Each piece of a med school application brings a unique set of anxiety-ridden challenges, but few equal that of the personal statement. A personal statement is much, much more than a narrative-version of your CV. Reiterating your grades and extracurriculars in complete sentences is not how to write a medical school personal statement.
A personal statement is an opportunity to tell your story. Why do you want to study medicine? What drives you? This is your chance to let an admissions committee know who you really are beyond your grades.
Of course, you’re studying to become a doctor, not a novelist, which means the idea of crafting your personal statement may seem daunting, to say the least.
In this guide, we’ll take a comprehensive, step-by-step look at how to write a medical school personal statement, including how to get started, everything you need to include, and common mistakes to avoid.
- Anatomy of Medical School Personal Statement
- What Med School Admissions Committees Look For
- How to Get Started
- How to Write a Personal Statement
- Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Medical School Personal Statement Examples
Anatomy of a Medical School Personal Statement
A personal statement has a 5,300 character maximum, about 1.5 pages of single-spaced 12-point Times New Roman font. The challenge isn’t trying to fill in words; the challenge is selecting the key moments in your life that made you want to be a doctor and expressing them concisely.
A personal statement is made up of three parts:
It’s essentially a short essay that uses your life experience to succinctly demonstrate why you’re the right person for the job. If someone’s making a movie about your life and the events that shaped your desire to become a doctor, what key moments do you want to highlight?
Your introduction must capture an admissions committee’s attention. Use the introduction to hook your readers. The first few sentences should entice them to read more.
There isn’t a perfect number of paragraphs or set structure. This is where you discuss the experiences that have shaped your personality, your desire to study medicine, and your dreams for the future.
This is the summary of your statement, and it should tie in directly to your introduction. Now is the time to emphasize why you want to be a physician and your future goals.
Learn more about the Anatomy of a Stellar Medical School Personal Statement.
What Med School Admissions Committees Look For
Admissions committees need to know they’re accepting students who are ready to face the rigorous day-and-night grind of medical school. They have your CV and transcripts; now you need to demonstrate you have what it takes to succeed.
The personal statement is your chance to display your personality and highlight the experiences that shaped you. What drives you? What strengths and experiences will you bring to medical school? Why are you an asset?
The admissions committee isn’t looking for a list of your accomplishments. They want to know your story. Don’t tell the admissions committee you’re compassionate and driven; show them with tangible examples from your life.
So you’re a great listener. What’s a moment in your past that demonstrates this? If you care deeply about the wellbeing of others, what story from your life illustrates that passion?
How to Get Started
1 | Read Real Personal Statement Examples
Right off the bat, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone—far from it. Every medical student who came before you has written personal statements, which means you have a wealth of examples to read and learn from.
Every personal statement is unique to the writer. Don’t expect to find a perfect blueprint you can copy off of, but reading several different personal statements will give you a sense of the themes, concepts, strategies, and stories that can help you find success.
If you know people in your own life who have successfully matriculated to med school, it’s a good idea to ask them if you can take a look at their personal statement. Med School Insiders compiled a database of personal statements donated by successful medical school applicants.
Reading successful personal statements will give you an idea of what’s expected.
2 | Reflect on Past Experiences
Take this as an opportunity to reflect. Don’t think of it as brainstorming, and don’t worry about being creative just yet. Simply think back on key moments from your past.
Think of your personal statement like your superhero origin story. You may have excellent grades, abilities, and a natural aptitude for science, but why are you pursuing medicine? What moment or moments in your life revealed to you why you had to be a doctor?
Take Spider-Man. Yes, Peter Parker received his superpowers from a radioactive spider bite, but that’s not why he fights crime; Spider-Man fights crime so that what happened to his Uncle Ben never happens to anyone else. Bruce Wayne is incredibly smart, incredibly strong, and incredibly rich, but that’s not why he fights crime as Batman. Bruce Wayne became Batman so that no one else would lose their parents to a random act of violence like he did.
