How to Approach Your Personal Statement

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With medical school applications opening soon, premed students around the world are diligently working on their applications, getting their transcripts, asking for letters of recommendation, and writing and rewriting the dreaded personal statement. Writing your personal statement should not be a painful experience, but instead should be motivating as you recall all the events and influences that have led you to this point of applying for medical school.

 

The Purpose of a Personal Statement

Medical school admissions committees want to see what inspired you and prepared you to go to medical school. They want to know if you truly have a passion for medicine and are prepared for the rigor of medical education. Medical school is challenging, stressful, expensive, and the start to a long journey. Medical schools want to ensure that they are accepting students that are ready for the journey and genuinely have a desire to practice medicine. This saves both the school and the student from wasting time and money.

View It as an Opportunity

Instead of viewing the personal statement as another hurdle to jump through when applying for medical school, view it as an opportunity. All other aspects of your application are pretty standard. They see your MCAT score, your college GPA and course performance, your volunteer hours, and your listed clinical experiences. What they do not see is who you are. This is what the personal statement allows you to show. Admissions committees already have you CV and transcripts, so the personal statement should show a more multifaceted view of you. This is your chance to convey your personality, your character traits, and your narrative. Among thousands of similar applicants, this is what will help you to stand out. Be sure to share meaningful information and allow the readers to feel a personal connection with you—tell your story.

 

Getting Started

Many students find that the hardest part of writing a personal statement is getting started. Remember that writing your personal statement requires reflection and takes time. To get started, brainstorm some of your best qualities and character traits and list them on paper. Ask yourself, “What are my character traits that I want admissions to focus on?” Then brainstorm some events and experiences that portray these qualities.  For example, you want to avoid telling the admissions committee that you are “motivated, empathetic, and compassionate,” and instead SHOW them that you are motivated, empathetic, and compassionate by telling a story that exemplifies these characteristics. It is important that your personal statement is a narrative rather than a list of your accolades and qualifications.

 

Writing your Personal Statement

Once you have identified these personal traits and experiences you want to convey to the admissions committee, writing your personal statement will come much more easily. Remember to share moments of your life that mattered. These experiences that you choose to share should have played a role in shaping who you are as a person and influenced your desire to pursue medicine. When writing about your experiences, ensure that they showcase your passion for medicine or aspects of the field and be sure to share your reflection and lesson learned from said experience. These experiences are not required to be medical but should portray why you will be successful on this path to becoming a physician.

It is also important to convey your passion for medicine.  With so many career paths relating to science and the medical field, it is imperative that you portray why being a physician is the only path for you and why this career path is a good fit for who you are as a person. Show them why you would be a good physician and what unique gifts you could bring to the field to help your patients. Remember to share information that makes you memorable and unique, so that you stand out among many similar applicants.

Do not forget that in an interview, they will most certainly ask you about experiences or statements made in your personal statement, so share information you would want to be asked about and can elaborate on in an interview.

Don’t

  • Use clichés: It is great that you like science, but I can assure you that all applicants like science. It is important that you want to help people, but so do all applicants. Avoid stating the obvious, and try to be unique.
  • Make careless grammatical errors: This can be the difference between an interview offer and a rejection. Grammatical errors suggest that you are careless or that your application does not matter to you. Attention to detail is important in medicine, so exhibit that skill while writing your personal statement.
  • Lie or fabricate stories or information: Just don’t do it. You do not want to get caught in a lie in the middle of an interview, and it is simply unprofessional. Remember that your personal statement is your only chance to give your narrative, so tell your story truthfully.
  • Make excuses for poor grades or MCAT scores: This is not a place to make excuses for having weak parts of your application, focus on sharing your story and good qualities. If there was an event that played a large role in your journey, feel free to write about it, but do not simply make excuses for weak parts of your application.
  • Talk negatively about a physician or healthcare professional: You may have had negative interactions with a physician and may feel compelled to discuss how those negative encounters shaped your desire to be a physician, but leave this out of your statement. These experiences may have strongly impacted you, but admissions committees may be deterred by your cynicism towards the healthcare profession.
  • Make a plea asking for an interview or an acceptance: This is not professional and not the purpose of your personal statement.

Do

  • Organize your personal statement with a clear introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion
  • Have a theme present throughout the entire personal statement
  • Use transition sentences
  • Ensure that your personal statement flows
  • Get your personal statement reviewed and edited
  • Consult experts for help and personal statement editing
  • Follow the requirements: 5300 character limit for MD applications and 4500 character limit for DO applications

 

Personal statements are the key to getting an interview invitation, so be sure to take your time and reflect on yourself and your life experiences. You want to have a strong introduction, share a narrative, show your passion for the field, and convincingly convey what makes you ready to start this difficult, yet exciting journey.

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