- The number of medical school applicants is up 18% this year over 2019 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, citing motivation prompted by healthcare workers and figures like Dr. Fauci during the pandemic.
- Darian Dozier, a first year medical school in osteopathic school, says aspiring doctors should put extra effort into the personal statement portion of their application to stand out from the crowd.
- The first obstacle to a stellar statement is simply sitting down and writing, Darian says. Start with an outline to organize your medical and personal experiences, and then write freely without worrying about edits.
- Stay professional while adding personal touch to every example you pull in and articulate your goals to show why medical school is the right path for you.
- It’s better to show, not tell — demonstrate how your traits, diverse background, and passions have shaped your decision to go to medical school.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Your medical school personal statement is one of the most important parts of your application. It is important that you take your time on it and do it right. Ever heard of an elevator pitch? Your medical school personal statement is that, in words, 5,300 characters or less to be exact. A generic personal statement is a sure fire way to get your admissions counselor to glaze right over it and on to the next applicant. However, if you can tell a compelling story, get them to sit up, and draw them in, you may make just enough of an impression to get an interview.
Admissions’ offices can’t meet everyone in person, so they are relying on your personal statement to let them know if you’re worth meeting face to face. Therefore, you have to be concise and interesting. Your medical school personal statement has to show your passion for medicine and the well-being of others. You have to find a way to demonstrate your talents, without directly stating them in a bland manner.
I’ve written two medical school personal statements: one two years ago and one at the beginning of the 2020 application cycle. The main difference between the two was the medical experience I brought in. Without, I just turned in another generic essay about wanting to help people. Blah blah blah. I want you to avoid making the same mistakes, so please read through my list of 10 ways to make your medical school personal statement stand out!
1. Outline key points before writing your medical school personal statement
That bright, blank white page staring at you is intimidating. Where to even start? Then before you know it, you’re either avoiding it or rambling through it. Stop. Take a deep breath. The easiest thing for you to do is approach this like an academic essay. The first thing any teacher has ever told you about writing an essay is to make an outline. Outlines keep you focused and make sure you don’t forget anything. They also help you paper seem less intimidating. Well done outlines are like the frames of a house. The structure is there, you just need the final touches.
They make writing a little more directed and purposeful. So before you start writing… just sit down and write an outline. Consider the following things:
- What medical experience(s) do you want to mention?
- What volunteer experience(s) highlight your character and your ability to give back?
- How have you bounced back or shown resilience?
- Who is someone that has had an impact on you, or, who have you had an impact on that will enhance your application?
- How are you going to organize your essay?
These are just a few questions to consider as you begin your writing process. Jot them down on a piece of paper and keep that paper with you as you journey through your medical personal statement. Use it to guide you and make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
2. Write first, edit later
Nothing is more irksome than that little red, blue or green squiggle screaming your mistake at you. However, just write what is on your heart. Let the words just flow from your fingertips. If it doesn’t make sense, just keep writing. You may feel like “This is the worst cr-p I’ve ever written in my life“. It’s okay. At least you’ll have a baseline and you can decide where to go from there. Do you just hit ctrl+a –> delete or do you make a few tweaks? Without a base to start with, you won’t know.
Don’t stress yourself out about editing. You can do that when you’re done. Only worry about writing and getting out everything that you have to say. Then take a walk, get away from it for a few hours. Maybe even a couple of days. Then read through it one more time. Make little notes about where you want to make changes, but wait until you’re done with that first read through before you change a single thing.
If you still don’t like it, it’s OK. You can always start over, but at least now you know what you don’t like. Simply create another outline, and start writing again, editing later.
3. Pull from medical experience
The biggest thing lacking from my initial essay was the fact that I had no medical experience to draw from. Not one time in my college career did I work in a hospital or have any patient interaction. That sank my medical school personal statement because I was so vague. I couldn’t call on one particular case that made me want to become a doctor. I couldn’t address one thing in the medical field that I wanted to change.
It is imperative that you work, volunteer, shadow, do something. You will learn more from that in one day than one year in a classroom. You can’t be taught patient care, it comes from experience. Also, you will experience so many different facets of healthcare, some of which you vehemently oppose. That is what you write about.
Keep a journal and document specific cases for future reference.
Be careful to not violate HIPAA or record names. Keep things vague, but informative.
