Accepted Duke Medical School Secondary Essays & Examples

June 10, 2024
8 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 6/10/24

Wondering how to write the Duke Medical School secondaries? Follow along for all the essay tips and samples you need to get started. 

Secondary essays can seem like a major undertaking, which is why most students find getting started is the hardest part. If this sounds familiar to you, you’ve come to the right place! In this guide, we discuss everything you need to know about writing memorable supplemental essays for Duke. 

Even if Duke isn’t one of your target medical schools, our expert tips can still help you to write stellar essays for any medical school you apply to. Stick around to find out how to write the Duke Med School supplemental essays including tips, samples, and more.

Let’s get started!

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Duke Medical School Secondary Essay Prompts & Tips

The Duke supplemental application is notorious for being extraordinarily long. There are nine essay prompts in total to get through, although not all of them are mandatory for submission. Nevertheless, you should get started on your supplemental essays as soon as you can to ensure you have enough time to write thoughtfully and review thoroughly. 

The secondary essay prompts are the following:

Essay Prompt #1

Share with us your story. This is your opportunity to allow us to know how you wish to be addressed, recognized and treated. (500 words)

Essay Prompt #2

  • Trust and rapport are essential in your day-to-day interactions with people. How do you cultivate a relationship with a person who may be very different from you? (400 words)

Essay Prompt #3

  • Describe a situation in which you chose to advocate for someone who was different from you or for a cause or idea that was different from yours. Define your view of advocacy. What risks, if any, might be associated with your choice to be an advocate? (400 words)

Essay Prompt #4

  • Not achieving a goal or one’s desire can sometimes be disheartening. What have you discovered from your setbacks and disappointments and how does this translate to your current way of thinking? (400 words)

Essay Prompt #5

  • What do you value most as a leader and as a contributor? What attributes do you possess as a leader and as a team member and how do you apply them on a daily basis? (400 words)

Essay Prompt #6

  • Critical thinking involves a number of characteristics. Research experience enhances critical analysis skills. Describe any research experience or similar experience in which you utilized critical thinking. 

Essay Prompt #7

  • How will critical thinking be important in your future career? (400 words)
  • Understanding the Need for Healthcare Changes: Potential sources of health inequities exist. Duke’s Moments to Movement (M2M) is a collective stand to address these issues. Discuss your experience with disparities in health, health care and society. (400 words)

Essay Prompt #8

  • How has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced your journey to medical school? Have these events changed your outlook on medicine’s role in society? (400 words)

As you can see, the final prompt is optional. For more information on the application process, take a look at our complete guide on how to get into Duke Medical School. There, we discuss how to apply, application material requirements, and much more.

We've also put together a full list of secondary essay prompts for the 2023-2024 med school admissions to keep you organized. After submitting your primary application through AMCAS, TMDSAS, or AACOMAS, you'll start receiving secondary applications from July, depending on the school. 

Not all applicants get secondaries; some schools use them to screen who they consider further. Pair this list with our free 109-page Medical School Admissions guide for the best prep!

Duke Medical School Secondary Essay Tips 

Now that we’ve gone over the supplemental essay prompts, let’s go over some tips on how to answer each one. 

Tip #1: Choose an Appropriate Story

The Duke supplemental essays provide an opportunity for you to highlight what makes you a uniquely qualified med school candidate and, one day, an excellent doctor. However, demonstrating your soft skills can be challenging without sounding like you're bragging. That’s why it’s important to use anecdotal evidence to back up your claim.

For example, the “Leadership” essay asks you about your values as a leader and a team player. In this essay and others that ask you about a specific personality trait (coping skills, advocacy, critical thinking and value systems) you should select a compelling story from your past in which you demonstrated that skill. 

You can also select a story about how you developed that skill. Nobody gets everything right on their first try! Talking about a time you failed and learned from it is an excellent way to show humility, and self-awareness, and tie in the key trait in the essay prompt. Specifically, this is an excellent format for the “Coping with Disappointment” essay.

