Medical School Personal Statement Examples
We at Motivate MD thought it would be smart to give you an example of a personal statement by sharing what we wrote when we applied to medical school. I’d like to say for my part, the advice back then was a little different, with less emphasis on anecdotal experiences. If I had to rewrite it, that’s the first place I’d look to change things, as I definitely think that my essay is lacking in that regard. Likewise, though I do speak like I write much of the time, I probably could have gotten away without sounding as pretentious and douchy as I come off at times in this essay. On a more personal note, I’d rewrite the section that begins with “Life is not about you” to more accurately describe what I believe these days.
To be honest, a lot of this essay’s weak points boils down to my fear of receiving feedback and criticism. If I had to do it again, I would’ve written many more drafts, and gotten it professionally reviewed by others -not just for my grammar and spelling, but for content. Bottom line, by no means is it perfect, but we at Motivate MD think this essay gives a pretty good place to start regarding the structure and organization of any personal statement.
If you’re interested in learning more about opportunities to learn from our mistakes and get a review, you can check that out here. And if you’re interested in learning to edit the Motivate MD-way and help the next generation of doctors find their voice, feel free to reach out to myself or the rest of the team using your favorite method. Okay, enough lollygaging – on with the show…
Matt’s Personal Statement
Reading through mission statements of various medical schools, I have discovered an enthralling question: Is medicine science or art? I find this discourse of disparate viewpoints interesting because of a similar battle that has played out in my own mind between the head and the heart. Medicine is where I belong as it provides an avenue between these two raging forces unique to any other field I have found. A career as a clinician is precisely the symphony of problem solving I crave and the opportunity to love humanity I long for, making it the perfect life for me.
My initial attraction to medicine during high school came from my inquisitive nature, a desire to solve puzzles. I enjoy the thrill of mastering a topic, and then either revealing how the pieces fit to others, or using my newfound expertise in the application of solving new problems. Thus, it’s no wonder that I found medicine invigorating. It provides an endless depth of knowledge to plunder, and the opportunity to utilize that material in new situations. Previously, I saw the human machine as something I could solve and repair if I knew enough. This has driven me to seek out opportunities to understand the deep mechanistic nature of the body. I wanted, and still want, to understand medicine at its most basic level, and then apply that knowledge to fixing diseases. Because of this desire, I have continued to seek out medical knowledge in my own time, through reading and research at school.
Admittedly, this first attraction to medicine was misguided and born of selfishness. I saw my future self as a medical Sherlock Holmes-the smartest person in the room disseminating my own cleverness from on high to solve a medical problem. I had only a mild interest in the artful, human, side of medicine. This intense passion to solve problems I now see is not itself inherently wrong and will indeed serve me well in medical school, but such a desire must be tempered by the heart.
When I arrived at college, my concept of the world, and with it medicine, was completely rearranged. Living in close community, I soon realized a simple, but important Truth: Life is not about you. It isn’t even about each other on an individual level. It’s about how people connect and intersect on the whole and effect change for their fellow man. This perspective shift drastically changed how I lived at school. Now I had a desire to serve others and participate in my activities precisely to do so. I also shifted how I understood medicine. Medicine, it seemed, was not the cold calculation of Holmesian deduction to fix diseases as I once believed, but the art of understanding, navigating, and mitigating human pain in whatever form-physical, emotional, psychological- via the conduit of scientific understanding. While the science of medicine first attracted me to the field, it is the desire to practice the art of medicine that has continued to propel me towards a career as a physician.
My understanding of medicine as an art and a science and my desire to pursue both have only grown stronger as I have become a patient myself. Last summer, I became very ill, and spent most of my summer asleep, in the bathroom, or at the clinic, only being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the end of July. In such a vulnerable position, I experienced first-hand that importance and impact of medicine as art and science. Dr. Hallak, my gastroenterologist, treated not just my illness, but the fear and pain I possessed, and for that I am forever grateful (and fortunately, also healthy). Likewise, Dr. Hallak graciously taught me about my disease on a mechanistic level, demonstrating that he understood the science of medicine as deeply as I had hoped a clinician would. Thus, I was assured that a career as a clinician could sate my scientific hunger as well. In Dr. Hallak I clearly saw that I did not have to compromise between my desire to understand the human body as a machine, and my need to serve others and effect change in their lives. When I think of the type of physician I want to be, I know that I want to follow Dr. Hallak’s example and live a life using science to not simply fix disease, but to heal human pain.
