How To Write A Personal Statement For Medical School
Writing a personal statement for medical school that stands out from the crowd can seem like a daunting task. Admissions tutors want to read about you and why you’re passionate enough about medicine to study it at grad school and become a doctor.
Unfortunately, they also want to find out this information in a compelling, intelligent, and enthusiastic manner that will grab their attention and make them want to accept you onto their program. All applicants to the program want to be a doctor, so how will you present your own reasons in a unique way that no one else can?
It should therefore come as no surprise that we recommend you start drafting your medical school personal statement as early as possible, so that you have plenty of time to think about your approach, put together a first draft, and then redraft it as many times as you need to using your own thoughts and other people’s feedback.
This way you will have the best chance of writing a successful, well-rounded statement that will get you accepted on to your chosen medical school programs.
What is a personal statement?
Defining a personal statement for medical school will give you a clearer idea of exactly what is required to write an excellent statement.
A personal statement is a way for medicine admissions teams (usually consisting of faculty) to learn more about you as a candidate. It is a piece of creative writing that allows you to sell your abilities, skills and experience to others, much like a covering letter for a job application.
Admissions tutors not only want to see why you are interested in their medical program, but also what you can bring to them and their university. Think about the following as a starting point:
- What interests, skills, experience and qualifications make you a great applicant for this program?
- How will you contribute to the field of medicine through research, seminars, conferences and other opportunities?
- Why have you chosen a career as a doctor?
- Why does this university’s medical program appeal to you and how can it help you fulfil your ambitions?
Normally you will be asked to write a general statement that isn’t a response to a specific prompt, but medical schools may suggest some topics for you to consider.
1. Start early
The sooner you start writing your first draft, the better it is likely to be.
Most applicants begin their personal statement at least a few months before they need to send it off.
This way, they have plenty of time to redraft and polish it, and make it as good as possible.
2. Sell yourself
Remember that this is your first opportunity to introduce yourself to the medical school in your own words, so think of your statement as a personal job advert, where you are selling yourself by highlighting your skills, experience and life goals.
Programs want to know more about:
- Current achievements in your college degree
- Experiences outside of the classroom that have inspired you to pursue a career in medicine
Also realise that when the admissions faculty look at your personal statement, they are likely to be asking two main questions:
1. Do we want this student on this program?
2. Do we want this student at this university?
These questions can then be broken up further to make it easier to answer them thoroughly:
- Is the student suited to the medical program that they are applying for?
- Does the student have the necessary qualifications and personal qualities for the program?
- Is the student conscientious, hardworking and unlikely to drop out?
- Will the student do their best and cope with the demands of medical school?
- Can the student work under pressure?
- Will the student be able to adjust to their new environment?
- What are their communication skills like?
- Are they dedicated to this program and have they researched it well?
- Do they have a genuine interest in medicine and a desire to learn more about it?
These are the sorts of questions you need to answer in your personal statement.
Unfortunately you cannot answer them directly with a simple 'yes' or 'no' - you need to provide evidence and make it sound believable. This means showing, not telling, the tutors why you are such a great candidate (see point 5 below).
Ultimately, medical school admissions tutors are human too, and may well have hundreds of program applications to sift through, so even if you think you've answered all these questions really well, you may still be unlucky.
The best way to begin putting together a successful personal statement is to sit down and have a brainstorming session. First, think about the following points and jot down some notes:
- Personal achievements - what relevant attributes and interests make you a special candidate? These can be either inside or outside of the college classroom.
- Extracurricular activities - have you completed any volunteering work or got involved with any charities or other groups/organisations that help the community? You could also include any leisure or sports activities you participate in during your spare time, providing the skills you gain from these are relevant to the program.
- Academic success - are there any appropriate projects or other pieces of college work that you scored highly in and are particularly proud of? Have you received any awards or other type of recognition for your studies?
- Work experience - what professional skills can you bring to the program? How have work placements helped shape you into an ideal applicant?
Next, build up some vocabulary that will allow you to establish a comprehensive, yet coherent statement that represents a true reflection of yourself and portrays you in the best possible light.
Try using the following words as category headings and see if you can put at least two or three words in each:
- Communication - e.g. speaking, writing, collaborating, explaining, discussing, listening.
- Research - e.g. analysing, collecting, investigating, interpreting,examining, collecting, evaluating, concluding.
- Creative - e.g. imagining, designing, illustrating, original, envisioning, artistic, inventive.
- Leadership and management - e.g. coordinated, delegated, responsible, teamwork, directed, assigned, negotiated.
- IT and Technical - e.g. networking, programming, web development, hardware, software, operating, engineering.
Other headings you might wish to use include:
- Problem Solving
- Financial and
- Human/Public Relations.
Feel free to add any of your own headings that you feel are relevant to your application, too.
Hopefully you should now have a nice long list of keywords that demonstrate all of your skills and personal qualities. For each one, write down:
- How you have demonstrated this skill or trait - try to think of a specific experience that provides evidence you possess this skill. Remember, your personal statement will be much more solid and believable if you backup everything with examples.