The truth is, a lot of superheroes have pretty similar motivations, and doctors have similar motivations, too. Your desire to become a doctor likely stems from a genuine intellectual interest in medicine, a desire to work closely with other humans, and a drive to help people and save lives. The other med school hopefuls you’re applying with have very similar motivations.
The key is digging deep and determining what you value most about becoming a doctor. Once you know that, think about the tangible experiences in your life that helped you realize those values.
3 | Choose Which Experiences/Traits to Highlight
Identify three to four personal strengths you are particularly proud of and want the admissions committee to know. Where did these strengths shine in your premedical years? What experiences helped you build on these strengths? This will make up the body of your personal statement.
Remember: writing a personal statement takes time—and lots of it. It will likely take several different attempts and drafts. After discussing your selected strengths, you may find that they don’t define you well enough or that there are better options. Don’t be discouraged. Give yourself plenty of time to reflect on and explore a variety of different strengths.
Don’t forget about the interview; the admissions committee will certainly ask you to further elaborate on the experiences outlined in your personal statement. Share personal stories that you want to be asked about and feel comfortable addressing.
Generally, personal statements involve experiences in the following categories:
- A passion for patient interaction
- Intellectual curiosity for medicine (academics, research, etc.)
- Dedication and discipline (medicine or another pursuit)
- Perseverance in the face of adversity
- Interpersonal and professional skills
How to Write a Medical School Personal Statement
1 | Show, Don’t Tell
If essays or storytelling aren’t necessarily your strong suit, think back to math class and those equations where the teacher made you show your work for the full grade. It’s not enough that you got the answer right; you had to show how you arrived at the answer.
Think of this in the same way. It’s great that you’re compassionate, but the admissions committee isn’t going to take you at your word. They want you to back up that claim with evidence. It is vital that you show the admissions committee you’re compassionate with concrete examples from your life that illustrate your journey to medicine.
It’s much more impactful to share a story that demonstrates specific qualities than it is to tell someone you have those qualities directly. Saying you are hardworking or resilient is not enough. You need to craft a story that allows the reader to infer those qualities about you.
2 | Leverage the Narrative-Based Approach
You are applying to medical school along with an immense number of other students with great grades, stellar qualifications, and impressive clinical hours. These are all key to your medical school application, but the best grades in the world won’t set you apart in the eyes of the admissions committee.
Your personal statement is a chance to stand out in a crowded field. Too many personal statements read like a CV but with full paragraphs, which quickly becomes monotonous.
Leverage a narrative-based approach so that the admissions committee is excited to learn more about you. Your entire application should illustrate your compelling journey toward becoming a doctor. Highlight how your experiences make you an asset who will contribute uniquely to the medical school.
It’s not enough to simply check off the boxes. The admissions committee wants to know your story.
3 | Create an Outline
After taking the time to reflect on the experiences and traits you want to include in your personal statement, create an outline to structure your approach.
You do not need to stick to it, but this is the general structure of most personal statements:
- Introduction (A strong hook to catch the reader’s attention—usually an anecdote or reflection that introduces the theme of your story. Hook the reader with the opening sentence.)
- Experience 1
- Experience 2
- Experience 3
- Conclusion (Tie your story back to the opening hook/theme. Summarize why you want to be a physician and what your future goals are.)
Remember, this is not a list of your accomplishments. The personal statement must read like a cohesive narrative, not a resume.
Establish a theme in the introduction that’s central to your desire to become a doctor. Each following paragraph will illustrate how your personal experiences have shaped that desire and prepared you for your journey. In the conclusion, gracefully tie back to your central theme or hook to turn the personal statement into a consistent, interconnected story.
4 | Sometimes, You Just Need to Start Writing
It’s understandable and common to feel overwhelmed while writing a personal statement. In fact, if you don’t feel overwhelmed, it’s safe to say that you’re not taking this seriously enough.
Start with a theme, but don’t get stuck trying to come up with the perfect opening sentence. That comes later. Once you have a general outline, just start writing. See what happens, and—most importantly—be kind to yourself.
