You worked hard as an undergraduate, so you want to see that hard work pay off with acceptance into medical school. You’ve conquered your classes, slayed the MCAT, and expanded your horizons through research, volunteering, and shadowing. Now all that lies between you and your first medical school interview is the application itself. And core to every medical school application is the dreaded personal statement.
Your personal statement is a critical component of your AMCAS® application, so don’t let a weak personal statement drag down all of your hard work. Your personal statement is often your first impression on a medical school admissions committee. Your grades, test scores, and experiences may get eyes on your application, but your personal statement can determine whether or not you get an interview, or are left to re-apply again next year. In this post, I’ll share 4 simple tips to help you write a strong personal statement, maximizing your chances of being accepted into medical school.
1. Answer the Prompt: Why Medicine?
Chances are you’ve heard a professor or two emphasize the importance of answering the prompt for an assigned essay. You could write a moving, well-argued essay, but if it doesn’t answer the prompt, your grade will suffer. Your professor gives you a certain prompt because they want your essay to address that topic. Similarly, the personal statement has a tacit prompt: Medical schools want to know why you want to go to medical school, and why you will be a good doctor.
This may seem relatively simple, but it is all too common for students to stray off-topic in a way that hurts their personal statement. To prevent this from happening to you, I recommend that you set aside some time to think about your motivation for pursuing medicine and the characteristics you have that will make you a successful doctor before starting your personal statement. What sparked your initial interest in medicine and why? What experiences have solidified your interest in medicine? What aspects of medicine excite you? What skills have you developed that will help you as a doctor? It might be helpful to brainstorm questions such as these with friends or mentors that know you well. After this, make a concrete list of your thoughts. Such a list can serve to guide you as you write your personal statement and ensure that it answers the prompt directly, accurately, and specifically.
2. Stand Out From The Crowd
It is important to remember that every medical school admissions committee reads thousands of applications, every cycle. A unique personal statement can pique their interest in you and help you stand out from other applicants.
So how do you write a personal statement that stands out from the crowd? A unique personal statement begins with thinking about you. Start by making a list of the motivations that drive you, the characteristics that define you, and the experiences that delight, disturb, or directed you. Be specific. All applicants have volunteered. How did those experiences illuminate, humble, agitate, or delight you? Many other applicants will talk about wanting to help people or being a good communicator. You, however, can differentiate yourself by thinking and going deeper about how the people you thought you were helping enlightened you, or how a difficult relationship taught you to communicate better. Don’t just scratch the surface – dig deep in introspection to write a personal story that only you can tell.
3. Show, don’t tell
When you write a personal statement, you want admissions committees to walk away with an impression of you as a person. In the first two sections, we explored actions to take before writing to ensure that this impression is properly targeted to why you want to be a doctor, and what unique things about you will make you an outstanding doctor. In order to accomplish this through your writing, however, it is important to communicate this content in a certain way—namely, show, don’t tell.
To understand this distinction between showing and telling, consider the following two descriptions of a person. The first is simply a list of adjectives: compassionate, friendly, personable. Such a list has little power because it offers you no reasons to believe that they are true. It is merely a list of assertions. The second is a story about the same person, describing in detail a relationship they developed with a hospice patient through a volunteering program. Such a story has the ability to portray the same characteristics as the first description without explicitly stating them. This story has the ability to show who a person is rather than simply telling you who they are. Showing is more powerful than telling because it argues from evidence rather than making an unbacked claim.
Keeping this in mind as you write will help you craft an exceptionally strong personal statement. If you catch yourself leaning too heavily on adjectives to describe yourself, try thinking of narratives and experiences that can show those same qualities. These narratives do not have to be strictly related to medical experiences. A variety of life experiences can show aspects of yourself and your motivation to pursue medicine, just be sure that they are illustrating what you want to convey rather than just telling it.
4. Delivery Matters
This last tip is straightforward but crucial: your delivery matters, not just your content. The quality of your writing and grammar affect the quality of your personal statement, so it is important to treat the mechanics of your personal statement with the same care as you devote to its content.
You should draft and redraft your statement multiple times. This can be a tedious and time intensive process, but it is a necessary part of crafting your best work. Following the guidance of tips 1-3, brainstorm your statement and then write your first draft. After this, begin editing your statement for content. Reread it with the following questions in mind: Did I directly answer why I want to be a doctor? Did I explain why I will make an excellent physician? Will this statement help distinguish me from other candidates in some way? Does the writing have a logical, cohesive flow? Did I use narratives and experiences to show rather than tell? These and other questions will help guide you as you rework your personal statement. After doing this, begin to focus on the specifics of your delivery such as grammar, word choice, and sentence structure. Do not expect a perfect draft on your first try—even the best writers extensively edit their work before finishing it.
Finally, find other people who know you well to help you edit your statement. This will provide you with outside perspectives to help you refine your work. The goal of this is not to have others write your personal statement for you. However, these outside perspectives can help you ensure that your statement communicates what you want it to. Ask these readers what impressions they get from your statement and whether these impressions resonate with how they see you as a person. Ask them for feedback on your writing quality and grammar. This will help you refine the quality and clarity of your personal statement as you finalize it for submission.
Writing a good personal statement that tells a compelling story about why you want to enter medical school and why you want to be a doctor can be daunting. With introspection and effort, you can use these tips to craft a story that will convince medical schools to pass you a white coat on the path towards your dreams!