I worked as a mental health tech the year after I graduated high school. I had so many patients, it was hard to keep track of them all. However, I had one specific case that involved an African American boy that had early onset schizophrenia. His parents stopped his medicine cold turkey because they thought he was better. He reverted so far past his original symptomatology that his return was not looking good. I used this experience working with him as a way to address the lack of mental health knowledge in Black and/or underserved communities. He was one of many kids affected by non-complicit parents, but I latched on to our commonalities and wrote about his impact on me.
You need this personal touch to draw in your reader. Help them understand what exactly pushed you in this direction. It also shows previous investment and patient care experience so hopefully you know what you’re getting yourself into. Medical schools invest a lot in students. They want to know you’re worth the investment, and any stories of past experience, help get that message across.
4. Write about your future contributions in your medical school personal statement
One of the biggest questions you need to answer in your medical school personal statement is “What will you contribute to medicine as a doctor?” They are looking to have the next big alumni, or at least make sure their graduates make a positive contribution to the world. This is why it is so important to have medical experience. You need to be very specific about what it is that you will do as a doctor to improve medicine. There are so many shortcomings in healthcare. Which one is important to you and how will you address it?
Don’t be bland about it and say, “As a doctor I will do xyz because I want to help people”. Find a way to incorporate it in your story. When I told the story about my patient, I included educating individuals about mental health resources. I was very specific about wanting to be placed in communities that didn’t have resources. I also talked specifically about increasing access and knowledge to psychotropics and mental health information.
A couple of examples:
A vanilla example of this is, “As a doctor I will help people by giving them information about mental health resources and medicine because they need help”.
A better example of this same sentence is, “As a mental health tech, I witness the effects of a lack of resources or information about mental health and psychotropics. This is why it is important to me to get into a position where I can be a vessel of education about these topics. I want to put a familiar face in a community and help them understand the full scope of mental health”.
One blatantly stated how and why I wanted to help. The other told a story and demonstrated the need and how I would fulfill it.
5. Demonstrate your volunteer/community involvement
A big part of your medical school application will be highlighting your volunteer or community involvement. As a future doctor, you are expected to be selfless and give back to your community. If you are a selfish person or don’t like to do things for others, this isn’t the profession for you. Therefore, it’s imperative you show your commitment to helping others instead of just stating it.
A portion of your application is for meaningful experiences. This is where you list your accomplishments, hours spent, and what those experiences meant to you. However, your medical school personal statement is where you really sell it. Briefly explain your service, why you did it, and what it meant to you. This is your time to really demonstrate your selflessness.
Personally, I devoted a couple of years to Big Brothers Big Sisters. It was one of the best volunteer experiences I’ve been a part of. I was able to write about the mentorship between myself and a 9-year old Black elementary student who also had aspirations of being a doctor. Our paths were so similar that we were able to help each other. Reflect on the experience that really drove you to be a doctor.
6. Add voice but stay professional
The person reading your medical school personal statement is not a robot, but they are not your best friend either. You want to add voice, while remaining intelligent. Stay away from colloquialisms, slang, and other conversational abbreviations. You want your essay to be easy to understand and transparent without your counselor trying to figure out your references.
Imagine if you were an admissions counselor reading hundreds or thousands of personal statements. The last thing you want to is to give them an essay that sounds like everyone else. Add some spunk and personality to it. Help them meet you before they meet you. If you sound interesting on paper, then they’ll be dying to meet you in person. Tell personal anecdotes, carefully add a little humor, and invite them into your life.
One of the main things I wanted to highlight was my journey and how I attempted to get in, then was denied, then bounced back. However I had to be tricky in how I delivered that.
A couple of examples:
An incorrect way to say this: “Man a couple of years ago was hard. I got told no from so many schools I called that year of my life the year of no. I saw all my friends going to medical school and had crazy FOMO. But it was cool though because I learned a lot and bounced back from that.”
A better way to deliver this exact message would be: “My previous attempt at gaining admissions to medical school did not go well. I received nine rejection letters. I saw so many “We regret to inform you” emails that I nicknamed that application cycle “My Year of No”. It was disheartening, but I learned a lot. I used that experience to guide me in my future endeavors, ensuring I had a stronger application and a better appreciation for the medical field.”
Same message, two completely different forms of delivery. Don’t get boxed into sounding like a cliche, but stay professional. Prove you know how to speak and write in an interesting, but business manner.
7. Demonstrate traits in your medical personal statement, don’t list them
This is not a cover letter where you can throw a bullet list right in the middle showing all your strengths. This is a mini story, or a mini essay. About you! The last thing you want to do is burn 5300 characters listing how great and qualified you are. Demonstrate them as you reflect on your personal journey to medical school.
