You have spent hours preparing your application for medical school. MCAT scores? Passed with flying colors. Undergraduate record? You nailed it. You thought you could compete with other applicants and make it past the first round of the process, that your application would stand above the rest, but after multiple rejections, you find yourself unsure as to where you went wrong. You had done everything right and submitted all of your application materials on time, but you never make it to the next round of the application process. What is stopping you from getting accepted into medical school?
The answer: the personal statement.
No matter how strong your application is, if your personal statement does not stand out, you will not make it past the first round of application reviews. There is a lot of pressure to make your personal statement reflect why you feel you would be the best candidate. Looking over your essay, you realize that you aren’t sure how to write a personal statement for medical school. While it may not seem like much, high-quality personal statements carry a great deal of influence in applications. Medical schools receive thousands of applicants but only have a few spots available, so you need your personal statement to supersede the thousands of other candidates. Luckily, Applicant Vector is here to provide you with tips and tricks to make your personal statement the one to beat.
The hardest part of writing a personal statement is figuring out where to start, mainly because you are already thinking of everything you want to say. Start your personal statement by telling the Admissions Committee a little about yourself by highlighting a few qualities. This could be anything regarding your characteristics, traits, and behaviors. A helpful tip is to gear your qualities towards medical school. How do your qualities translate into the medical field? Will they benefit you? If so, explain.
For example, your audience will want to know if you can handle the pressure and take the lead in day-to-day activities associated with the medical field. Talk about an event that highlights your leadership experience. If you aren’t sure which qualities you should list in your personal statement, think about it from a patient perspective. What qualities would you want to see in your doctor? For example, would you like a compassionate, empathic doctor or a stern, nonsensical doctor? Write down these traits and see which ones fit you best. Some notable qualities include, but is not limited to:
With that being said, do not discuss more than three qualities in your personal statement. You will have to spend time explaining each characteristic, when or where you have demonstrated it, and how it relates to your desire to pursue medicine further. Remember, your experiences that highlight the qualities you chose do not need to come from a clinical (i.e., shadowing a physician, working with dialysis patients) or research experience (discovering a breakthrough in perceptions of neurobiology). They can come from extracurricular activities that eventually led you down this career path. Applicants often write about volunteer work they have done over the years and how those events brought out the qualities they are highlighting, and how it led to their desire to go to medical school.
You will want to include as much detail as possible, so discussing too many traits can hinder your personal statement's overall quality. You may also be limited in how much you can write. Keeping yourself limited to 2-3 qualities allows you to go more into depth with each one. For each experience you use to highlight each quality, you will want to ask yourself the following questions:
Why? Explain why you decided to go through the experience you mentioned. Readers should know what drew you to it in the first place.
How did you feel? Describe how you felt during this experience. Try to emphasize those feelings and make them relatable to your audience.
How has it affected you? Explain how the experience has changed you and your perception of the medical field.
Has it influenced you? If so, then how? Write about how this event influenced your decision to pursue medicine. You can also include how this brought out new qualities or changed previous ones.
While this may seem like a lot of information to provide initially, your personal statement is your chance to shine. You will want to prove that you aren’t just statistics on a paper but a human being. The more you can convey who you are as a person, the better it will be in the long run.
With all the information you will be giving in your personal statement, a part of you may think that generalizing a few remarks here and there won’t be a big deal. Wrong! You will be highlighting your qualities through experiences, so you will not want to add any irrelevant information. However, Dr. Demicha Rankin, Associate Dean for admissions at Ohio State University College of Medicine, says you do not want your personal statement to be a “regurgitation” of your resume. Instead, it should offer a compelling self-portrait. Your essay should be as clear and concise as possible while capturing the depth of the event stated. If you have many experiences that could prove the qualities named to the medical school, pick one experience that stands out above the rest, and focus on that. You will not want to regurgitate what the Admissions Committee already sees in your application. Instead, it would be best to concentrate on how your mentioned qualities are related to the experience you are discussing. Do not generalize your story. Centralize your focus on what is essential. You will want to describe in detail your background and how it contributed to your career path. Get to the nitty-gritty of your point.
Even though you are trying to be as concise as possible in your personal statement, you will want to write about your experiences as though you are telling a story. It should have a beginning, middle, and end; the end should reveal how your background led you to a medical field career. Be descriptive. Use imagery. Make the readers feel like they were there with you.
Let’s say you are going to talk about the time you and your friend were caught in a crossfire on the way to the movies. Here’s an example from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine between informative and being engaging writing styles:
Informative: “My best friend and I were on our way to the movies when we were caught in a crossfire.”
Engaging: “On April 10th, 2003, at approximately 11 pm, 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 you can see, the informative sentence provides a basic description of the event. The engaging statement captures your attention and makes you want to keep reading to find out what happens next. The Admissions Committee reads thousands of personal statements, so you need to keep your reader engaged from beginning to end. Keep the following storytelling tricks in mind when writing your personal statement:
Keep the story in the first-person point of view. Talk about the experience from your perspective. Include your thoughts, interactions, and reactions to the events that ensued. For example, you had provided comfort for a dying patient who you have been working with alongside a doctor. It was going to be the first patient you lost. What was running through your mind at that moment? How did you feel?
