important component of many secondary applications. Medical schools are increasingly relying on a holistic review of candidates to diversify medicine to better serve global patient populations.

To write an effective diversity essay, think about the unique characteristics and experiences that make you unique. Remember that diversity is broadly defined, so don’t limit yourself to only certain categories.

Pick one to three of the strongest examples that showcase your diversity in the best light. Answer the prompt fully and include every aspect of the prompt. Remember to tell a great story and tie in your experiences to the school’s goals of diversifying health care.

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