Your medical school personal statement is an opportunity to display your character traits, ambitions, and narrative in a way that your extracurriculars and academic metrics cannot. With 5300-characters to answer the prompt “use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school,” many pre-meds fail to successfully convey these elements and stand out from others applying. In this post, we describe a framework for approaching how to write a personal statement for medical school as well as common mistakes to avoid in order to help you write a standout personal statement!
This “how to write a personal statement for medical school” blog post has the following sections:
When considering the medical school application, it is important to understand the purpose of each component and what it attempts to measure.
Statistical metrics like your GPA and MCAT demonstrate your academic preparedness for medical school and provide a standardized way for schools to compare different applicants. These are complemented by your work and activities, which highlight your accomplishments and experiences as a cv or resume does. Your letters of recommendation reflect what others think about you—your personal character, strengths as a student, and suitability for a career in medicine. The focus of your personal statement, however (like your secondary essays), is what you think about you. What do you think your strengths and admirable qualities are? Who are you as a student, leader, and individual? What unique background would you bring to a medical school class? And do you convey this in an authentic way true to your voice? After reading your personal statement, the reader should have a clear idea of the answers to these questions.
The second question that premeds have when considering how to write a personal statement for medical school is what experiences they should write about. Thinking back to the different components of a medical school application, we recommend applicants not to approach their personal statement as a re-iteration of their work and activities. In other words, write in-depth about fewer activities rather than highlighting all of your accomplishments. This approach allows you to tell more stories and demonstrate how you think rather than what you accomplished.
Consider the following questions when selecting topics to write about:
- When/where have you demonstrated personal qualities which you are proud of?
- Are there any memorable patient experiences that inspired your interest in medicine?
- Is there anything unique about your background which a medical school may value?
- What are your future career goals and what experiences were particularly formative in shaping them?
- Were there any mentors who have had a large influence on your career and personal development?
Remember: the specific topic you choose to write about is not as important as how you write about it and what it reveals about you as a person.
#1.Reflect, reflect, reflect on what you learned
When writing about your experiences, ask yourself what you learned and strive to go deeper. A more nuanced reflection not only leaves a stronger impression, but also demonstrates how well you learn to evaluators. A pre-med who can get more out of their experiences will likely become a medical student who learns quickly and makes the most out of medical school as well (and so forth for residency and beyond). An effective technique to facilitate deeper reflection is to think about insights that no one else would be able to take away from an experience or activity other than you.
#2. Include anecdotes, details, and descriptions to make your statement compelling and convincing
One common advice given regarding how to write a personal statement for medical school is to “show not tell.” While many people have heard this expression, few actually understand what it means. In the context of a medical school personal statement, this means including details and descriptions that help your anecdotes come to life. While a personal statement should not read like a creative writing piece, relevant details can certainly help engage readers and better convey your message.
#3. Ensure your personal statement is cohesive by brainstorming themes
Much like your application, your personal statement should center around 2-3 unifying themes. Imagine a medical school admissions committee member reading your application. How would they describe you in 2-3 sentences? Are you going to be a future physician scientist working on the cutting edge of medicine and innovation in a specific field? Or will you work with a specific population of patients as a physician advocate? Your themes should clearly encapsulate your past experiences, future career goals, and qualities as an individual.
#4.Make sure your personal statement is specific to you
Ask yourself: if your personal statement was swapped with that of another applicant, could your reader tell the difference? If the answer is no, then your personal statement is not specific enough to you. Remember that the purpose of the personal statement is for the reader to better understand how you think, what qualities you bring to the class, and who you are as a person. Focus on insights and experiences that only you can speak to! Even common experiences like hospital volunteering can be made specific by highlighting your personal thoughts, insights, and realizations.
#5. Clearly connect your writing to your goals
Consistently link your past experiences and insights to your future goals in medical school and beyond. For example, if you did lots of neuroscience research in undergrad, how will the skills you developed benefit you in medical school? Did your experience shape your future research interests? By making the connection explicit for your reader, they will better understand how you fit into the class and what type of physician you will become.
FREE AMCAS Work & Activities Workbook
Use this workbook to write STELLAR AMCAS descriptions. This section is as important as your personal statement.
#1.Focusing too much on others rather than you
A personal statement is just that—personal. While writing about role models, patients, or other people in your personal statement is commonly done and can be beneficial, make sure that it ultimately reveals something about you. You do not want a reader to finish reading your personal statement having learned more about someone else rather than about you.
#2. Focusing too much on activities descriptions rather than what they show about you
Similarly, remember that you have already described your extracurriculars in your work and activities section! While it is acceptable to further expand on 1-2 extracurriculars if relevant to your personal statement, the main purpose of your personal statement is not to rehash your cv/resume. A good technique to bring the focus back to who you are is to ask yourself what you learned from the experience and how that insight informs your goals and motivations. The reader is more interested in learning about you rather than the activity!
#3. Being “Too Creative’
Standing out positively on your personal can be a boost to your application but standing out negatively can land you in the rejected pile. Let your experiences and background speak for themselves and avoid being different for the sake of being different. Note: this does not mean you should not try to stand out with your personal statement but consider potential risks and benefits when writing your personal statement. Many people still consider medicine a conservative field; would an older attending form a positive impression of you after reading your statement?
#4.Leaning on clichés or generalizations
Clichés are not inherently bad. Ultimately, many pre-meds want to help people and enjoy science. But when your personal statement does not move beyond broad generalizations, your reader is unable to learn about you and understand why you specifically want to pursue medicine. Address this by ensuring your personal statement is specific to your experiences, indicative of deeper reflection and personally revealing of who you are.
#5. Writing with unclear or flowery prose
As with all essays, your writing style and proficiency will impact your readers’ perception of your personal statement. When writing and editing your personal statement, use clear and concise language that conveys your ideas without being overly dramatic or wordy. Because your writing skills are unlikely to substantially grow in the span of writing your personal statement, we recommend having an experienced writer edit your personal statement for flow and clarity before you submit it.
Personal statement writing is an iterative process that may span several months. After finalizing your first draft, take some time off before returning to it with a fresh pair of eyes. Re-read and edit until you feel satisfied with what you have. Some pre-meds even completely re-write their personal statements with a new topic!
Equally as important as re-writing is soliciting feedback from others. Take advantage of those around you and send your personal statement to multiple people with different perspectives. For example, another pre-med may read your personal statement differently than an attending physician, or someone outside of medicine entirely. Revise your personal statement so that it is well-received by multiple parties while not losing your own voice. The quality of the feedback you receive will depend on who you choose to seek it from, so be selective with who you ask to review your personal statement!
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While reading about how to write a personal statement for medical school makes doing so seem easy, it is much harder to put this into practice. As such, we have compiled a list of personal statements written by other pre-meds which we think demonstrate successful models of what a personal statement should look like.
The best resource for example personal statements is our Cracking Med School Admissions book! We have over 50 personal statements and secondary essay from successful medical school applicants, including essays from our authors! 🙂
Blog post written by Kevin Li and Dr. Rachel Rizal