- When you began to develop it, e.g. high school, college - again, try to be as specific as possible.
- How it will benefit you during the program - tutors will want to see how your skills will make you a successful medical student.
- How you might use it once you have completed medical school - think beyond your program and show your commitment to becoming a doctor by demonstrating how you plan to use your skills and attributes in medicine later on.
- Any related skills or traits you hope to gain during your time at medical school - recognise that there are still areas you could improve on, and tell the admissions faculty how the program can help you with these.
At this stage you should have a whole host of skills and personal qualities that you can demonstrate through a particular experience. Now you need to begin constructing actual sentences with all the information you have gathered.
4. Write a great opening
It helps to write an opening paragraph that will grab the admission tutor’s attention straight away.
This means avoiding overused cliches such as “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor since I was a child” or “Becoming a doctor means I can make a real difference in the world”.
A good way to do this is to start by conveying an experience that tells a relevant story, e.g. your interest in medicine was sparked by a friend who contracted HIV.
As this will form the opening to your personal statement, choose your experience carefully - the more personal it is, the more engaging your statement is likely to be.
Think about the following once you have decided what to write about:
- Does the story offer the medical school genuine insight to your personality, and if so, how?
- Will the reader get a sense of enthusiasm for medicine?
- Does it explain why you have chosen to pursue a career as a doctor?
- Are your long-term career plans or professional hopes indicated?
5. Use examples
As mentioned before, you need to show, not tell, when writing your medical school personal statement.
This means the rest of the first draft of your personal statement should follow a similar pattern as the opening, with further skills addressed using specific examples from your past.
All the examples used in your statement should show the admissions staff why you should be accepted on to their medical program.
6. Make the tutors remember you
The final paragraph should form a memorable conclusion that will again attract the admission tutor’s attention and make you a memorable candidate.
You need to stand out from the crowd if you want to have a chance of being accepted, but again, avoid using quotes, cliches or any other over-used phrases.
If you're not sure how to round off your statement, revisit your notes from earlier - are there any questions or points in your list(s) you haven't addressed? Or are there any experiences, or examples of skills you haven't yet shared?
Try to think of anything you may have missed, and if not, try to put together a sentence or two about your career plans and how you hope studying at medical school will help you achieve these.
7. Look for inspiration
If you're struggling to put together your first draft, take a look at some example medical school personal statements to help get your creative juices flowing.
Please don't copy all or parts of any example statements you read though, otherwise your application may be penalised if you get found out.
Our graduate school personal statement style guide will also help you to avoid common mistakes made by applicants.
8. Critique it yourself
Once you have written a complete first draft, read through it carefully and ask yourself the following questions to help you highlight its strengths and weaknesses:
- Is the opening paragraph interesting enough to make you want to read further?
- Have you provided specific examples for all of the skills and personal attributes mentioned?
- Have you talked about your work and/or voluntary experience in detail, and how this will be useful during the program?
- Is your statement engaging throughout? If not, how could you change the vocabulary, sentence structure and/or content to improve this?
- Is your statement focused enough that it explains why you have chosen to pursue a career in Medicine, rather than a related one such as Dentistry or Pharmacy?
- Are there any spelling, grammar or formatting issues that need to be fixed? Check the word or character count, and make sure you have addressed all the points you have been asked to (if necessary).
Once you've done this, redraft your statement and incorporate your amendments. Hopefully it will now read better than the previous version, however it's difficult to always be objective, which leads us to our next point...
9. Ask for feedback
It’s often hard to keep redrafting your personal statement when you have spent so much time looking at it, so it’s always a good idea to show it to at least several other people if possible.
Ask them to comment on the strengths and how it could be improved. Here, it’s best to give them a printed copy and let them write on it.
Read through all the feedback and take it all on board - are there any common areas people have noted that could be improved?
Next, go through each point and see if it would make the statement better overall.
If you feel it doesn’t, don’t incorporate that particular suggestion into your new draft. Although other people’s views are essential here, it’s also important that you are happy with the statement.
Never let someone else rewrite your statement - it should only be your own writing.
Don’t underestimate how long this part of the writing process can take. You may go through many cycles of drafting and asking for feedback, so again, try to start writing your personal statement as early as possible.
10. Know when to stop
Write as many drafts as you feel are necessary, until you have a polished statement that you are completely happy with sending off to your programs.
Although it's tempting to keep looking at it, changing a word or comma here and there, it's a good idea to put it aside and say it's finished.
Before you do so, check carefully for any spelling and grammar mistakes, as these errors are likely to be noticed and will make you look incompetent. Don't just rely on a spell checker for this - you should read your final statement several times and do these checks by eye.
Also make sure that your statement meets any word or character limits, as well as any other requirements outlined by the graduate school. Otherwise it will look like you couldn't be bothered to read the application process and you may be rejected straight away.
If you're still stuck, take a look at our Medical School Personal Statement Examples for inspiration.
Good luck with your medical school applications!
For more tips and advice on applying to medical school in the U.S, please see: