The med school personal statement is a crucial element of your medical school application and allows the admissions team to get a sense of your personality, background, and motivations. It is important because it’s the document that separates you from the dozens of other qualified applicants and is an opportunity to stand out from the field.
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Yale’s Office of Career Strategy describes the personal statement as:
“The opportunity to present a compelling snapshot of who you are and perhaps why you want to be a doctor.”
Your goal is to articulate to the admissions team why you’re a driven student that will make an excellent medical professional. Furthermore, the personal statement partially “serves as a test of your communication skills,” so your writing quality is important in addition to the content of your essay.
During your junior and senior years of your pre-med education, you’ll begin completing applications for medical schools. Depending on the school, applications will open and close at different times. Medical schools require personal statements as a document in the application process, so you should begin thinking about and drafting your personal statement before applications open for the schools you want to apply to.
Princeton Review recommends allotting a 6-month time period to write your personal statement. This will allow you to write the draft, revise, and revisit the draft with fresh eyes several times to make more improvements.
You can find out more about the medical school application timeline here.
How Do You Write a Personal Statement?
The personal statement has a strict word limit for applicants and the character limit, including spaces, is 4,500 for AACOMAS, 5,000 for TMDSAS, and 5,300 for AMCAS. Be mindful of these restrictions (you can use tools like LetterCount) as you do not want to risk disqualification because you wrote too much!
Writing your personal statement is a long process that ideally spans several months, so you have the opportunity to write, revise, rewrite, revise, and revise more! Spreading your work over a long period makes it easier to examine your essay from a new perspective and find new flaws to perfect in your writing.
Before you start writing, it’s a good idea to make a list or take notes regarding experiences that shaped your passion in medicine. This is a good way to collect ideas, events, and moments throughout your life that could fit into your personal statement. This is beneficial since you’ll be able to thoroughly examine your options and pick the examples that seem the most effective in portraying your positive qualities and experience.
After you have an outline of what you want to cover you can begin writing your first draft. Once finished, you should set the document aside for a predetermined amount of time, ranging from a few days to a few weeks.
When you’re ready for your first revision, consider consulting a few people to read your essay and give honest feedback on what you can improve.
From there repeat the process as many times as you need!
See Caroline Chen share her tips on how to write a personal statement for medical school (she got into Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons).
What Information Should It Contain?
Your personal statement needs to show off who you are beyond your test scores and why you want to go into medicine. That may sound daunting since those requirements may initially seem vague but there are a lot of ways to detail your qualities as well as your drive to become a medical professional.
In addition, the information needs to be delivered in a compelling way. As mentioned before, you should have thought about events that were important to you that also highlight your values and skills. After deciding which moment you want to describe, you should write about it as if it’s a story. This will make your experience feel alive on the page, and it will stand out from essays that simply list off the qualities of an applicant.
Your story should form a narrative that shows off your talent and passion and you do not want to sound like you’re just making several statements.
Consider the two ways of writing about the same event:
“For the last three years, I spent my summer volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club in Oceanside. I always wanted to have a positive influence on the lives of others, so I decided to tutor kids in elementary school math and reading. It’s sad to think that some students can’t get the help and guidance they need to learn in school, so I’m glad I was able to lend a helping hand over the summer.”
“Blistering heat complimented my walk to the Oceanside Boys and Girls Club. Despite the grueling conditions, kids darted left and right with inhuman energy, as they competed in a variety of games and team sports. Between four-square and tag, I helped Julian, a five-year-old, read “Hop on Pop”, which he insisted was his favorite Dr. Seuss book. A habit of reading and studying was instilled into my daily routine during elementary school, so it felt right to sit with young kids and help them develop their reading skills. Two years later, Julian explained the plot of a “Magic Tree House” chapter book to me, and I couldn’t hide my grin. Helping others and watching them grow first-hand is an unbelievable experience.”
See the difference?
The first example states the author’s personal experience in a matter-of-fact manner. The author told the reader what happened: they volunteered, they wanted to help kids, and they helped kids. Although it is informative and talks about a positive experience, it’s straightforward and dry and is not a strong piece of writing in any capacity.
The second example explains the same volunteering experience in a narrative style. Scenic details paint an image of what it is like at a Boys and Girls Club in the summer. Instead of telling the reader that the author helped students learn a subject, the author gives an example of a specific student showing growth. This makes the author’s contribution feel more genuine and concrete since they are distilling their work in a specific experience. Overall, the second example shows the moment that demonstrates the author’s values, while the first example bluntly tells the reader what they value and why.
How Should You Structure Your Personal Statement?
The structure of your personal statement can mirror a normal five-paragraph essay; introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Despite the seemingly basic structure, you should employ the storytelling techniques mentioned earlier to write an engaging essay.