Avoid cliches. Because the Admissions Committee reads thousands of personal statements, your writing should be original. Please do not play it safe by using cliches. Many people think that using cliches is witty and a breath of fresh air in a personal statement; however, it detaches your reader from your writing and makes it a bit dry. Your best bet is to avoid cliches in your personal statement.
Make it relatable. While you want to convey a serious tone, you want readers to relate to your story. Describe the emotions you felt, even if it was an experience that made you uncomfortable or traumatized you somehow. If readers can relate to your story, they will remember it more.
Be genuine. Do not lie in your personal statement. As stated earlier, you will want to be as true to yourself as possible. Readers are getting a sense of who you are through this essay, and the last thing you want to do is write something in it that isn’t necessarily true.
When talking about yourself and trying to keep your audience engaged, you sometimes forget the main point of a personal statement. While the Admissions Committee wants to know about you as a person, they are more interested in knowing why you want to pursue medicine. The prompt provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)— “Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.—is purposely vague so that you can write on any topic of your choice. This is something you will be reiterating throughout your essay, but you will want to have a paragraph that ties into your conclusion, answering why you want to pursue medicine. Here is where it all comes together. You will want to highlight the qualities mentioned earlier, what you have learned from your experiences, and how everything you have done has contributed to your overall decision to go to medical school.
Now that you know what to include in your personal statement, it is time to buckle down and write. One of the significant problems the Admissions Committee finds is that the writer didn’t review their personal statement before submitting it. Rachel Tolen, Assistant Director and Premedical Advisor at Indiana University, suggests applicants should start writing their personal statement early and “expect to revise many versions of your draft over time.” Remember, your first draft will not always be perfect, so you want to give yourself plenty of time to revise and edit your personal statement before submission—mainly because you can only submit once.
You can look for personal statement samples to get a better idea of the writing style for which your target audience is looking. The best place to find sample essays would be from medical schools because those samples are direct examples from the audience you are trying to reach. For example, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine offers a packet of sample personal statements on their web page. Medical school webpages are the best place to start your research.
Many applicants find it challenging to begin writing their personal statements, even after they have spent time researching. Outline your personal statement before writing it. Plan out how you would like to tell your story. By outlining, you are not only organizing your essay, but you are making sure you include everything your audience requires. You won’t sit around looking for ideas or wondering what your main point was for your third paragraph; instead, you will be ready to write your statement from start to finish without hesitation. Here is one way to organize your personal statement:
Pick 2-3 qualities. Make a bullet for each quality you will be talking about in your essay.
Pick your experience. Under each quality listed, figure out which experience(s) convey(s) that quality. Note down a few key moments that are memorable to you. Imagery will be your best friend here.
Reflection on career path. Tie your qualities and experiences back into how this made you want to pursue the field of medicine further. Here is where all the elements of your essay come together to prove that you are passionate about medicine, that you wish to further your career, and how you would use your education once admitted into medical school.
It seems like a simple outline, but you will find yourself writing more than you think. Outlining will help you figure out how you want your audience to perceive you. You want your story to have a beginning, middle, and end that flows and is engaging. By preparing before actually writing your personal statement, you leave little room for error and irrelevant information.
Depending on the medical school to which you are applying, you will want to know the word count or character limit allowed for your personal statement. You have no room to go over the set limit. For example, the space for your personal statement in the AMCAS application only allows 5,300 characters. MD-PhD programs will ask for another personal statement with no more than 3,000 characters, along with a 10,000-character essay discussing significant research experience. If the medical school you choose requires additional essays, make sure you know how much you can write.
You will want to have a few days after completing your first draft to review it. Do not try to look over your personal statement the day you finish it. Give yourself at least 24 hours before going back to check it; this way you will walk in with a fresh mind and catch more mistakes. Another option would be to have a third party to review your personal statement. A new pair of eyes often find errors you glance over. Applicant Vector offers consultations, providing feedback on how to enhance your personal statements. Understand that once you have submitted your essay, you cannot make any changes to it, so you want to make sure it is perfect.
Writing a personal statement for medical school is stressful. You want to include as much information about you as possible while keeping in line with the restrictions. Your personal statement could make or break your application for medical school. It has to stand out above the other thousands of personal statements as well. That puts a lot of pressure on you.
Now is not the time to panic or rethink your career path. With the steps above, your personal statement will be the one to beat. Remember, keep it simple while capturing the depth and breadth of your experiences. Never forget the main point of your essay: to convey your passion for medicine and why you wish to pursue it. Keep your audience engaged by showing them you are more than just a statistic or number in line.
With this step-by-step guide, your personal statement for medical school will have you bumped up to one of the top applicants. Applicant Vector is here to help you every step of the way.