Because many medical school applicants today are non-traditional students, we wanted to provide a successful non-traditional student personal statement example.
Twenty-five years ago, I was delivered by C-section at Swedish Hospital in Seattle. Despite my breech presentation I was expected to be in perfect health. Yet much to everyone’s shock, I arrived with my left knee hyper-extended by more than 90 degrees and my right foot clubbed inwards. The medical consensus was that I might never walk – a sentiment shared by my mother, herself a physician. As she held me for the first time, she could not imagine that 23 years later we would be running together across the finish line of my first ten-mile race, or that gaining the ability to run would spark my interest in medicine.
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My future was transformed by Dr. Lynn Staheli, the pediatric orthopedic surgeon who pioneered the procedure used to reverse my hyperextension. He operated to correct my clubbed foot and knee, with the caveat that I would have only partial flexion in my left leg. I spent the majority of my infancy in a body cast and my childhood in physical therapy. I was able to compensate for my limited range of motion while skiing and learned to ride a bike with only my right leg. However, knee pain during these activities and my leg swinging stiffly sideways while running were constant reminders of my injury, which appeared to be a lifelong impediment. At the time I did not fully understand how my life had been irrevocably impacted by the highly skilled medical intervention of my surgeon.
While Dr. Staheli gave me the ability to walk, my mother inspired me to run. My mother took up running for the first time at age 50, training for the New York Marathon. Watching her transform into an avid runner, I too began to believe that I could overcome my physical impediment. Limited flexion made it difficult to build muscle in my left leg, and I needed extreme focus to change my natural gait. Eventually, countless hours on the elliptical trainer corrected my motion, and weight-lifting strengthened my legs. By college I was running nearly every morning. I entered my first race – San Francisco’s Presidio 10-miler – with my mother for her 58th birthday. This year for her 60th we crossed the finish line hand-in-hand for the third year in a row. As I prepare for my first half-marathon this July, I now fully appreciate the impact that Dr. Staheli made on my life 25 years ago.
Even though I grew up in a physician family, my interest in pursuing medicine as a career was sparked by my appreciation for the profound impact that medical intervention had on my quality of life. As I wanted to make similar improvements in the lives of others, I began exploring health sciences and health care from as many vantage points as possible. I spent time in clinics, first shadowing physicians at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and later as a volunteer on the transplant ward of a children’s hospital in Moscow, Russia during my study-abroad program.
The supply of medical staff and equipment at the Moscow Children’s Hospital seemed stripped down to the bare bones compared to American clinics. The corridors were cold, with the familiar scent of sterility replaced by musty dampness. If the hospital air was chilly however, the children were the opposite – I was instantly drawn to their warmth. In Seattle I observed patient care, but in Russia I had the chance to be a caregiver. I spent time with patients at their bedsides and in the hospital chapel where I organized art projects and taught English. The children were eager to tell me about their families, friends, and favorite sports teams. They taught me Russian slang and barraged me with questions about America. One girl, approaching the date of her kidney transplant, began calling me in the evenings to talk. Our nightly discussions were both light and serious in nature. On the eve of her transplant, we discussed her fear of undergoing the operation. We subsequently communicated during the ups and downs of her first post-operative year. Now six years later, we are still in touch, and I am relieved to say that she is doing well.
In the bleak environment of the children’s hospital, I bonded with children from all over Russia, all facing major life-changing procedures. Though I could not assist directly in clinical care, my participation was nonetheless therapeutic. In those stripped-down facilities it became clear to me that supportive human connections are as integral to healing as skilled medical interventions. Despite the linguistic and cultural barriers, I discovered my ability to forge these connections and comfort the children on the transplant ward. Within the walls of the Moscow Children’s Hospital, I realized that a career as a physician could fulfill my desire to heal patients through medical knowledge, while simultaneously allowing me to develop human connections to positively impact their outcomes.
Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Staheli unlocked my potential for mobility by surgically correcting the devastating injuries to my lower limbs. My mother then inspired me to realize this potential by running and racing. As a physician I hope to do both, improving the quality of life for my patients by providing not only therapeutic interventions, but also the personal encouragement to achieve what was previously unattainable.