The first words you write won’t be perfect, but they will get you started. You should fully expect the first draft of your personal statement to be terrible. That’s okay. First drafts are never perfect.
Your first draft probably won’t look anything like your final essay. Put one foot in front of the other and just start writing. Get the ideas out and worry about editing later.
5 | Keep it Concise and Direct
In your subsequent drafts, focus on cutting down your words and being concise. It’s not your use of flowery language that will impress the admissions committee. Forget about extravagant word choices and convoluted sentence structure. You don’t have the space for poetic tangents anyway.
Use your words efficiently, and favor clear language over long, complicated words. It’s easy for readers to spot when you’re using a thesaurus, and it will only take away from your end message. Find the simplest way to say something.
Hard-working over Assiduous
Compassion over Magnanimity
Agree over Concur
Use tools like the Hemingway App to keep your language direct and concise.
6 | Take Some Time Away
Take time away from your drafts. Once you complete a draft, take a break, and let it sit. Go for a walk, watch some TV, or work on a completely different activity. After your break, come back to your personal statement with fresh eyes. You may find that the fantastic opening line you came up with isn’t so fantastic anymore, or that sentence you weren’t so sure about actually works really well.
Writing your personal statement will take time. Even if you feel extremely confident in your personal statement, take time away from it and come back.
7 | Refine, Review, and Edit
Ask your friends and family for their first impressions on the content of your personal statement. Tell them to be brutally honest (because the admissions committee certainly will be.) Reach out to a mentor or people who have been through this process before.
Spelling or grammar mistakes indicate carelessness on your part and are an automatic red flag for admissions committees. Read over your work carefully, and ask others you trust to do the same.
8 | Invest in essay editing services
Your medical school personal statement is arguably the most important piece of your application. While an excellent essay can lock-in your interview offer, a poorly-written personal statement can ruin your chances—even with stellar grades, impressive academic awards, and a notable list of extracurriculars.
Don’t risk your acceptance. Essay editing services can provide the help that friends, family, and mentors cannot.
Med School Insiders Personal Statement Editing Services includes careful analysis of content and tone as well as helpful insights into how you can improve your essay and impress admissions committees.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Avoid the following common personal statement mistakes.
- Don’t list your accomplishments or rehash your CV and extracurriculars.
- Don’t make spelling or grammar errors.
- Don’t overuse the word I. Doing so makes you more likely to state your accomplishments instead of telling a story.
- Don’t use flowery language or words you found in a thesaurus.
- Don’t explain to a physician what medicine is all about. Talk about yourself and your experiences; the admissions committee already understands medicine.
- Don’t state the obvious or use clichés. (Every applicant likes science and wants to help people.)
- Don’t lie or fabricate your personal stories.
- Don’t make excuses for poor grades or a low MCAT score.
- Don’t speak negatively about another physician or healthcare professional.
- Don’t plead for an interview or acceptance.
- Don’t edit your personal statement by yourself.
- Don’t procrastinate.
Medical School Personal Statement Examples
It’s important to read the personal statements of matriculated students. While you won’t be able to mimic someone else’s personal statement, you can still learn a lot from them, and reading different statements can spark ideas for your own essay.
We compiled a selection of real medical school personal statements from successful applicants. These statements are for reference purposes only and should not be plagiarized in any way. Plagiarism detection software is used when evaluating personal statements, and plagiarizing is grounds for an automatic disqualification.
Be sure to read the included feedback regarding the personal statements as well, as this will give you extra insight into what admissions committees are looking for.
Medical School Personal Statement Editing
Don’t write your medical school personal statement alone—we can help. Med School Insiders offers a range of personal statement editing packages, from general editing to unlimited, in-depth editing with a physician who will be there to advise you every step of the way.
Learn more about our Comprehensive Medical School Admissions Packages. Our team of doctors have years of experience serving on admissions committees, so you’ll receive key insights from people who have been intimately involved with the selection process.