How To Write A Personal Statement For Medical School

February 15, 2024
9 min read
Contents

”Rohan

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Chief Resident in Anesthesiology, Weill Cornell Medicine, & Admissions Officer, Columbia University

Reviewed: 2/15/2024

A personal statement takes time to prepare, especially for medical school. We’ve outlined exactly what you should include to improve your chances of acceptance.


Getting into medical school is no easy feat. On average, medical schools in the United States receive over 7,000 applications each year for a limited number of seats. Crafting a personal statement that stands out is critical to making your application competitive.

This article provides key strategies to help you write a compelling personal statement that will grab the admissions committee's attention. We outline the critical elements all medical school personal statements should include - like effectively demonstrating your motivation for medicine, highlighting life experiences, and exhibiting strong writing skills. 

Follow our step-by-step guide to understand exactly what admissions teams look for in these essays and set yourself apart from thousands of other impressive applicants vying for limited spots.

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Selecting a Personal Statement Topic

When choosing a personal statement topic, pick something you're passionate about that shows your interests, values, and qualities. Consider meaningful life experiences, challenges overcome, extracurriculars, future goals, or topics that demonstrate skills gained. 

The most important part of selecting a personal statement topic is choosing one that enables you to link it with your passion for medicine. Remember, it’s vital that your chosen subject tells medical school admissions committees more about you and why you want to be a doctor

You should aim to write about your qualities that aren’t represented by your GPA or MCAT score. This can include your determination, optimism, or leadership qualities. Revealing your personal qualities, strengths, and weaknesses is a brilliant way to connect with your reader on an emotional level. 

Step 1: Highlight Your Qualities

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 toward 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, no-nonsense doctor? Write down these traits and see which ones fit you best. Some notable qualities include but are not limited to the following:

  • Leadership
  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Analytical abilities
  • Persistence
  • Optimism

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 a career in medicine.

Remember, your experiences that highlight the qualities you chose do not need to come from a clinical (i.e., shadowing a physician, or 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. 

On a side note, make sure you list up to 15 activities in the AMCAS Work and Activities section of your med school application. 

Medical school 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 two to three qualities allows you to go more in-depth with each one. For each personal 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 a career in 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.

Step 2: Centralize. Don’t Generalize.

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 school 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 in medicine. Get to the nitty-gritty of your point. 

Step 3: Effective Storytelling in Your Personal Statement for Medical School

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 career in medicine.

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 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 of 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. Talk about the experience from your perspective. Include your thoughts, interactions, and reactions to the events. For example, say you provided comfort for a dying patient whom 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. 

Step 4: Explain Why You Want to Pursue Medicine

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 a career in 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 reiterate throughout your essay, but you will want to have a paragraph that ties into your conclusion, answering why you want to pursue medicine. This 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.

Step 5: Prepare Your Personal Statement for Medical School

Craft an introduction conveying your motivation for the course. Dedicate 75% to discussing academic achievements that make you qualified. Use the remaining 25% to talk about relevant extracurriculars. Conclude by summarizing your strengths and reaffirming your passion.

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 be perfect, so you want to give yourself plenty of time to revise and edit before submission — mainly because you can only submit once. 

Tips for Writing a Medical School Personal Statement

Writing a personal statement can be intimidating at first. But with these tips, you’ll breeze right through it.

Research Writing Styles for Your Personal Statement

You can look for a sample medical school personal statement 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 its website. Medical school websites are the best place to start your research.

You can also access 27 sample personal statements for med school here:

Outline Your Personal Statement for Medical School

When outlining your personal statement, use the 5-point essay format:

  1. Introduction Paragraph:
  • Begins with a hook to grab the reader's attention.
  • Provides background context and information on the essay's topic.
  • Ends with a thesis statement that sums up the main argument or position of the essay.
  1. Body Paragraph 1:
  • Starts with a topic sentence stating the essay's first key point.
  • Includes supporting details, evidence, and examples to back up that point.
  1. Body Paragraph 2:
  • Begins with a topic sentence presenting the second major point.
  • Provides more supporting details and analysis related to this point.
  1. Body Paragraph 3:
  • Starts with another topic sentence introducing the third main point.
  • Elaborates on this point with specifics, analysis, and evidence.
  1. Conclusion Paragraph:
  • Summarizes the overall arguments made in the essay.
  • Ties the main points together to reinforce the thesis.
  • Closes with final thoughts on the topic or a call to action when applicable.

The 5-paragraph structure creates a logical flow for presenting a focused argument on a single topic. Each section builds on the previous one to defend the central thesis statement.

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 two to three 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 a few key moments that are memorable to you. Imagery will be your best friend here.
  • Reflection on career path. This 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 to 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 flow and are engaging. By preparing before actually writing your personal statement, you leave little room for error and irrelevant information.