The introduction should be a strong hook to the reader that pulls them into a personal story that exemplifies an important quality of yours. You need to develop the event at the start of the essay to catch the admission officer’s attention. Reeling them in with an anecdote about yourself will set yourself apart from other applicants that decide to start their essay with, “I’m interested in medicine because…”.
The body paragraphs play a crucial role in portraying your passion for medicine to the reader. Each body paragraph should describe an event that helped develop your interest in medicine. To come up with effective body paragraphs, you should consider all the aspects of your experience. Start with what drove you to take part in the experience and explain how you felt during it. Mention the takeaways from the event – what you learned, what task you completed, and how you affected others. Then, wrap up the paragraph with how the event affected your feelings about becoming a medical professional.
You will want to describe two or three medical experiences in this manner. Be mindful of the amount you write because there is a word limit that you must adhere to. Don’t be afraid to explore what you were feeling because you want to genuinely invoke passion in the reader through your experience. Also, it is typically better to order the body paragraphs chronologically, since the timeline of events will make more sense to your reader in that format.
After the body paragraphs, you should bring your essay together with a strong conclusion. In this part of the essay, feel free to explicitly state your beneficial qualities, the things you learned in your formative medical experiences, and your desire to pursue a career in medicine. This reiterates the conclusions of each paragraph throughout the essay and ties them together in a neat summary. If it’s possible, you can conclude your essay by calling back to the story of the introductory paragraph.
How Can You Stand Out?
Arguably the most important part of your personal statement is finding a way to stand out. Lots of applicants have great grades and impressive test scores. If you want to get admitted into a program, you must set yourself apart from the typical high achievers that apply to top med schools.
Stories that display your strengths will differentiate an applicant from others that include a laundry list of programs and accomplishments. The narrative style can help you create a compelling essay that sells administrators on your strengths and your fitness for a career in medicine. This should leave them with the overwhelming feeling that you are a perfect candidate for medical school.
Medical School Personal Statement Examples
Below are some examples of personal statements from medical students.
From Code Blue Essays:
“During the summer of 2016 I had the opportunity to volunteer at Downtown Children’s Hospital. My primary responsibility was assisting the Child Life Specialists in providing entertainment for hospitalized children and distracting them during difficult or painful procedures. During my volunteer time, I had the opportunity to get to know an 8 year old patient who was undergoing treatment for leukemia. I could tell that she was very afraid of the things that were happening to her. We bonded over a mutual love of coloring books. I would visit her room each day with a new page for us to color together. Gradually, she began to talk to me about questions about her treatment and expressed fearfulness about not knowing what was going to happen. I did my best to empower her with knowledge; I began to ask the medical personnel to explain the procedures and treatments to me so that I could provide the patient with accurate answers to her questions. Over time, I found that I not only wanted to know about the procedures so that I could help the patient- I wanted to know for myself as well. I found the practice of medicine fascinating and it solidified my desire to become a physician.
Since my time volunteering at Downtown Children’s Hospital, I have remained committed to my desire to become a physician. I was given the opportunity to shadow physicians at The Happy Family Practice and had the opportunity to learn about preventive health care. One of my most memorable experiences was counselling an obese patient with hypertension about his health risks. Although he was concerned about his health, he seemed to have little hope that it could improve. After some discussion, I managed to convince him to make a few small changes in his diet. When he returned for his follow-up appointment six weeks later, his weight and blood pressure had improved significantly. Furthermore, he thanked me and said that my encouragement had motivated him to begin exercising again. It felt good to have a positive effect on someone’s health.
I am an eager learner who is fascinated by the workings of the human body and its ability to heal. In addition, I am able to empathize with my patients and the difficulties they face. Through my experiences with the healthcare field, I have learned the importance of advocating for my patients and partnering with them to help them achieve optimal health. I am committed becoming a high quality physician who will be an asset to my patients and the medical community.”
“Throughout medical school I have committed myself to finding the one specialty that aligns perfectly with my personality and future goals. While this task seemed straightforward and uncomplicated, I soon realized during my third-year clerkships that every area of medicine offered aspects I enjoyed. After exploring other specialties, I reflected on the qualities that I wished to possess as a physician. I envisioned myself as compassionate, respected, and knowledgeable, traits which I realized embodied the field of internal medicine. My intense self-reflection, combined with my medical school experiences, solidified my decision to pursue a residency in internal medicine.
The first patient I admitted while on my third-year internal medicine clerkship was an African American lady who was diagnosed with sarcoidosis. After I completed my history and physical, I realized the questions I had asked relied upon my ability to combine my knowledge of pathophysiology along with the clinical presentation of a disease process. At last I comprehended the importance of the basic science years as it related to patient care. I continued to follow this patient every day, and the responsibility of caring for someone’s health had both a significant and fulfilling impact on me. I gained immense satisfaction from treating the whole person: her emotional needs as well as her medical needs. After completing my twelve weeks on internal medicine, I discovered that four months later this patient was re-admitted for a pulmonary embolus, which combined with her diminished lung function, ultimately resulted in her passing away. Although I was only a small part of this woman’s care, I still felt connected to her. While her death saddened me, it also made me conscious of the potential rewards, such as lasting patient-doctor relationships, which could only come out of providing a lifetime of care to each of my patients.
