Your medical school personal statement is a golden opportunity in the medical school application process to strategically direct the attention of admissions officers. You can create your own highlight reel of all your relevant personal experience, best character traits, community service, life events, ambitions. You narrative connects your extracurriculars and intellectual interests. Since medical school acceptances are extremely competitive (roughly half of all med school applicants will not get into any medical school), and assuming you’re committed to a future in medicine, you owe it to yourself to take advantage of the medical school personal statement as an opportunity to stand out and explain why you want to be a doctor.
With 5,300 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 standout!
What is the purpose of the medical school personal statement?
When considering the medical school application, it is important for prospective med school students to understand the goal or purpose of each component and what it attempts to measure.
Statistical metrics like your GPA and MCAT demonstrate your academic preparedness for an individual school or program, 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 as they discuss the relevant aspects of your personal character, strengths as a student, and suitability for a career in medicine.
The focus of your personal statement, similar to secondary essays, is YOU. What do you think your strengths and admirable qualities are? Who are you as a student, leader, and individual? What is behind your motivation for medicine? What unique background would you bring to a medical school class? The reader should have a clear idea of the answers to these questions.
Step 1: Read Medical School Personal Statement Examples
The best way our premed students have been able to create a strong narrative for their med school personal statement is to read personal statement examples.
We think one of the best resources to read EXCELLENT medical school personal statements from previous applications is our Cracking Med School Admissions book! Our book has over 50 personal statements and secondary essays. Use these essays as a starting point to inspire ideas for your med school personal statement.
Gather and read example personal statements from successful applicants from previous samples:
Step 2: How to Brainstorm Your Medical School Personal Statement
The second question that premeds have is what experiences they should write about. Thinking back to the different components of a medical school application, we recommend applicants not to approach this 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.
Before you start writing, 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 passion for medicine?
- Is there anything unique about your background or do you have any specific personal qualities which a medical school (check their mission statement) may value?
- What are your future career goals as a medical professional and what experiences were particularly formative in shaping them?
- Were there any mentors (or mentoring programs) that had a large influence on your future goals, 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 characteristics your personal narrative reveals about you as a future medical professional.
Step 3: Create a Narrative for your Medical School Personal Statement
Once you’ve brainstormed important experiences that you potentially want to highlight in your personal statement, create an outline of how you want the stories to flow.
For each paragraph, think about:
- What is the reader learning about me here?
- What is this experience showing about me?
- Is it too much “tell” rather than “show?”
- How does this experience connect with the previous paragraph?
REMEMBER: Your personal statement doesn’t have to be chronological! In fact, if you look at the examples in our Cracking Med School Admissions book, some successful students started their personal statements with recent clinical activities.
Step 4: Revising Your Personal Statement
Medical school 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!
Individuals to ask for personal statement editing help:
- Your Family Members – Although your family members might not be the best editors for quality, they do know you the best. You can ask your family whether they think the personal statement reflects you and your desires towards medicine.
- University Writing Center – These centers have individuals who are trained to give feedback on essays. Use this resource if it’s available!
- University Pre-health Advising – Your pre-health advising office has also seen several personal statements. Ask them for feedback and tips about personal statement writing. They may even have examples of personal statements from successful med school applicants from previous years!
- Friends – Definitely ask your friends who are strong writers. They can help you with grammar and phrasing, as well as content because they know you well.
Be warned that you will get differing opinions the more people you ask, so you need to stick with your gut and choose what best AMCAS Application Packages
Tips To Write an Excellent Medical School Personal Statement
#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.
Top 5 Medical School Personal Statement Mistakes That You Can easily avoid
#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.
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Example Personal Statements
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 essays from successful medical school applicants, including essays from our authors!
We have over 50 personal statements and secondary essays from successful medical school applicants, including essays from our authors!