For this post, we wanted to shift gears a bit and give you more direct advice for succeeding during application season. A big part of that is constructing a unique personal statement that will make your application rise to the top of the pile.
Writing a personal statement for medical school can seem pretty intimidating. How are you expected to tell your unique story in a way that captures the attention of admissions committees, when you have a word count and all these unspoken rules to worry about? Well, the good news is that it has been done before, which means you can do it too! Just think; you’ve made it this far into the journey! Everything you have overcome so far shows that you are capable of conquering this task as well. Plus, you’re in luck; we’ve gathered tips from our team of recent applicants to help get you through the process. Here we go!
Crafting your personal statement can be broken down into three general steps:
Below we’ll go into more detail about each step and include some examples to help you along the way.
Step 1: Brainstorming
The first question you should ask yourself while brainstorming is, “Why do I want to be a doctor?”. For some people, this might be the easy part. Maybe you had a super impactful experience where you witnessed someone’s life being saved, or maybe you were able to save someone’s life from a tragic accident, and from that day on you knew you had to be a doctor. That’s all well and good if that’s your truth, but unfortunately, everyone doesn’t come to this realization in such an obvious way. Maybe you’re one of those people that have known you wanted to be a doctor since you were little and don’t really have a reason why but you just know that you know. Well, if that’s you, that’s perfectly okay, but this part is going to require a little more introspection. It probably wasn’t just one experience, but several that sparked your initial interest in medicine. Did you have good or bad experiences with doctors as a kid? Were there any sick people in your family growing up? What were your earliest feelings toward doctors? Then, think about how those feelings changed or stayed the same over the years. What experiences prompted the change, or lack thereof? Don’t be afraid to dig deeper and really understand why it is that you feel so strongly about becoming a doctor. If you’re still stuck, don’t worry, here are some examples of “whys”:
“I’ve seen the direct impact doctors have made on people suffering with [disease/condition] , just like my family member, [insert name of family member or friend].”
“Since the day I experienced [life changing experience] I knew that only I could meet that need as a doctor.”
“People who look like me are dying at the hand of the medical field everyday, and so I want to be a part of changing that fact.”
You may want to add a statistic if you use this last one because there is a fine but walkable line when discussing racial or cultural motives for going into medicine.
Once you’ve figured out why you want to be a doctor, some additional questions to ask yourself are “What life experiences have I had that have prepared me for a career in medicine? or “How has that calling been confirmed?” Becoming a physician is a big commitment, it takes a lot of time, money, and effort. Admissions committees want to know that you don’t just like the idea of becoming a physician in theory. They want to see that you’re aware and have experienced some of what the field will look like, and you’re still willing to put in the work. Have shadowing experiences? Volunteered on a medical mission trip? Worked as a nurse’s aid or medical assistant? In addition to your why, also think about what experiences you can highlight to show this.
Step 2: Writing
So after you’ve done all of that thinking, now it’s time to let the words flow. Keep every draft of your statement organized in a folder. This way, you can come back to previous edits and add and subtract wherever necessary.
Pro Tip: Give yourself as much time as possible to write your statement; you’ll do your best work if you write over many sessions. Do not, and I mean DO NOT attempt to procrastinate and write your personal statement in one day or one sitting! Put it down for a few days in between sessions. Each session should begin with a re-read where you find out where things do not flow and note where you trip up. These are the parts that need revision, which takes us to our third and last step: editing.
“I ‘started’ my personal statement the November before my application was due. I just wrote about different experiences and stories that described who I am without explicitly saying who I am—what inspires me, what legacy I want to leave, why I adopted certain hobbies, and what led me to medicine as a career choice. These entries had no fancy paragraph structure or theme persay and went on and on until I couldn’t write anymore. Having many stories to choose from helped me start writing the actual statement because at that point I mostly copied and pasted from what I wrote to construct my first draft.”
– Ja’Neil Humphrey, LLUSOM Class of 2024
Step 3: Editing
This step is extremely important because even an amazing personal statement will turn off your reader if it is littered with grammatical or spelling errors.
Scrutinize every detail. Look for proper spelling, grammar, subject/ verb agreement, etc. Feel free to use free online tools such as Grammarly to check as well.
Keep your sentences concise and don’t use overly flowery language: Focus on demonstrating your excitement and passion for medicine by showing rather than telling. For example, instead of saying, “Talking to the patient one-on-one made me feel connected to him” (telling), say, “I spoke to the patient for hours about everything from his condition to his favorite baseball team” (showing).
Enlist a group of editors to comment and edit your rough draft. These can be mentors, advisors, English professors, etc.
Send your statement to other people to read and re-read. Ask them, “Does the essay sound like me?” “Has it convinced you I belong in medical school?” “Where could it benefit from some improvement?
***When getting feedback from others, remember to take advice with a grain of salt when it comes to the essence of your statement and the key pieces that you want to convey.
Be wary of sending your statement to too many people; too many different opinions can be confusing and may make the process more stressful!
“After my immediate family read my first draft, I made more edits and then emailed my personal statement to a physician who was kind enough to give it another look. The positive feedback I received from her after she read my final draft helped me complete the finishing touches I needed and made me feel confident about my chances in the admissions cycle.”
– Sebastian Pierre, CUNY SOM Class of 2024
Once you’re finished editing and have met the word limit of 5,300 characters with spaces, you’re ready to add your completed personal statement to your application. You’ve worked hard; now let your passion speak for itself. We hope this guide was helpful and we’re wishing you all the best of luck in your applications!