Tip #2: Stay Up to Date on Current Events 

Keeping up with current events in the medical field is an important part of the application process, especially when it comes to the “Covid-19” essay and the “Understanding the Need for Health Care Changes” essay. Both of these essays ask you to provide your views on healthcare and society. When formulating your answers, make sure to support your ideas!

You should always be “in the know” so that you can formulate an opinion based on medical reasoning, and you won’t be caught off guard. This is especially important in your interviews and may come up later on throughout your career. A good doctor is able to remove themselves from the equation and consider the bigger picture. 

That said, both the “COVID-19” prompt and the “Understanding the Need for Health Care Changes” prompt ask you to outline your personal experiences in relation to the future of healthcare. So, you should be able to support your opinion with a personal experience as well. 

The strongest essay, in this case, is one that is able to tie in both personal and professional reasoning to ultimately present a solid case to back the main message of your writing. For example, “In my personal life, I noticed Covid was having a negative impact on X. I did research and noticed more issues with X, so, as a future healthcare provider, I want to improve X.”

Tip #3: Consider the Structure of Your Essay

When writing your essay, something you may find helpful is to go back to the basics. In a traditional essay, the intro sets up the rest of the story by piquing our interest and setting the scene. The body paragraph(s) explain important details about the story and present the ‘problem’ of your essay. 

Next, the climax shocks you with the most interesting, key turn of events in the story. Finally, the conclusion sums up what you took away from the experience and conveys a message. Following this structure, no matter which prompts you’re writing will help you to craft an interesting story that keeps the reader engaged the entire time.

Tip #4: Research Your School

One of the best things you can do to strengthen your essays is to do a ton of school research, especially when writing the “Understanding the Need for Health Care Changes” essay and the “Value Systems” essay. Take a look at everything Duke has to offer. What attracts you to the school? What specific pieces of Duke’s history and values do you find inspiring?

Remember, you’ll be competing with some top-tier talent. Knowing exactly what you can get out of Duke will help admissions committees to see that you’ll not only be a great student but you’re a perfect fit for this school specifically. This is also why, although not always necessary, you should edit your essays and adjust them for each school you apply to. 

Tip #5: Be Authentic and Don’t Repeat Yourself

When it comes to writing supplemental essays, one of the most crucial things you need to remember is that Duke wants to get to know you. Avoid trying hard to tell a university what you think they want to hear, as it can come off as ingenuine and is often more obvious than you may think. Write with your own voice, not someone else's! 

At the same time, you should also avoid repetition. It can be tempting to talk about the amazing awards you’ve won, but if they’re already on your application - don’t worry. They saw it! Your essays are the place to provide insight into who you are as a person. In short, be genuine, write in your own voice, and don’t repeat your resume. 

Tip #6: Only Write the Optional Essays if They Apply to You

The first optional secondary is quite specific. It asks you to provide information on how your race, ethnicity, geographic origin, socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, or other unique advantages/disadvantages have influenced you and will continue to in the future. If this prompt does not apply to you, it’s better to not write it. 

Remember, the admissions committee wants you to be authentic. Do not go out of your way to search for a disadvantage to write about! If this prompt does apply to you, use this time to not only explain how your unique experience has been challenging for you but also talk about how you intend to pave the way for others like you in the future through the medical field. 

The same logic applied to the second optional essay. You should only write it if there’s a gap in your resume or something specific you want to explain.

Tip #7: Revise, Revise, Revise!

As always, revise your essays! Have a teacher, mentor, coach, friend, or guardian look over them before you send them in. There’s a lot of written work to submit, which means there’s a lot of room for error. Don’t let a simple grammar mistake put a stain on your hard work!