Don’t write that you are strong, resilient, and tough as nails. Show that as you write about a time that you got knocked down and got back up. Nobody wants to read a list about you being selfless, caring, and nurturing. Write about volunteering with someone or caring for a patient. These are interesting ways to implicitly illustrate your strengths. They keep the reader drawn in while also highlighting your qualifications.
8. Answer the question: “Why medicine” — be concise and specific
There are a million jobs and careers that you could pursue to help people. Why are you specifically choosing medicine? Why do you want to be a doctor? This is the basis of your entire essay. This is the point that you are trying to get across to whoever is reading your essay.
The specificities of medicine are what I was really missing in my first essay. I wrote some generic essay about wanting to help people by becoming a psychiatrist. However, I specifically pointed out that I wanted to educate myself about psychotropics and then take my education to an underserved or under-resourced community. There aren’t too many jobs where I could study medicine and go into a community and help educate them. This was my direct answer to why medicine. What’s yours?
You can’t beat around the bush
Answer the question at the beginning and then elaborate throughout your essay. This way your readers don’t have to wait until the last line to figure out why you want to be a doctor. You’ve stated it and the listed several examples that back up your point. This is similar to an academic paper. Your answer is your thesis and now you need supporting paragraphs. These supporting paragraphs are where you elaborate on your experiences and create a picture of how they led you down this path.
Be specific. No one wants vague answers of “I want to be a surgeon because I had a really nice one that helped me deal with my injuries”. What were the injuries? What specifically did the surgeon do or not do that made you choose to pursue this field? I specifically mentioned my patient (not by name of course) instead of broadly talking about mental health. If you can be specific, then you add validity to your medical school personal statement.
9. Turn your faults to strengths
This is tricky but will give you good practice for interviews. They will ask you what are your weaknesses, but those can be incriminating. Same in your essay. Even though you aren’t directly asked about weaknesses, it’s important to address them. You show your humanness when you do so.
However, what you don’t want to do is show them in a way that makes you look bad. For example, if you have an issue working with others, you can phrase it as a strong individual work ethic. If you’re a procrastinator who sometimes has issues with motivating yourself, spin it. Say you like to take your time with work and ensure you’re doing a thorough job. Turn your weaknesses into strengths in your medical school personal statement and your interview.
Use your marginality
This is one of the few times I advocate for swiping your minority card. Whether you’re a Black, Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQ+, a veteran, older or younger than most matriculants, disabled, etc. use it. Don’t use it in a way that makes people pity you. Use it in a way where you identify the strengths you gained being a part of that margin.
For example, I am a Black woman. I fit into two marginalized communities. I capitalized on my ability to connect with other Black patients who are weary of the healthcare system. There have been so many times Black people have been screwed by the healthcare system. So rightfully so, they are very hesitant about going to the doctor and trusting someone who looks nothing like them. I pointed this out in my essay and used it as a way to show how I would fill in the gap.
Being a part of a marginality is not a weakness or a call for pity. It is a way to address a gap in the healthcare system that you can fill.
10. Get your medical school personal statement proofread
It’s easy to read an essay you wrote and it make sense. However, there may be parts of your medical school personal statement that that are lost in translation. When others read your writing, it may not read exactly how you intend. So give your essay to several different readers, some of which have no true connection to you. You need a few unbiased readers who are not concerned about hurting your feelings. They will give you the honest truth about your writing so you can improve it.
Your parents are fine, your friends are okay, but aim for doctors. Aim for potential letter writers or maybe old professors. People who have history with admissions’ essays. They know what it is like to read several entrance essays. So they know what stands out and what is a bust. Find a few professionals at your school or place of work to look it over before you send it.
Filter the advice and keep what’s important
Now everyone will have a different opinion and different suggestions for you. You have to filter through the advice and make the changes that won’t change the meat of what you’re trying to say. Often times other readers can catch typos and mistakes that our eyes miss. (You may even catch a few on my blog, although I try really hard to catch them all ). There may also be awkward sentence structures or a misconstrued message. These are the suggestions you are looking for. Also if anyone gives you suggestions on different ways to get across the same message, consider it. Avoid deleting major parts of your essay unless you hear from multiple sources that it’s unnecessary or weak. Be open-minded, but hold on strong to your message.
Time to start writing!
Alright, I’ve given you all the help I can at this point. My suggestions are not foolproof, and every essay reader is different in what they are looking for. However, this is a general guideline to start with. If you have any questions or comments, share them below. Let’s start a conversation and help each other right some awesome essays! Follow on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest for more tips or to share your own stories.