Friday, June 24, 2011

Tips for Writing Your Medical School Personal Statement

First off, this is a post that will most likely only mean something to you if you are writing your personal statement for medical school. If you're family or a friend that just follows along, you'll probably be really bored by this. Feel free to skip it! That's right - today is my birthday, and I'm choosing to spend some of it writing something that I think will help future medical school applicants. Here we go.

Writing the personal statement is hard. I'm going to outline my experience coming up with my own personal statement, as well as some key advice gleaned from hours of reading, as well as discussion with my premed advisor. I didn't know a lot of this stuff before I started, and I wish I had, as it would have made things much simpler for me.

Before writing (or even if you've already started), think about these questions:

- What is the deep down, fundamental reason of why you want to be a doctor? "Because I want to help people" is not a good answer. Some of the people on the admissions committee will not be doctors, yet they most assuredly believe that their job helps people, namely, YOU. Do you have any specific passions about a certain field of medicine? An unreached people group or social demographic within your own country?

- What about you makes you particularly well-suited to a profession in medicine? What could you do to improve the current medical community? Why would a doctor want you as a future colleague?

My advisor had me read a research article written by two medical school admissions deans. It was INCREDIBLY helpful, most notably in the revelation that medical schools focus on four separate questions:

Can you do it? (GPA, MCAT scores, personal aptitudes, etc).
Will you do it? (Dedication and motivation).
Should you do it? (Are you someone that should be a doctor?)
Should you do it here? (Why is that the school for you?)

The can question is answered in your grades and MCAT scores - all pretty straightforward. The will question is really what your personal statement and experiences should answer. The should and should here questions get answered in your interview and secondary applications, respectively.

After thinking about these ideas and answering some of these questions, formulate an overall mission or concept that expresses why you want to become a doctor. Keep this in mind as you begin writing your personal statement. Do your best to tie your experiences to this concept. Think about how you might share your experiences and the lessons you've learned in a way that shows the motivation behind your application. Once you've done this:

1. Read about what medical schools are looking for in a personal statement. Talk to a premed advisor, check our your campus library. There are tons of books that go into great detail about what medical schools are looking for, many of them written by former deans or admissions committee members. There is a lot of guidance out there; you don't have to wing it.

2. READ OTHER PEOPLES' SUCCESSFUL PERSONAL STATEMENTS. This is not so you can copy, but so you can see what keeps you interested, what kind of language is attractive to you, and what types of writing styles do well for this type of work. A lot of the books on personal statements will have sections of great personal statement examples. Be wary of looking online - not everything posted will be helpful. You never know if a personal statement posted online was actually part of a successful application or not.

4. Make a list of all your marketable attributes - those things that you maybe thought about earlier that would make you a great doctor.

5. Make a rough sketch of stories you can share that actively demonstrate the most important of those marketable attributes in an interesting way. Keep in mind what you learned, what your responsibilities and achievements were, and any and all relevance to medicine.

6. WRITE! Make a dump draft - just write everything you might possibly want to include or tell about in your personal statement. Don't think about character limits or anything, just write until you think you've summed yourself up pretty well.

7. EDIT! You're going to have to edit A LOT. Even if you're a great writer, you are going to have to edit way more than you think. Once you think you've got a good third or fourth draft going, have others read it. Professors, friends, family - anyone who can check grammar or punctuation.

And that's the process that, in hindsight, I wish I had known more about before I actually started writing. I'm sure it's not perfect, and different things work for different people, but it's a great start. No guarantees, but hopefully this post will help some people get off to a productive start.


Anonymous said...

I'm a non-trad applying this year. Do you have any suggestions on where to find these personal statements for inspiration? I have been working on mine and just need some oomph.

Justin said...

@PreMedBeaut - I wrote about a book that I read on writing personal statements here:

The book includes a LOT of helpful tips for how to get started, as well as what review committees will be looking for. Best of all, it includes a lot of example personal statements showing both what you should be striving for and what you should avoid doing. Let me know if I can help with anything else, and feel free to use the Contact Me section if you'd like to ask anything else. Usually I will reply faster to that method; it was just coincidence that I saw this when I did!

D15 said...

I am hoping to attend MSUCOM next year, and am currently working on my application. This was a helpful guide, thanks a lot!

Justin said...

@D15 - you're welcome! I'm glad it helped you out - it's great to hear back on things like this. Good luck with the application sequence!

Anonymous said...

Hey! I bringing chips and dip a little late to the party here :) but this was probably one of the most helpful articles I've read on applying to med school bar none. Thank you very much!

Here said...

I agree with Anonymous. So far, this post is the most useful. Thank you for running such a great blog! Medicine rules!

Romilda Gareth said...


skidustries said...

Very helpful article. I also found this site helpful for writing medical school personal statements

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