Upon the completion of my third-year rotations, I felt that the role of the internist most closely matched my interests and abilities. The variety and complexity of the problems I encountered offered the intellectual stimulation that I desired in a medical field. I admired my attendings’ breadth of knowledge across various medical disciplines, and I took pleasure in collaborating with physicians of all specialties, especially when the diagnosis proved to be difficult. The opportunity for close patient contact was also an appealing aspect. With fewer responsibilities than an intern, I found that as a third-year medical student I was able to spend more time with my patients, explaining how a diagnosis is made and what treatments might be required. Encouraged by these experiences with my patients, I was inspired to learn more about their conditions, not only for my own personal knowledge but also for their education as well.
I have many attributes to contribute to internal medicine. My experiences as a secondary education school teacher, Special Olympics swim coach, and elected class officer attest to my ability to lead and educate others. I am also analytical and detail-oriented, characteristics which originally led me to complete an undergraduate degree in economics. After my first year of medical school, I was awarded a scholarship to conduct research in the field of trauma surgery, an experience which enhanced my problem solving skills. In addition, my years as a varsity swimmer at Duke University have endowed me with certain traits that will not only make me a successful internist but also a well-balanced physician. These qualities include a never-ending quest for personal improvement, pride in my work or training, and the ability to focus on several tasks while balancing personal and professional obligations.”
From Loma Linda University:
“The ice seemed to move and breathe under me as I burrowed deeper into my -32 degree sleeping bag. The thought crossed my mind that Antarctica might spring to life and swallow me whole. I dreamed of going to this Crystal Desert since I was small, but now that I am sleeping on the final continent for me to explore, I remembered that I did not really enjoy being cold. Even the 13 layers of thermal gear cannot keep the biting wind from brushing her icy fingertips across my face.
It was my goal since I was 10 years old to explore every continent in the world. This night was the moment, the first landfall on the white continent; even the most biting cold could not take away the wonder that filled my soul. Nothing can top this experience I thought to myself. Little did I know that an even greater and more rewarding challenge lay ahead in medical school.
The first two years were the hardest of my life, but it was there that I met my favorite class: Pathophysiology, but the best and most adventurous year of my life happened-third year. My love for pathophysiology met its perfect fit in internal medicine. The spectacular dance and partnership between the heart and the kidney, the liver and intestines, indeed the whole body that weaves into a balance of health. I love the connectedness of the body systems. I remember being barely conscious as I drove that long road to the county hospital. It was just before dawn and I was really tired. When I bumble into the hospital a transformation took place the moment my feet hit the pavement. Energy infused my tired body because I am genuinely excited about the day; the patients I would encounter, the things I would learn, the team that partnered together and pushed me to my full potential. The antagonists for internal medicine have said that it is mundane, but to me it is anything but ordinary. Internal medicine is marvelous and elegant, allowing people to bring their unique story while grounding treatments in evidence-based practice.
My decision to pursue a life dedicated to Medicine has come as a surprise to some. I graduated with a degree in Communications before immersing myself in medical school. Everyone that knew me was amazed at my desire to go into a science-based field because of my flair for the Humanities. However, I am a believer in medicine as an Art, and as such, I bring strength to the human component of medicine. I communicate effectively with even the more cantankerous patients. The need for good communication is not limited to patient-physician interactions but must extend across the systems of medicine to be the most effective. I am not only a team player, but also a team builder. I am good at pointing out the strengths of my teammates and verbally affirming what is being done well.
When on my general surgery rotation, I had an Attending that was notorious for her high expectations and short fuse. Students were terrified of being verbally gutted during rounds. I went into a low anterior resection with her and sustained 12 hours of brutal inquisition. After the surgery, I approached her in her office and asked to have a quick word. With all the courage I could muster, I sat down and said, “My success is your success. I am on your side here.” There was a breakthrough in our working relationship and I was able to learn a lot more from that point on. I go where most people do not venture. I rise to the challenge of life with an unquenchable curiosity and vitality. I will bring that energy to your residency. I do not think it is possible for me to see the world without seeing Beauty. I stand in awe of the human body and the incredible sacredness of the whole person. Like Antarctica, residency is a challenging but inspiring journey and I will rise to the challenging but inspiring journey, and I will rise to the challenge with the same wonder and excitement that fuels who I am as a person.”
Now that you have a better understanding of how to write and format your med school personal statement it’s time for you to do your own! Use the above examples (or check out this great list of 20+ examples from our friends over at Shemassian) as inspiration as you craft an essay that will help you stand out! Good luck!