Because of these experiences, I believe that medicine is precisely this: the application of knowledge of both humankind- our hearts, souls, minds, and bodies- and human disease towards the eradication of human pain. In this definition, I have found a means to navigate the tricky space between medicine as science and art, between my inquisitiveness and the earnest longing to benefit others, between the head and the heart. I am confident that in my future career as a physician I will be able to fulfill these two desires. Furthermore, I believe that my perspective on medicine, one that unifies art and science, is necessary for the evolving landscape of medicine. With the advent of new technologies, future physicians will be called to new roles. It is only by understanding and synthesizing the disparate halves of medicine that we as future physicians can fulfill these new, unknown roles. It is my hope that I might bring a fresh perspective to the field of medicine, and bring a positive impact not simply for my own sake, but for all the patients I will have in the future.
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Bryan’s Personal Statement
I vividly remember driving up the entrance to Gustavus Adolphus College. It was freshmen year and upperclassmen, appropriately coined “Gustie Greeters,” vibrantly welcomed my family and I to campus. Starting college was an unnerving, yet welcomed adventure. Little did I know this special community would ingrain three core values, full effort, positive attitude, and empathy, all the while revealing the intimacy between medicine and the human condition. My mission was clear then and continues to be reaffirmed as a scribe at Twin Cities Orthopedics (TCO). I want to become a physician because it is a unique way of serving people, as well as sharing my three guiding life philosophies.
I begin with the hook, describing my welcoming experience at Gustavus Adolphus. I choose this hook because this was a special community that truly shaped me as a personal, ingraining the mentioned three core values. Organization is crucial in a personal statement. That is why I introduce my three core values here, as well as my experience at Twin Cities Orthopedics, all of which become standalone body paragraphs. Moreover, I touch on how these core values illuminated the unique nature of medicine. This preludes into my thesis, which answers two important questions. First, why do I want to be a doctor? Because it is a unique way of serving people. Second, why will I thrive in this field? By sharing my three guiding life philosophies.
The Gustavus tennis coaches helped instill my first core value, full effort. They demanded focus every second, which translated to the unparalleled opportunity for improvement. Our team adopted this philosophy, pushing each other toward our greatest potential. This was best exemplified by fitness, which we viewed as a healthy intra-team competition. I brought this attitude into all aspects of my life. As a chemistry tutor, full effort was essential. My students had a variety of needs, but one stands out. She struggled most with the laboratory component. One night, we spent three hours combing over a complex experiment. She left our session not only comprehending the lab, but also with a renewed vigor to tackle next week’s experiment. In short, full effort entails inspiration of others. This is certainly appropriate within medicine, where patients are in trying situations. As a physician, I will inspire my patients to their greatest potential through full effort.
The thesis is truly the roadmap for the personal statement. That is why the ideas introduced there become the body paragraphs. My first core value was full effort, thus this paragraph is about full effort. I discuss where it was fine-tuned, the tennis court, and then delve into an example of utilizing it elsewhere. We often say show, don’t tell in our critiques. Here is what we mean by that. I show my full effort with my student, spending hours with her, as well as the positive impact this had. It is much more powerful than merely saying I am hard working. Last, I relate full effort back to medicine, discussing how I will inspire future patients. This is something that is often left out with closing sentences to body paragraphs. Don’t forget to bring everything full circle!
