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Writing a Hook for Your Personal Statement for Medical School

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A pre-med student sitting in a computer lab working on her medical school personal statement on her laptop.

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It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. 

—George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

 

You better not never tell nobody but God. 

—Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)

It was a pleasure to burn. 

—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

 

 

Some of the best books ever written have the most iconic opening lines. While your personal statement for medical school won’t be the next seminal work of English literature, it can be the part of your application that scores you a medical school interview. Considered the foundation of the holistic application, the personal statement is your opportunity to show admissions committees who you are and why you want to be a physician. It shows admissions committees you, not just your exam scores or volunteering hours. The personal statement is not only your opportunity to crystallize exactly why you want to be a physician, but a way to demonstrate your communication skills.

 

Many students get stuck while writing their personal statement. I believe this is because applicants often have many reasons for wanting to go into medicine (spoiler alert: that’s a good thing) and it can be difficult to distill these reasons into one small essay. Even harder is communicating these reasons clearly in your personal statement.

 

Ultimately, you will have to be the one to write your personal statement hook for medical school. Let’s go over some tips on how to approach writing a hook before trying to write it.

 

 

The Personal Statement Hook… What is It?

 

The hook is a literary device at the beginning of an essay meant to grab the reader’s attention and compel them to continue reading. A hook can be many things: a serious anecdote, a short autobiography, a funny story, a quote, etc. The best personal statement writers can take a regular anecdote from their lives and use it to illustrate a key element of their personality and their reasons for wanting to be a doctor. For example, here is the opening paragraph from my personal statement for pediatrics residency. I am not an award-winning writer, but note how I tried to illustrate how my patient experiences have given me insight into why pediatrics is the right fit for me.

 

I met my most memorable pediatric patient while working in adult inpatient medicine. He was a complicated patient, but a regular kid, caught between failed pediatric medical management and adult medicine. He had just turned 18 when his pediatrician told him that he had end-organ damage in his eyes and heart from eight years of untreated IgA nephropathy. He would need dialysis and a kidney transplant. Every time I walked into his room, I saw a pediatric patient on the cusp of transitioning to adulthood. We laughed about video games when we weren’t talking about his medical treatments. He made fun of my mustache. When his nose would bleed from high blood pressure, he would vent his frustration and his stoic façade would fade away. His parents lamented not following up with his pediatrician after he was diagnosed eight years ago. His experience showed me the impact of childhood treatment on adult patient life and the increased weight and responsibility that pediatricians’ decisions have on all patients. As a pediatrician, I will have a radical impact on my patients’ futures even after they forget me. This is a responsibility that excites me and which I take seriously.

 

 

Your hook doesn’t have to be about caregiving in a war-torn region or saving your relative’s life (unless you did those things and they play a role in why you want to be a doctor). The personal statement hook should, however, be specific to your reasons for wanting to be a doctor.

 

 

Be Authentic: Uncover Your Reasons for Wanting to Be a Physician

 

I find that many applicants writing their personal statements can’t actually tell me why they want to go to medical school or pursue their specialty of choice. Before you write, make sure that you truly understand why you want to be a physician. I chose to pursue a career as a physician because I wanted to be an expert in a scientific field and use that science to heal people. I chose to become a pediatrician because I enjoy working with children and families, partly because the medical team and the parent frequently share a common goal: making their kid better. Compared to other medical fields, medical school and residency have taught me the reasons why we use certain treatments and not just which treatments to use and when. Once you know why you want to be a doctor, writing the hook can be the easy part of your personal statement.

  

If you are having a difficult time putting pen to paper, first make sure you truly understand why you want to be a doctor. Understand which of your qualities you want to come across to admissions committees in your application and your personal statement. Make sure these qualities demonstrate why you want to be a doctor and not just work in the healthcare field. Almost every other route to working in healthcare is easier than becoming a physician.

 

 

Plan and Have Some Examples Before Writing Your Personal Statement Hook

 

If you are still having trouble writing your hook, don’t despair. It’s objectively hard to write a personal statement and harder to write a hook.

 

Before you write your hook, I suggest making a list of how you want to portray yourself in your application. Are you a curious person? Do you love to travel and want to do global medicine? Are you the kind of person who loves coffee shops and wants a career where you get to have meaningful conversations with patients all day?

 

 

Writing Your Hook and Your Personal Statement

 

Now to the meat and potatoes.

 

First thing’s first: relax. Go pet your dog or cat, go for a run, or have a beverage of your choosing. 

 

Next, write. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Just get your ideas for your hook on paper. Then, step away and come back to them later. Starting your personal statement can be daunting, but the important thing to remember is that your personal statement doesn’t have to be perfect the first time you write it! Put words to paper first, and perfect it later. Writing down anything can help any writer break through their writer’s block.

 

Lastly, once you know how you want to portray yourself in your personal statement, brainstorm ideas you can use to demonstrate your qualifications. Again, this can be a personal anecdote, a funny story, a shadowing experience you had, a trip abroad, etc.

 

I like to approach descriptive writing by thinking about my five senses. What could you smell, hear, see, feel, and taste? Be descriptive, but brief. I’ll use an example.

 

Blankets of rain poured on the windows of our tiny, two-wheel-drive SUV as my fiancée and I careened past a cliff near the edge of the volcano. Carsick, the taste of bile filled my mouth, and my hand went numb as nausea washed over me. My partner tightly and anxiously clutched my sweaty, white hand after every pothole. After driving four hours over Bali’s largest volcano in the middle of a monsoon, the wheels of our Suzuki finally hit the pavement and we all smiled sighs of relief. Laughing, we made eye contact with our driver, Ery, in the rear-view mirror as he said, “…memories?” with a thick Indonesian accent.

 

Note how I use descriptive language to communicate how the physical sensations I felt paint a picture of the scene. This anecdote has nothing to do with medicine. However, I could use this story to illustrate how I want to be like our driver: calm under pressure, a guide for others, and a source of joy and humor during an otherwise stressful time. As a physician, it is my responsibility to be all of those things to my patients.

 

 

Get Feedback on Your Personal Statement

 

Ask for help. Every medical student, resident, and attending physician you know has written a personal statement that someone has deemed worthy enough to warrant acceptance to medical school. By the time you’re an attending physician, you will have written several. Make sure your hook (and your personal statement) captures your reader’s attention. Have someone experienced proofread your personal statement. Be selective on who you ask for advice. If you wouldn’t ask for advice from someone, don’t accept their criticism. Don’t worry if you are having trouble finding a mentor to review your application. Speak to us about essay editing if you are looking for some extra help!

 

Extra resources

 

Check out these resources if you’d like reliable guidance on writing a personal statement

 

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