Every medical school application requires 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.
The Anatomy of a Personal Statement
There is a 5,300 character maximum for your personal statement. That’s about 1.5 pages of single-spaced 12-point Times New Roman font to demonstrate why you want to go to medical school.
A personal statement is made up of three parts:
- Introduction (Bread)
- Body (Meat and Vegetables)
- Conclusion (Bread)
Before you begin writing, we have an article on How to Start Your Personal Statement. It will guide you through research, reflection, and idea generation to get you started.
The Bread: 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.
The introduction and conclusion are vital 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.
The first sentence is key. It needs to capture an admissions committee’s attention and entice them to read more.
Here are some examples from the Med School Insiders Personal Statement Database:
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. Right away from the first sentence, the reader is curious to know what that promise is. It’s an example of an opening sentence that immediately addresses the applicant’s desire to go into medicine. The sentence is clear, intriguing, and it captures your attention.
The second example is more mysterious. You have several questions after reading it. What kid are they helping? How do you make a kid become Iron Man? However, it accomplishes the same goal of piquing the reader’s interest. Remember, admissions committee members are reading hundreds of applications. How will you stand out? Make sure you grab their attention from the very first sentence.
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, and mentions their desire to become a pediatrician. This example has everything in it, but most importantly, it’s memorable. Often, 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 that illustrates your unique strengths.
For the example above, the applicant likely had several interesting memories, but they 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 helps you stand out to the admissions committee.
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 concluding sentences. Ultimately, the admissions committee is looking for 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.
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. Ideally, you should tie back to the introduction of your essay. The “alpaca my bags” example connects to the introduction, adds personality, and concludes on a memorable note.
The Meat and Veg: 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 here. 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, experience, and vision.
Physicians are caring, compassionate, and selfless humans. They have patients’ lives in their hands. They need to make important decisions that can affect the wellbeing of several people.
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 illustrates it using vivid storytelling.
Don’t shy away from showing your own unique personality. It may be intimidating to talk about yourself, but this is your opportunity to tell your story.
There is no better way to convince an admissions committee that you want to be a doctor than by describing it through experiences. 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 dual-degree program options have separate applications that always ask why you want to pursue a dual-degree. 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 on those compelling stories.
An important aspect of the personal statement is describing your vision for your career and future. The personal statement is your chance to share your dreams.
You can describe your ambitions, goals, and feelings. Medical school admissions committees care about finding 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, include how you hope to progress the field of medicine with research. If you are interested in medical education, include your future goals of becoming a physician educator.
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. The personal statement is about putting you on a piece of paper. Ultimately, you should feel proud of your personal statement and how it tells your story.
Professional Feedback and Editing
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.
Read our free Step-by-Step Guide: How to Write a Medical School Personal Statement for tips on getting started, what to include, and common mistakes to avoid.