How To Write a Killer Medical School Personal Statement
5300 characters. You have 5300 characters, including punctuation and white spaces, to show a medical school that you are more than the sum of your GPA and MCAT score in your personal statement. Most personal statements will make or break your application. Admissions committees for medical schools give you one chance to show why you want to be a physician, and admittedly, this chance is probably one of the most stressful and anxiety-inducing parts of the medical school application process. It really feels like a game-winning shot at the buzzer from the moment you sit down to write it to the moment you hit submit on your application. But it doesn’t have to be that way…
Understanding What the Medical School Personal Statement Means and Does
Before you write anything, take a second and truly think about the meaning of the medical school personal statement. This shouldn’t be a place to list your accomplishments, or why you think you deserve to have an acceptance to medical school. Your personal statement is a narrative that illustrates one thing – why you want to become a physician. In addition, it isn’t enough to simply state so, you are tasked with convincing someone who doesn’t know you. Take a minute to reflect on why you wish to be a physician, how you arrived at that decision, the path you took to get to where you are, and how can tell this story to a stranger.
How to Start
When writing a medical school personal statement, as with any creative writing, a good amount of your time might be spent staring at the cursor blinking on a blank page. You might feel like you have no idea what to say and you might be thinking: “how could I possibly fit into 5300 characters and white spaces the reasons I wanted to become a physician? How do I condense years of experiences and time spent in a meaningful way?”
A good jumping-off point for getting started with your personal statement would be to stop trying to guess what admissions committees want to hear or how to tailor your personal statement to squeeze in all of your work and research experiences. Just talk about yourself! Although this may seem obvious, it is a surprisingly difficult thing to do. One of the notoriously difficult interview questions is “tell me about yourself.” With this broad, open-ended question in mind, sit down and just write about yourself. Don’t worry about the 5300 characters, don’t worry about how it sounds. Just be honest and try to list or discuss key moments or experiences that brought you to where you are and have shaped your desire to become a physician. A stream of consciousness might seem counterintuitive, but it is the best way to allow your free-flowing thoughts to take over the page and start to take the shape of a compelling narrative. There will be room for plenty of editing down the road!
One very common thread in medical school personal statements is that applicants will immediately jump into talking about a medical experience they had, the things they saw, and how that “motivated” them to want to be a physician. Keep in mind that, though you may have an interesting story to share, it might not say anything definitive about you as a person, an applicant, or a future physician. Start by talking about you.
How to Continue
By now, you should have a nice and long stream of consciousness essay that illustrates you as your true self and your path to medicine. Right now, you need to stop, take a break, and come back in a week. Don’t look at your personal statement, don’t look at other personal statements, don’t even think about personal statements. When you come back after a week, you’ll find that much of what you’ve written is probably not what you would want it to be. However when you come back to your personal statement after a week, you might find great bits of information that have the potential to be explored and developed into your narrative. It is important to find these narrative events and try to frame them together. At some point in your life, you discovered medicine, then you questioned medicine; at some point a mentor guided you in your path to pursuing medicine, and at a final point, you realized that medicine is something you want to learn and practice for the rest of your life.
This path is different for everyone. However, writing about that “a-hah” moment – the one where you suddenly understand that a career in medicine is for you – will make for a generic personal statement. There is no event that will make you devote your entire life to a career, and if there is, this will only show an admissions committee your lack of maturity and depth of thought. It is important to demonstrate to admissions committees that you have truly considered a career in medicine for a long time, understood its pros and cons deeply and decided to persevere after affirming your desire with experience. This is what you need to convey to the admissions committee – that medicine is more than a split-second decision for you. Demonstrate your thought process as you made this decision, the life events or experiences that added depth to your character and your wish to pursue medicine, and your excitement at the opportunity to follow this career path. The narrative you paint of your personal statement is fundamentally important to answering the question of “why medicine?” – be genuine and illustrate the significant effort you have dedicated to your pursuits.
How to Convince Your Reader
One of the worst things you can do is hold someone’s hand through your writing, walking them through your narrative. Many personal statements start off this way: you already know why you want to be a physician, all you must do is say that you’re dedicated, that you’re committed to medicine, etc. You might be familiar with the phrase “show, don’t tell.” This is something to keep in mind for everything you wrote about in your medical school personal statement so far. If you wrote something like “I learned that X and Y is important from my experience with person Z…”, the only thing an admissions committee member will see is someone who doesn’t think that their work will speak for itself. Show the reader, through actions and story, what it is you want them to see and let them see it for themselves. If your work or experience is not enough to convince someone that you truly learned compassion, dedication, or discipline in whatever you went through, then consider reframing the experience you are writing about, or provide another one.
While doing so, you might come to terms with the feeling of inadequacy – that your experience isn’t as grandiose or important as someone else’s. Recognize that almost every applicant feels this way. Understand that what matters is your reaction and the things you learned from what you write about. An event is important because you deem it so and describe it so, and no one can take that away from you. Every premed loves helping others, and every premed enjoys science—what admissions committees care about is what you have to say about it and your personal spin on this story.
Writing a Strong Ending for Your Medical School Personal Statement
One of the hardest parts of this already difficult process is concluding. How do you wrap up an entire story about your journey to pursuing medicine? A good way to start is to restate a few important highlights of the things you wrote about, how they contributed to your narrative, and how those events should culminate with you becoming a physician.
The next part, and perhaps the hardest part, is editing. It is recommended to ask as many people as you can to read your personal statement, especially people with varying backgrounds and various relationships to you. This can include friends, parents, teachers, mentors, professionals, etc. A wide variety of people is important because every person has their own unique perspective and will read parts of your personal statement differently. In addition, try to have readers or editors who will not hold back. Ask for honesty in your reader’s feedback, for them to tell you when something you wrote is not good, even if you won’t like that. All feedback considered, don’t be afraid to say no to edits. If you feel strongly about something and feel it is an important part of your narrative—say what you want to say! It is your personal statement after all, and you want your voice and creativity to shine through.
Arguably the most annoying part of this process will be cutting down your narrative to meet the 5300-character limit. Every time you try to edit your personal statement, you might find yourself thinking “there is no way to say this more concisely…” and every time, you can find a way to do exactly that! In fact, doing so will only make your work better. Don’t be afraid to be creative or ask someone else to look at a piece you’re struggling with for a fresh set of eyes. Telling your story concisely, precisely, and efficiently will result in a smoother flowing and more clear personal statement, while fulfilling the 5300-character limit as well.
Writing a personal statement is a difficult task for everyone. It is one of the biggest hurdles of applying to medical school, but remember that it is also a free space for expression that can help you as an applicant as well – it verbalizes your ideas and beliefs about yourself, making them more concrete and evident to your reader. Your personal statement is you on a page, so try to have fun with the creative aspect of it. Take pride in your application and personal statement, and good luck!