The dreaded personal statement – for some, it takes just a few weeks to craft this life defining document; for others, several months are spent painstakingly trying to formulate a story. The end goal is the same for both situations: to create a masterpiece that will impress the admissions committee and secure an interview.
What is the personal statement? A simple prompt: Why medicine? 5300 characters max.
Yes, characters not words. That in itself is a challenging endeavor when you have so much to write about. To draft my personal statement, I began by making a list of my most significant health related experiences/ motivators (both personal and academic). The next step was to brainstorm some themes that I wanted to weave into my story, and then came the hardest part, actually formulating sentences. My first draft was without a doubt, garbage. Straight up trash, but it was a starting point – my “skeleton”. I sent that skeleton to my mentor who read it and essentially told me what I knew, it wasn’t great, quite frankly, I almost missed the entire question – why medicine? She sent me a copy of her medical school personal statement as an example of what it should look like. That is when the real writing began.
In the end, I had a total of 10 drafts. After writing each draft, I sent it to 2 to 3 people. I received their feedback, formulated a new draft and sent it back to them and/or a new set of individuals. It was a tedious process and in total I had 10 people read and provide feedback on my personal statement. That might seem a little excessive but at the end of the day, when receiving feedback on your essay, it’s up to you to decide which suggestions you will keep and which you will ignore. The individuals I asked were medical students, friends who weren’t in the sciences/medical field, my parents, and my mentors. It certainly helps to have a different set of eyes read your statement, including someone you aren’t particularly close to. That way you can discern whether or not your story is clear, crisp and powerful.
I struggled with the following when formulating my personal statement:
- Listing too many activities: Your personal statement should not be a reiteration of the work and activities section of your AMCAS. Focus on three major experiences at most and expand on that.
- How these experiences are transferable to medicine: Yes, I did a health internship in Peru and my current research focuses on health disparities, but how are the skills I have gained from these experiences transferable to my future career as a physician? Don’t just skim the surface, expand on your experiences; show the qualities you possess through your narrative. Show DON’T tell.
- Contribution to medicine: This reminds me of the quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” While discussing why medicine, don’t forget to mention what you can contribute to medicine, and why you would be a valuable asset. Point blank, if you are accepted, what are bringing to the table?
- Having a killer conclusion: If your story is enjoyable and engaging throughout but has a lackluster ending, you do your essay no justice. As a friend told me, your conclusion needs to have that “punch.” Since you started with a bang, you need to end with a bang. You can circle back to how you started your essay and make sure that conclusion also grabs your reader.
That said, here are some tips I received from a friend which I found to be particularly helpful:
- Read a few samples: It helps to get a sense of what a good personal statement looks like and what should be included.
- Stay away from general statements: Try to be as specific as possible. If you are talking about tackling health disparities for example, be explicit with what exactly you mean.
- Proofread: Read it aloud to hear how you sound; ask someone who knows you very well to read it and give you feedback; and lastly, ask someone who doesn’t know you too well to also give you feedback.
In conclusion, my advice is to be honest in your personal statement (if it’s bull sh*t, the admissions committee will most likely be able to smell that) and again edit, edit and edit. Make sure each sentence has a PURPOSE; With 5300 characters, you can’t afford to have fillers.
Here are some other helpful resources on writing your personal statement:
It’s very important to start writing your personal statement early so you aren’t panicking last minute. Keep calm and write on.