Applying to Medical School

Brainstorming Your Personal Statement for Medical School

It is intensely difficult to write a personal statement, and perhaps the most difficult part is starting. What a daunting task to explain the answer to “Why I want to be a doctor”. Given the overwhelming nature of this question, many applicants make the mistake of answering a different question: “What have I done that qualifies me to matriculate into medical school?” The result is a tedious personal statement that reads like a resume.

|| Read Personal Statements and Emotional Topics ||

Perhaps a better approach to starting the personal statement is not to focus on the question that your essay will ultimately answer, but on the personal aspects of your experiences on earth that shaped who you are – a person whose goals and values align with entering the medical profession.

|| Read The Formula for a Good Personal Statement ||

There is no algorithm for writing the perfect personal statement, but good ones tend to reveal something about the applicant’s personality as well as interests outside of medicine. You will have to decide what to reveal about yourself and how to weave in your motivation for the career. What I suggest however as you sit down to brainstorm, is that you do not start with all of your premed activities (research, volunteering, shadowing), but rather with a more fundamental list of experiences and people that helped shape you. Think about what each element on your list taught you or how it changed your trajectory or thinking. Answer for yourself why the event or person is important. Then, and only then, start trying to understand how one or two medically related activities ties in. This way, your personal statement will develop around a narrative that is unique to you, and will better communicate to admissions committees who you are and why you want to be a doctor.

|| Read Sample Personal Statement | Sample Non-Traditional Student Personal Statement ||

Here are some categories for brainstorming your personal statement for medical school:

Positive significant/formative life experiences: something that changed the course of your life, your activities, your outlook on the world, or made you think differently about your future

  • Learning to do something that lead you to excel in it/teach others/make a contribution (e.g., sports, science, foreign language, special skills)
  • Being given a second chance
  • Connecting with someone who made an impact on you
  • Being out of your comfort zone (experiences with people of different backgrounds, travel, moving, doing something for the first time)
  • Overcoming an obstacle

Challenging life experiences: something that forced a lesson upon you

  • A mistake you made
  • An event that was out of your control that nonetheless caused you suffering/loss

People that shaped your life

  • Mentor, parent, sibling, friend
  • Author, actor, speaker, personal hero


Best of luck, and happy writing!

Emily Singer

Emily is a writer for She graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a general surgery resident at Ohio State University. She is a graduate of Stanford University, holding Bachelor’s degrees in Economics and Russian Languages and Literature. After graduating in 2009, Emily worked as a research analyst at a health policy consulting firm and a research scientist studying green products chemistry at a San Francisco-based startup. Emily’s interests include health policy, medical education, and global health.

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