Senior Admissions Counselor Aditya shared these tips for mastering your secondary essays:

"These secondaries are a good exercise in refining your story for interview season, so don't put off this part of the application. Give it your all and give it 100% effort because it'll pay dividends down the road."
"The key rule here is to submit them as soon as you get them and to try your hardest on them. This will maximize your chance of getting an interview invite. If you like what you're seeing, subscribe below. We'll keep posting videos as the medical school application season comes into full swing."
"If you're getting these, this is a really good sign. This means that you've passed the medical school's initial screening process through thousands of applications. For the applications that they're interested in, they'll send these applicants a series of responses that they want them to answer. They want to give you the opportunity to highlight the most important parts of your application even further, and if they're impressed with your responses, this can lead to an interview invite."

Now that we’ve gone over the Duke essay prompts and our expert tips, let’s dive into some examples! Here are some Duke med school essay examples that worked. 

Duke Medical School Secondary Essay Examples

Sample Essay #1: Coping with Disappointment (400 words)

“As a student with dyslexia, I have faced my fair share of academic setbacks and disappointments. Dyslexia has presented me with unique challenges in my academic journey, from struggling to read quickly to misinterpreting written instructions. However, I have learned that it is not my dyslexia that defines me, but rather how I choose to cope with it.

One of the ways I have coped with disappointment is by developing a growth mindset. I have learned to approach setbacks as opportunities for learning and improvement, rather than as evidence of my limitations. For example, when I struggled to keep up with my reading assignments, I worked with my academic advisor to identify strategies for improving my reading speed and comprehension. By doing so, I was able to improve my grades and eventually develop a greater sense of confidence in my abilities.

Another way I have learned to work through my dyslexia is by seeking support from my community. I’m excited to take advantage of the wealth of resources at Duke University, such as the Disability Management System to the Office of Access and Outreach. Additionally, I have connected with other students with dyslexia through organizations like the Learning Disability Association, which has provided me with a sense of community and shared experience.

Finally, I have coped with disappointment by maintaining a sense of perspective. While my dyslexia may present me with unique challenges, it is important to remember that it does not define me as a person or as a potential medical student. By focusing on my strengths and working to develop strategies to overcome my weaknesses, I have been able to maintain a sense of optimism and resilience even in the face of setbacks. 

Overall, coping with disappointment as a student with dyslexia is an essential skill for any aspiring medical student. By developing a growth mindset, seeking support from the community, and maintaining a sense of perspective, I am confident that I can overcome any academic challenge and achieve my goal of attending Duke Medical School. While dyslexia may present me with unique challenges, I have learned that it is not a barrier to success, but rather an opportunity to develop resilience and perseverance.”

Why this essay works:

This essay is successful because the writer comes from a perspective of growth when talking about dyslexia. The main point to focus on when writing this essay is how you work through issues, not the issue itself. The writer also shows that they’ve done research on Duke and its medical school by incorporating programs they found and resources they intend to use.

Sample Essay #2: Value Systems

“As an international student studying in the US, I have had several opportunities to interact with people from different backgrounds. One particular situation that stands out to me happened during a group project in my communications class. Our team consisted of students from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and we were tasked with creating a presentation on a topic related to cultural diversity.

Throughout the project, I found myself struggling to connect with some of my teammates. We had different perspectives on the topic and often disagreed on how to approach the project. However, I was determined to maintain a positive and respectful relationship with all of my teammates, despite our differences.

To achieve this, I relied on my core values of empathy, open-mindedness, and respect for diversity. I made a conscious effort to listen carefully to my teammates' perspectives, even when I disagreed with them. I tried to put myself in their shoes and understand how their cultural backgrounds may have influenced their opinions.

Additionally, I remained open-minded to new ideas and approaches. Rather than dismissing my teammates' ideas outright, I asked questions and tried to understand their reasoning. I was also willing to compromise and adapt my own ideas to fit the needs and perspectives of the group.

Finally, I maintained a strong commitment to respecting diversity in all its forms. I recognized that our team's diversity was one of our greatest strengths, and I encouraged my teammates to share their unique perspectives and experiences. I also made a conscious effort to avoid making assumptions or judgments based on cultural stereotypes.

Overall, my values of empathy, open-mindedness, and respect for diversity helped me to build positive and productive relationships with my teammates, despite our differences. By actively listening, remaining open-minded, and respecting diversity, I was able to contribute to a successful group project and develop meaningful connections with people from different backgrounds.”