Positive attitude, my second core value, was best exemplified by Steve Wilkinson, one of my tennis coaches who recently succumbed to metastatic cancer. From the onset of his terminal diagnosis, he sported an ear-to-ear grin and palpable optimism. Only minutes in his presence would lift anyone’s spirits. Living far beyond his six month prognosis, he is a reminder of the power of medicine in preserving life, but also the devastation of disease. Steve was never unrealistic about his health, but eternal positivity allowed him to live in the moment for his final years. Inspired by Steve, I have used this mindset countless times. On one occasion, friends rushed my girlfriend to the local ER due to her life threatening food allergy. I quickly followed. Nora was almost unrecognizable, covered from head to toe in red, blotchy hives. She was panicking, and given her already labored breathing I knew I had to try and calm her down. I grabbed her puffy hand and watched her slowly relax as I reiterated that she was in very capable hands. Experiencing medicine from this perspective has taught me to never underestimate the power of positivity. I am excited to be a beacon of positive energy within the lives of my future patients.
The second element of my thesis, positive attitude, becomes the second paragraph. Another critique we find ourselves writing when reviewing personal statements is to utilize active examples, not passive examples. An active example highlights you doing something spectacular or a particular trait native to you! Passive examples are where you watch someone else being great. They are not as powerful and do not do as much to make you stand out as an applicant. Passive examples are fine, but should be followed up with an active example, showing that you internalized the trait. That is what I did here. I talk about learning the power of positivity from my coach and then how I embodied this when my girlfriend wound up in the emergency room. Again, I close the paragraph by relating this to medicine, how I will embody this for future patients as well.
Empathy, my final core value, was built upon by Dr. Koepke, an ER physician I shadowed for several years. An ER is the first line of defense against trauma and illness. Well aware of this, Dr. Koepke proceeded with boundless compassion when one gentleman fell off a ladder and severely dislocated his shoulder. Despite pain medication, he was in agony. Dr. Koepke caringly and reassuringly grasped his good shoulder, telling him everything was going to be okay. Ease washed over the patient’s face and relocation alleviated much of his pain. Working in the memory care unit of a local nursing home as a CNA, empathy was essential. Each shift I was responsible for up to ten residents. I devotedly mastered their care plans, embedded with idiosyncrasies. I knew that Carol preferred a different lotion brand on certain body parts, while Evelyn desired her stuffed animal to receive grooming before herself. Incorporating these details, I darted from resident to resident the duration of my shift. As a physician, I will care for my future patients in this manner.
You have no doubt glimpsed the pattern here. This third paragraph is devoted to my third core value, the third idea laid forth in my thesis. Similar to the second paragraph, I lead with a passive example, viewing Dr. Koepke’s empathy first hand, but then switch gears with an active example.
Working for physicians as a scribe at TCO has given me further insight into the profession. For instance, the full effort of physicians encompasses their role as educators. Working with Dr. Riggi, a Gustavus graduate himself, I have observed him meticulously explain diagnoses with models, staying in the room until certain patients and family understand. Furthermore, I have seen how a physician’s positive attitude can have a tremendous impact on a patient’s recovery. Dr. Johnson, another physician I work with, certainly realizes this and inspires his patients to their full potential. Finally, trusting doctor-patient relationships begin with compassion. Since the physicians are immediately privy to intimate details, perhaps not even knowing the patient, empathy is vital to earning his or her trust. Numerous TCO physicians I work for internalize this, building rewarding dynamics with their patients. I aspire to deliver the same standards of care.
The final idea in my thesis was how working at Twin Cities Orthopedics reaffirmed my desire to pursue medicine. Therefore, it becomes my fourth paragraph. Unfortunately working as a scribe did not offer the opportunity for much direct patient care, thus I did not have any active examples to fall back on. Nonetheless, I thought it was very powerful that I saw my own core values being practiced by physicians on a daily basis. Therefore, I thought it was fitting to close with this body paragraph.
My experiences continue to cement my desire to become a physician. I know medicine is my calling because of its vigor in treating physical ailments, but also its special role as a medium for emotional care, namely through my core values: full effort, positive attitude, and empathy. As a provider, my care will center around these, one patient at a time.
The concluding paragraph should be the easiest to write. You do not need to introduce any new ideas, simply touch on everything that has been put forth already. I loop back around to my core values, restating my thesis with the second sentence.
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