How to Write a Personal Statement for Medical School

Be Memorable. Get Accepted.

Undoubtedly, the medical school personal statement, whether for AAMC, AACOMAS, or TMDSAS, is no easy feat. My best advice for students on how to write their personal statement for medical school is to tell me your story. After reading a multitude of personal statements, I have learned that no two stories surrounding the journey to medicine are the same. This is the very idea that makes individuals in medicine distinct through a collection of both diversity of thought and experience. It is a culmination of those stories that allow us to treat patients with the utmost respect and care. Now, how can you tell your story? Let me lead you through that now… 

Introduction

There are three crucial elements of the introduction and are the glue that holds not only the introduction together but also the med school personal statement itself: the hook, narrative lead, and thesis statement.

The Hook

It is of the utmost importance, regardless of how strong your motivation to become a doctor is, to grab the reader’s attention immediately with the first sentence. As you can imagine, medical school admissions committees read hundreds of personal statements. Therefore, our goal should be to make yours stand out among the rest. Are you considering a description of a specific experience or instance in your life? If so, try to use vivid language inundated with imagery. Doing so will allow an emotional and perhaps sensory connection to what you are attempting to articulate. For instance:

BEFORE: I sat in the hospital waiting room eager for what was to come. 

AFTER: My hair stood on end as my stomach tied itself in knots. I could feel the cold hospital air dance around me, nearly taunting me due to the fact that I was unsure of what was to come next.

As you can see, the latter example allows for an extensive description of the scene which places the reader in the scene. Not only does this style make for an aesthetic read but draws the reader into the text, forcing them to continue reading for more.

 

The Narrative Lead

Next, we can develop a narrative lead. A narrative lead is essentially a continuation of your hook. The language that you used in order to create a hook for the personal statement is the same language we will use for the narrative lead. Focus on really developing the scene and story. Consider the following questions after drafting out the scene:

  • Why am I telling the medical school admissions committee this story? 
  • What does this experience mean for my candidacy for medical school?
  • What have I learned as a result of this experience and what does it mean for my future medical education and career in medicine?

These questions will allow you to make the successful transition from a narrative tone to the thesis statement.

 

The Thesis Statement

Finally, the thesis statement is absolutely CRITICAL. I generally flinch when people use capitals, though I want to really catch your attention here. If you take anything away from this, remember that the thesis will be the cornerstone of your personal statement. Without it, the essay lacks a particular level of organization and structure. To that end, the rest of the personal statement will inadvertently tie into the thesis statement, allowing the writing to truly come full-circle with details that are intricately linked together. The thesis statement will not only discuss your motivation to become a physician or pursue medicine but also encompass the themes you will discuss in your body paragraphs. Oftentimes, you may write the remainder of the personal statement and return the thesis once you have developed those body paragraphs. 

Body Paragraphs

Briefly think to yourself, “what are the 3-4 experiences, qualities, or characteristics I want to convey to the admissions committee?” Alternatively, from your initial narrative lead, what is the next logical progression in your story? Did you describe the moment you decided to pursue medicine and the next chapter of your story was volunteering in the hospital or seeking a medical scribing position? We might include these aspects in order to continue telling the story, though be sure to do this in a way that makes sense to you.  It is essential to have your voice permeate the personal statement. Afterall, it is a personal statement. 

Regardless of the experience or next chapter you lay out, make the connection as to how or why it is relevant and/or significant to your future. How does volunteering at the hospital relate to your future? Was there a specific instance that caught your attention and taught you a lesson of which you hold to a high regard? Include it! For each paragraph, try to make the connection back to the thesis statement in one way or another. A simpler way to do this would be to have the thesis tie into the major themes of the paragraphs. In order to do so, read each paragraph aloud and ask yourself, “what is the overarching theme I am trying to demonstrate to the reader with this paragraph?” Then, plug each of those themes into the thesis statement to allow for a cohesive read.

Conclusion

It may feel like at this point the pressure is off, but try not to get too comfortable just yet! The conclusion often presents a unique set of challenges as we must summarize what we talked about without being too repetitive or redundant. A creative way to do so is to refer back to your initial narrative lead. Was there a part of the story you left out that you can incorporate to make the story come full-circle? Is there a specific aspect of the narrative that stood out of which you can make the connection back to? Furthermore, the conclusion will serve as the last words you will leave with the reader. Therefore, we certainly want them to be powerful and allow your voice to diffuse through the personal statement conclusion as well. Consider concluding with closing remarks regarding your motivation to become a physician or pursue medicine, though try to bring a fresh and new perspective.

As you can tell, the medical school personal statement has a lot of moving parts. Regardless, the important thing to remember is that this is your story and only you know it best. Never allow anyone to minimize the impact of your story and inadvertently, your voice. Personally, this is something I am immensely passionate about and I always try to encourage students when I am afforded the opportunity to read their essays. I was always told that writing about a parent or loved one that died is cliche, though it is certainly not cliche for me. It is my story and that is what I stood by and still stand by. Afterall, how could I not use my voice to describe one of the biggest moments of which formed who I am today? I now use my voice to help cultivate encouragement, support, and the creative process in those seeking to tell their own story. 

I leave you with a few final tips in the way of DOs and DON’Ts:

Personal Statement Dos

  • Be confident and tell your story. Along those lines, never allow someone to minimize your story.
  • Take your time and critically consider what it is you would like the admissions committee to know about you. 
  • Allow yourself to write unrestrained. Ignore the character count initially as sometimes students become hyper-aware of this and limit their creative thought process.
  • Once you have your content, structure, and organization settled, THEN work towards meeting the character count.
  • Allow 1-2 people to look over your personal statement to provide constructive criticism. Remember, the Motivate MD team is available to guide you through edits and revisions of your personal statement. 
  • Take a break from writing if you are feeling overwhelmed. Personally, writing in increments allows me a fresh perspective to pursue a new creative outlook. 
  • Emphasize grammar, punctuation, and spelling. A red flag for admissions committees is careless writing in the way of poor grammar or multiple spelling mistakes.
  • Demonstrate your passions, though be sure to include an experience or example of which fortifies your claim.
  • Be specific. In regard to the last point, if you state you are passionate about helping underserved communities – why is that the case? 
  • Focus on organization and structure as well as a clear flow throughout the personal statement.
  • Make an outline beforehand. 
  • Start early.

Personal Statement Dont's

  • Place “blame” or point fingers at other healthcare professionals in your past. Often, mishandled experiences or mistakes in medicine are driving forces to pursuing a career in medicine. Regardless, always show respect.
  • Appear arrogant or overconfident. Doing so may be what gets your essay placed in the “no” pile as opposed to the “yes” pile. 
  • Violate HIPAA rules and regulations. If you decide to use a patient scenario, consider doing one of the following:
    • Use a pseudonym in quotations with the first use to denote to the reader this is, in fact, a fictional name. Then, you may drop the quotations afterwards. 
    • Use initials or an entirely fictional name altogether. 
  • Plagarize or use content of which was not 100% your own. 
  • Be generic or use a famous quotation.
  • Include statistics – including GPA or MCAT scores. This is listed in a specific section on the medical school application so we can certainly save the characters for other valuable details about you.
  • Reiterate similar aspects of which may be in your activities section.

Remember to take the personal statement in stride – this can certainly be one of the most challenging elements for science-minded pre-medical students. Needless to say, myself and the entire Motivate MD team is in your corner. If you have questions or are stuck, you know where to find us. 

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MS2 at Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine

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