Why this essay works:

This essay is short and sweet. It focuses on how the students overcame their differences with teammates to complete a group project. It highlights soft skills like empathy, open-mindedness, and respect for diverse perspectives. When it comes to writing this essay, it's best to keep it light and not delve too heavily into the issue at hand. 

Sample Essay #3: COVID-19 Implications

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the world, and my journey to medical school has not been immune to its effects. As I reflect on the past year and a half, I can see how these events have changed my outlook on medicine's role in society and reinforced my commitment to pursuing a career in healthcare.

Firstly, the pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of healthcare workers and the need for a strong and resilient healthcare system. As I watched frontline workers selflessly put their own health at risk to care for others, I was struck by the incredible dedication and compassion that defines the medical profession. The pandemic has shown me that medicine is not just a job or a career path, but a calling to serve others and make a positive impact on the world.

Additionally, the pandemic has emphasized the need for innovation and adaptation in the healthcare field. The development of vaccines and new treatments in record time was a testament to the power of human ingenuity and collaboration. As a prospective medical student, I am excited to be entering a field that is constantly evolving and adapting to meet new challenges.

On a more personal level, the pandemic has also impacted my journey to medical school in practical ways. Virtual learning and remote coursework have presented unique challenges and forced me to adapt to new modes of learning. However, I have also found opportunities for growth and development in these new learning environments, such as developing stronger self-motivation and time-management skills.

The pandemic has also impacted my ability to participate in clinical experiences and volunteer opportunities. However, I have remained committed to finding ways to contribute to my community, such as volunteering at vaccine clinics and tutoring students remotely.

Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced my belief in the importance of medicine and the critical role of healthcare workers in society. It has also presented challenges and opportunities for growth in my journey to medical school. I am more determined than ever to pursue a career in healthcare and to make a positive impact on the world through medicine.”

Why this essay works:

The writer highlights several issues with the healthcare system they realized throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They also highlight the importance of the healthcare system and reinstate their passion for medicine toward the end. The best way to end this type of essay is by explaining how the pandemic has affected your desire to pursue medicine.

FAQs: Duke Med School Secondary Essays

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Duke secondary essays.

1. How Many Secondary Essays Do You Need for Duke Med School?

The secondary application for medical school at Duke is notoriously long. It sometimes has up to 10 secondary essay prompts, two of which are optional. The exact number of secondary essay prompts for the 2023-2024 application cycle has not yet been released. 

2. Does Duke Screen Before Secondaries?

According to the AAMC, Duke does not screen before sending secondary applications. Many students choose not to complete the Duke med school secondary application due to its length. However, the school is still highly competitive. 

3. How Do You Answer Duke Medical School Secondaries?

When it comes to writing memorable Duke med essays, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, you’re sure to make a good impression if you keep these tips in mind:

  • Choose appropriate stories that highlight your unique qualities
  • Stay up to date on current events 
  • Structure of your essay properly to keep your reader interested
  • Research your school
  • Be authentic, and don’t repeat yourself
  • Only write the optional essays if they apply to you
  • Revise, and then revise again!

If you’re concerned about the strength of your application, consider hiring an experienced medical school admissions coach to help you craft a successful application from start to finish. 

Also, browsing the Duke SDN 2024 forum could give you useful tips from others who are applying or have already been through the process at Duke.

Final Thoughts

Writing the Duke secondaries is a lot of work, but it’s also an excellent opportunity to stand out from the crowd! In fact, because the secondary application to Duke is longer than average, many students don’t end up moving forward with their application. So, technically, even by finishing it, you already have a leg up!

Of course, this is no excuse to slack off. Duke’s medical program is highly competitive and well-known across the country. Your essays should reflect what makes you uniquely qualified to study at Duke, highlight your soft skills, and contain compelling, memorable stories. By following our expert tips, you’re sure to have a much better chance of getting accepted to Duke!

Good luck!

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