By Timothy M. Wilson
Tips to write the personal statement that gets you into medical school
Use a good opening line. "Your opening line must be a kicker. I often would tune out with the more common opening statements, making a huge difference on the applicant's entire essay assessment," offers a current admissions advisor. This is not an autobiography; it is a persuasive piece of writing, so be convincing and do not start with "I was born in London, England...".
Example of a good opening line
“Tears rolled down her cheeks as she walked away from the clinic with her tiny, underweight baby in her arms. She was a young mother, and despite how much I wished I could help her, I had to refuse her baby's monthly pack of vitamins because our supply had run out.”
Elaborate on meaningful experiences rather than being descriptive
Do not sound arrogant. Let people decide that you are worth it by reading about your experiences and achievements rather than telling them that you are great.
It is a good idea to avoid blank statements such as "I am a very compassionate person" or "I can communicate very effectively." Anybody can say these things. A better approach is to describe your experiences and highlight what you learned from them.
Use your particular history to your advantage
Make sure your answer also answers the question "why not become a physiotherapist or a nurse." Be clear on why dentistry is the healthcare profession for you.
Read each sentence to ensure another student could not have said the same sentence, which makes each statement personal.
Address any potential problems upfront
If there is a weakness in your application such as a poor grade, make sure you explain it in your personal statement. Show you have taken steps to compensate or improve since.
Example: “I realize that a 2.2 (or low GPA) in my undergraduate may count against me, but my motivation has changed considerably since my undergraduate years. I have attempted to compensate by taking an MSc course in the pathology of viruses and by working full time within the healthcare system where I have gained a real appreciation of the commitment needed as a doctor.”
Ask for outside opinions
Get people who do not know you to read over your personal statement and comment (at least 5 people). It does not mean to consider everyone’s comment. This is your personal statement and should reflect what you want to say, but it's always useful to ask for advice from people with different backgrounds, writing styles, etc.
Start early to have enough time to get people to give you feedback and time to rework it (a minimum of 10 draft version but more usually)
Ask people who review if your personal statement is interesting or boring to read? Remember the examiners will have to read hundreds of personal statements so a good story, an anecdote, or something that will bring a smile, a laugh, or an emotion to the examiner will score highly.
Volunteering at a hospital: example of a successful personal statement extract
Description of "Volunteering at foothills hospital"
“At the age of 15, I found what quickly became a great passion of mine: working with patients on the palliative care ward. During my time with Art a la Carte, I ‘carted’ various paintings around to patients. They could borrow as many of them as they wanted, and I would talk to them as I helped put their new paintings on their walls. My favorite moments were when a patient would find a painting that reminded them of their personal life. Whether it was of a skyscape or a spaniel, it always held a story, and I loved to see the emotion in their eyes as they fondly remembered their past. Occasionally, I would meet a patient who did not want a painting but wanted someone to visit with them. I remember one elderly lady who invited me in and asked me to sit next to the window with her. Despite the limited view, she appreciated what she had. We sat together happily admiring the sunshine in the parking lot below. I began to see that we are more than organs, skin, and bones, and that healing can be an emotional process as much as it is a physical one.”
This description is certainly not perfect, but it is here to convey a few key concepts:
- The essay conveys emotion creatively. What people do not enjoy reading are statements such as, "It was an incredible experience I will never forget" or "I will give 110% if I am accepted," which are used in the majority of personal statements.
- Limit hyperbole. It dilutes the meaning of your sentences. Anyone can say that they are compassionate. Rather than coming flat out and just saying it, convey your strengths by talking about what you learned from your experiences, much the way this applicant did. The last line is a good example. Instead of just saying "I am a compassionate person who will be nice to patients," the applicant comes at it from a fresh angle and uses a lesson he learned to convey something about himself.
What to write about in your personal statement
The personal statement is your opportunity to explain why you want to become a doctor and to talk about what you learned from your work experience and the qualities you have that distinguish you from other applicants. it is important to know that many medical schools give guidelines on what they would like you to include in your personal statement, and although they are very similar from one medical school to another, it is important to check specifically for the medical schools you are applying to.
For example, at the University of St Andrews, applicants are asked to discuss why they are choosing medicine, what work experience they have in a caring role, their interests/hobbies, and anything else they want to tell the admissions committee about themselves. The university uses a standard measuring sheet to score the UCAS form out of 50 points on 7 measures:
- academic ability
- motivation for medicine
- a realistic understanding of medicine (including hands-on experience of caring and observing healthcare in hospital and community settings)
- self-motivation and responsibility
- communication skills
- ability to work with others
- other unusual qualities or life-experience.
At the University of Bristol, the personal statement is scored on six parameters, each given a score out of 4:
- realistic interest in medicine
- informed about a career in medicine
- demonstrated commitment to helping others
- demonstrates a wide range of interests, contribution to school and community activities, and range of non-academic personal achievements.