Be Unique 

Medical school admissions officers will likely read hundreds of personal statements. So, you have to make yours unique to stand out from the crowd. 

Lucky for you, no one else has had the same life as you. US News encourages you to “Give your essay a personal touch by sharing something outside of your passion for medicine to make sure your essay stands out.” 

Draw upon your unique background; write about your strengths, failures, and what you have learned from them. 

Show, Don’t Just Tell 

In practice, "show don't tell" means relating the story through palpable scenes and letting readers reach conclusions, rather than stating them directly. The balance of showing and telling varies, but showing should dominate dramatic high points. 

For example, you can write that your involvement in several sports teams has made you become a good team player. On the other hand, if you just write that you’re a good team player, you are not explaining how you acquired that skill. 

Remember to stay on topic; rambling will waste your few precious characters and confuse the reader! Narrowing your focus and reflecting on specific experiences is a brilliant way to write about your unique qualities. 

Be Aware of Word Count/Character Limit

For the CASPA personal statement, there is a strict 5000-character limit, which equals about 769-1000 words. CASPA counts spaces, punctuation, paragraphs, and carriage returns in the character limit. Use an accurate character counter to ensure you don't exceed this.

The UCAS personal statement has a hard limit of 47 lines of text and 4000 characters, which is approximately 615-800 words. UCAS also counts spaces, punctuation etc. in the character limit.

For the Common App and other applications, the recommended personal statement length is typically between 250 and 600 words. Specific word limits may apply depending on the school or program, so check the requirements before you write.

Being concise is key - avoid rambling or repetition. Every word should add value. Focus on your most relevant experiences and qualities.

Give Yourself Time to Review Your Personal Statement

Start writing early, ideally 2-3 months before the deadline. Crafting an effective personal statement takes more time than you may expect. Allow yourself several weeks to write multiple drafts and thoroughly revise your statement.

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 an objective third party read your personal statement.

Get Someone to Look at Your Statement 

Ask people who know you well - friends and family can give feedback on whether your statement accurately reflects your personality, experiences, and goals. Get an editor's perspective such as teachers, advisors, and writing center staff to evaluate your structure, clarity, and grammar.

Excellent proofreaders will assess your work in two stages. First, they should interrogate the content by highlighting areas that need more work. Then, they should check your grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style. 

While proofreaders will undoubtedly find errors that you missed, it is essential that your writing maintains your voice. After all, your chosen medical schools want to hear about you in your own words. 

If you’re still struggling with your statement, consult with a medical school admissions expert who can help you write a stellar personal statement. 

Med School Personal Statement FAQ

Hopefully, you now know how to write your personal statement, but we’ve put together some questions and answers to help you write the best statement possible. 

1. What Should I Avoid When Writing A Personal Statement For Medical School?

When crafting a personal statement, avoid clichés, reiterating information listed in your resume, and lack of focus. Stay away from negativity, vague descriptions, and ensure your statement has a structured flow.

Cramming your statement with overly elaborate language is also a faux pas. It’s fine to use advanced terms that relate to medical topics or your particular discipline. But using simple and clear language throughout your statement makes your writing easier to read. 

2. How Do I Write An Engaging Med School Personal Statement?

Crafting an engaging personal statement starts with choosing one or two meaningful experiences that fueled your passion for medicine. Build a compelling narrative arc highlighting pivotal moments, challenges overcome, lessons learned. 

Bianca Trindade, the Assistant Director of Admissions at Ross University School of Medicine, recommends that you “Imagine a blockbuster movie with your favorite actor or actress. You’re the star of your unique story. Include experiences that have touched you on a personal level and helped you discover your calling as a physician.”

It’s important to reflect on your experiences, not just list them. Explain what you learned, how it shaped you, and why they deepened your passion for studying medicine. If you write a statement that is reflective, heartfelt, and sincere, Trindade notes that it allows “the committee to get a glimpse into who you are.”

All of these tips will come in handy when you have to write your medical school secondary essays like the medical school diversity essay

3. How Do I Write My Med School Personal Statement Conclusion?

Your medical school personal statement conclusion should compellingly reiterate your motivations, strengths, and commitment to becoming an excellent physician. Avoid simply repeating points already made. Instead, elaborate on your future goals and the type of doctor you aspire to be.

This isn’t the place to detail another aspect of your work experience. Instead, use it to recap what you have said in the body of your statement and highlight any key points again. Try to highlight your passion and commitment to studying medicine and end your statement on a positive note. 

Wrapping Up: Writing the Perfect Personal Statement for Medical School

Writing a medical school personal statement 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 medical school application.

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 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 number.

With this step-by-step guide, your statement will have you bumped up to the top of the applicant pool in no time.

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