Applying to Medical School

Medical School Personal Statement Tips

The personal statement is your best pre-interview opportunity to explain in detail why you are the ideal candidate for medical schools. Your personal statement is the most personal (hence the name “personal statement”) way to express why you want to be a doctor and why you will excel at being one. With that said, here are some personal statement tips that you should consider before/during/after you write.

|| Read: Medical School Consulting

Know your audience

Do you know who are reading these essays? They are generally a combination of full-time admissions staff, faculty (MDs, PhDs, and MD/PhDs), and medical students. Many of them have read hundreds or thousands of these personal statements before. And during peak admissions weeks, they read 40 to 50 essays a day. Your essay will be read quickly and not in depth. Therefore it is important to remember that your personal statement is as much an advertisement as it is an essay. You have 5300 characters (including spaces) to leave a lasting impression.

Write a strong introduction

The best way to make a strong impression and ensure that the reader will actually be interested in your personal statement is by writing a good introduction. The most important sentence in your essay is the first one. This sentence needs to grab your reader’s attention. Then rest of the introduction will give the reader an idea of what to expect throughout the essay. Your introduction usually answers one or more of the basic questions of who, what, why, where, when, and how.

Show not tell

You are smart and diligent. You like helping others. And you really want to be a doctor. Unfortunately you can’t tell them that directly. You have to show them through your various medical, and nonmedical, experiences.

Also, as you write your stories, you must show not tell. The reader must be able to vicariously re-live your experience. Engage their senses. Use imagery. Here are some examples:

–“It was really hot” vs “Sweat dripped down my neck even though I barely moved”

– “The patient was in tremendous pain” vs “He bit his lower lip and clutched my hand”

–“I’ve never been so tired in my life” vs “I collapsed in my bed with all my clothes on”

Answer the “why” question

The personal statement is not supposed to be an overly emotional sob story. Nor is it supposed to be a list of accomplishments and awards. At the end of the day, the personal statement should successfully answers the questions:

1. Why do I want to be a doctor?

2. Why would I be a good doctor?

3. Who am I as a person?

Depth not breadth

It is tempting to use your personal statement to list your accomplishments or the various experiences you have had. You must avoid this temptation and go in depth on just a couple of experiences. Give context (who, what, where, when) and explain in detail why and how certain events/experiences affected you. Do not talk about too many things at once. Keep it simple but deep.

Be personal and genuine

In a sense, you must give the admissions officers the key to your heart and mind. Write about experiences that genuinely affected you. Allow them to see what drives you. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and raw. Although you need to know your audience and accommodate them, do not feed them answers that you think they want to hear. Do you really believe in what you’re writing or do you know it’s a load of crap? If you can’t even convince yourself, there is no way you can convince them.

Avoid redundancies and clichés

Do not repeat phrases over and over again. Vary your sentence structure and vocabulary. But do not write outside of your abilities. Also, avoid clichés and generic phrases.

Conclude well

Since your reader is probably reading very quickly, finishing strong will leave a lasting impression even if the rest of your content was not as engaging. Connect your conclusion back to your introduction and body paragraphs. The conclusion is your final advertising pitch. In essence you are saying something like, “The events and experiences I previously mentioned and the lessons I drew from them are the reason why I want to be a doctor and why I would be a good doctor.”


Ask close friends, medical students, doctors, and other people who you trust to give you constructive criticism to read your personal statement. Make sure they give you feedback on your content, structure, and presentation. Optimize your content and do not have any grammatical errors.

Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to, please contact him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

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