Anatomy of a Stellar Medical School Personal Statement

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For every medical school application, a personal statement is necessary. Everyone writes a personal statement, but some stand out from others. The composition of these excellent personal statements is not defined by the structure, the number of activities mentioned or grammar. What really makes a stellar personal statement is that it is memorable and captures who you are. Read below to see some example personal statements and what makes them excellent.

 

Introduction & Conclusion

The introduction and conclusion are like the slices of bread of an amazing sandwich. No matter how many ingredients in a sandwich, the pieces of bread always bind the whole story together. In other words, the introduction and conclusion should not be throwaways in your personal statement. In fact, they are one of the most important components of a successful personal statement. You should take time to ensure that your introduction captures the reader’s attention and the conclusion is memorable.

Introduction

The first sentence is key. Here are some examples from the Med School Insiders samples:

The main reason why I want to go into medicine is because of a promise I made to my sister when I was eight years old.

It’s not every day you help a kid become Iron Man.

Both of these examples are the first sentences of introductions that immediately capture the reader’s attention. The first example mentions a promise that the applicant made to his sister and the reader is curious to know what it is. This is an example of an opening sentence that immediately addresses the applicant’s desire to go into medicine. It is clear, intriguing and captures your attention. On the other hand, the second example is more mysterious. You have several questions after reading it. What kid is he/she helping? How do you make a kid become Iron Man? However, it accomplishes the same goal of piquing the reader’s interest as the first example. Remember, admissions committee members are reading hundreds of applications – therefore a captivating introduction is key.

The introduction is also a chance to set the tone for the essay. In this example, you can get a sense of the applicant’s sense of humor:

At the beginning of the first Alternative Spring Break (ASB) meeting that I was leading in front of a group of nervous volunteers, I used an icebreaker, Two Truths and a Lie. Being a common face at my campus’s student activities, I have played this game perhaps one too many times. Unlike everyone else who had to take time to think about their interesting truths, I would say the same thing every time. “I want to be a pediatrician, I have alpacas, and I have llamas.”

I do not have llamas.

The applicant sets the scene at an Alternative Spring Break meeting, sprinkles in humor with the Two Truths and a Lie game while also mentioning his/her love of becoming a pediatrician. This example has everything in it, most importantly that it’s memorable. Often times, strong applicants stuff their personal statement with their long list of achievements. Sometimes less is more. What makes a great personal statement is having a compelling story and showing that you are unique. In this example, I am sure the applicant has several interesting memories, but he/she chose this experience because it’s interesting and uncommon. Being known as the “alpaca” medical school applicant is a good thing – it makes you memorable (and not for the wrong reasons).

Conclusion

The conclusion is the last paragraph the admissions officer will read, so it requires careful thought just like the introduction. Not only is the conclusion a summary of your statement, but also a time to emphasize why you want to be a physician and what your future goals are.

I want to become a physician so that I can use my liberal arts education with my personal and professional experiences to meet medicine’s unique requirement of understanding patients psychologically, culturally, and biologically.

It is my desire to be a bridge between the technical engineering world and the direct delivery of care that only physicians can give.

I look forward to travelling to new communities as a physician while keeping my community-driven morals close, so alpaca my bags now.

The excerpts above are great examples of sentences to include in your conclusion. Ultimately, the admissions committee will accept applicants who will become excellent future physicians. A stellar essay that does not convince an admissions committee why you want to go to medical school is useless. Therefore, including a well-crafted sentence about your motivation to go to medical school is essential. The first two excerpts help sum up the applicant’s mission and why they want to be a physician. If you can tie this back to the theme of your essay or can show your personality as the third excerpt does, that is even better.

 

Body

The body is the meat of the essay. It is everything that goes in between those slices of bread. You have more wiggle room to delve into an experience or showcase your personality. You can use more descriptions and examples in the body. However, it is important that the body of your essay is still clear. Do not include anything that does not directly or indirectly support your ultimate case of wanting to become a physician.

We would do fulfilling tornado recovery work in the morning, but I most looked forward to afternoons where we got to sit down and chat with kids about their days while helping them with their homework.

Shadowing allowed me to learn the characteristics of a good physician.

This inspired me to help patients in underprivileged communities because some are not educated enough to know when something is wrong with their bodies.

There is no perfect number of paragraphs or set structure for the body of a personal statement. More importantly, the body should convey to the committee your personality, experiences, and visions.

Personality

Physicians are caring, compassionate and selfless humans. They have patients’ lives in their hand. They need to make important decisions that can affect the wellbeing of several people. Therefore, the medical school admissions’ committee wants to know that they are admitting someone who upholds the qualities of an excellent physician. Including experiences that showcase your personality is important. In the first excerpt above, the applicant does not explicitly state that he is caring, but rather he uses the technique of “show don’t tell”.

Experiences

There is no better way to convince an admissions committee that you want to be a doctor than by describing the clinical experiences that you have had. In the second excerpt above, the applicant writes that he shadowed physicians and learned what characteristics make a good physician. If you are applying to a dual-degree program, like MD/PhD programs or MD/MPH programs, you can include research experiences or community outreach and public health experiences. However, most of these dual-degree programs have separate applications that always ask why you want to pursue a dual-degree, so in your personal statement try to focus on experiences that explain why you want to be a physician specifically. Although you will outline your activities and honors in another part of your application, putting your experiences in the context of your personal statement can help you expand and maybe include something very compelling.

Visions

An important aspect of the personal statement is describing your visions for your career and future. The personal statement is your chance to be a dreamer. You can describe your ambitions, goals, and feelings. Medical school admissions committees care about creating a diverse, passionate, and enthusiastic group of students who want to be physicians. Outlining your goals or dreams can help them understand who you are and why you want to be a doctor. They want to know what you will do with your MD. In the third excerpt above, the applicant describes how he wants to help underprivileged communities and why. If you are research-oriented, including how you hope to progress the field of medicine with research is an excellent idea. If you are interested in medical education, including your future goals of becoming a physician educator is great.

 

The personal statement is a critical part of your application. Although personal statements by definition vary greatly between applicants, there are key elements that an effective personal statement should contain. To set yourself up for the strongest possible personal statement, start early and get regular feedback and editing from those with real medical school admissions committee experience. The personal statement is about putting you on a piece of paper. Ultimately, you should feel proud of your personal statement.

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