How to Write a Medical School Personal Statement

Personal StatementYou’ve worked hard for years, and now you’re finally at the medical school gates. The college pre-reqs are done, the MCAT is toast, you’ve put the extra-in-curriculars, but you still have one last thing on your pre-med checklist. You need to write your personal statement! Trust me, it isn’t the easiest task in the world; it took me a couple months of writing and constant tweaking until I had something that was even decent. The personal statement isn’t the time to rest upon your laurels - rather, it is time for a grand finale that sums up the reasons you pulled so many all-nighters, did school work on the weekends, and went above and beyond the typical applicant. Your personal statement should pull from all of the hard work you’ve done, and make your application come to life so that the admissions committee can really imagine you as a dedicated new addition to both the school and the medical community. It isn't an easy task, but I want to help you out...

You want to know how to write a medical school personal statement? Follow these 7 tips for an application changing essay.

1. Know Thy Reader

Before you begin to write your personal statement, consider who exactly will be reading your statement. Is the admissions committee made up of a bunch of teenaged girls? No? Ok - that means an overly dramatic personal statement about a vision quest you had at a Pink Floyd concert probably isn’t going to cut it here. Your committee is composed of medical professionals, professors, medical students and admissions staff. Keep in mind that most of the people involved in admissions feel pride towards their medical school. They want people who will fit in and continue the tradition that they love so much. I know that I only want the best (and coolest) to come to my medical school. Tailor your statement to the people who will be reading it!

Nota Bena: Tell the truth in your personal statement. Don't make up stories, or say that you are interested in something that you aren't. An experienced interviewer will see right through you and your personal statement come interview day.


2. Know What Your Reader Wants

As I mentioned above, your audience wants to get to know who you are as a student and as a medical professional. They are reading your statement to find out two main things that don’t automatically leap from the pages of your transcripts, your resumé, or your test scores: what motivates you to pursue a career in medicine? and why do your personal qualities make you a strong applicant? This essay is your time to sell yourself by addressing these two fundamental questions.

Write an essay that is specific in answering these questions. Maybe you want to work with the elderly population as you have experience volunteering on a geriatrics floor? Or perhaps you want to advance scientific research, because after witnessing an alternative treatment first hand, you have a strong interest in implementing novel therapies. Why medicine? Is a question that will keep coming up throughout the med school application cycle, so you might as well get used to answering it.

Nota Bena: You should know what motivates you. The hard thing is putting it on paper. Writing about yourself isn't easy, or fun.  Highlight your strengths, without coming across as arrogant or naïve.


3. Don’t Be Redundant or Emphasize Non-Relevant Skills

A quick example...if you were trying to sell a sedan to a racing car fan, you probably wouldn’t emphasize the car’s childproof locks. You would talk about its engine. It is awesome that you’re a star volleyball player, rocked the MCAT and have years of perfect grades under your belt, but don’t just state those facts. Instead, discuss how your love of volleyball gave you discipline, commitment, and a drive to practice sports medicine. Connect activities to personal qualities.

Nota Bena: I would try to stay away from writing about any kind of negative experiences, or from using negative language at all for that matter. Now isn't the time to talk about how you got fired at Bank of America, but it taught you resiliency. Some people can pull it off, but you probably can't.


 4. Know How To Stand Out

Your typical admissions committee member is reading dozens (if not hundreds) of personal statements to help determine if they should take the next step and interview you. I can guarantee you that the majority of personal statements will be skimmed because they are so very similar. So…what does that mean for you? You need to approach your essay as a way to stand out and highlight the very best aspects of you. This is your chance before the interview to become more than a GPA and MCAT score.

Try not to be just another applicant who has high marks and "excels at science and wants to help others." These are great reasons for wanting to go to medical school, but they definitely aren't unique. There are ways to prove that you "want to help people" without c0ming out and saying it. Consider what makes you a different applicant than anyone else. Whether it was an experience working with patients as an ER scribe or all the grey hairs you gave your mom conducting lab experiments in her kitchen as a child; make your statement personal and maybe even a little entertaining.

Nota Bena: This was the hardest part for me. Creative writers, this is where you can pull ahead in applications!


5. Grammar, Spelling, and Writing Skills Matter

An essay full of grammatical errors, run on sentences, and comma misplacements won’t exactly instill confidence in the folks deciding whether or not you have the potential to be a detail oriented student/professional. A basic command of the English language is fairly important, so you may want to spend some a lot of time proofreading. Your personal statement may be the reason you were passed over in favor of someone with a similar background who turned in a killer, and grammatically correct essay.

Nota Bena: Your parents, significant others, mentors, favorite professors, etc. are all good resources for editing and proofreading, so use them!


6. Start and Finish Strong

Open with a great introductory paragraph. A sad truth is that your essay will be judged and remembered by its first paragraph. Make sure that your introductory paragraph is strong and contains a clear thesis or theme that really outlines what you’ll be discussing in the rest of your personal statement. This will make or break the rest of your essay, so pick something that you can support with your strengths and experiences in the body paragraphs. Flesh out the points you touched upon in your introduction, use specifics, and personal anecdotes. Conclude your personal statement by reiterating your main point in a fresh way, don’t just restate, “I love helping people.” Organization is the key to any good essay, and it is of course important here. Hook the reader in the first paragraph, prove your point, and lock-up that interview invite with the conclusion.

Nota Bena: An outline can be very helpful, after you have an underlying theme for your personal statement. Want to do something really special? Have that same theme transcend your “Work/Activities” section of AMCAS.


7. The Final Nota Bena!

Play it safe. I thought I had a killer personal statement. However, when my mentor and girlfriend read it, they said I came off a little bit arrogant. I still really loved it, but the risk just wasn't worth the reward. I edited and revised my personal statement, until I had something a bit more reserved. I've told you to be unique and entertaining, but don't do something stupid. This is where multiple proof readers becomes so important!

Let me know what you think in the comments, how did you write your personal statement?