Medical school is the bridge to something more meaningful than just a career—it is the gateway to a lifetime of service, of knowledge, of power, and most importantly, of humanism. The urge to join a profession so intricately intertwined with the pillars of science—research translated to bedside care—often seems distant and unobtainable. ‘What makes me different from all those other students?’ This question pervades the minds of many ‘traditional’ applicants—those who may not have performed such groundbreaking research as curing cancer or who may not have engaged in outreach that entailed building an entire new hospital and supplying water to a village in a third world country. However, students without the most extraordinary accomplishments should not fear—medical schools are consistently looking for specific attributes, most importantly accountability, reliability, and maturity. As long as a student displays these characteristics, they can distinguish themselves from all other students with more than just a stellar MCAT score. Easy, right?
Well, of course not.
How can someone convey maturity, accountability, and reliability?
Most vividly, through the interview. However, to even have the opportunity to interview at a medical school, these characteristics must be evident in the personal statement and description of activities. The personal statement is an opportunity for a student to show some creativity, ingenuity, humor, and character. However, students often push showing character a little too far. The anecdote that is supposed to grab the reader’s attention is too long or too funny or too immature. Moreover, students misconceive the need to draw together one’s pertinent accomplishments to synthesize a clear and concise rationale for why one would make a reliable and knowledgeable physician. This is especially important for BS/MD applicants, who are often perceived as having pushy parents that want their children to be physicians more desperately than the child himself.
My advice is this: start off with a short story—a reason for why you wanted to pursue medicine. Try to incorporate a motif that can be restated in the conclusion. I suggest the anecdote reflect one of your activities. For instance, I concisely described my time in EMT class. It was a short and entertaining anecdote but also reminded the readers that I am an EMT, and therefore, I have engaged in patient care and documentation first-handedly. After describing your reason for wanting to do medicine, you should dive into your accomplishments.
Medical schools are searching for three main targets: research, volunteer activities, and mentorship.
Emphasize these activities. Leave out your more lighthearted interests unless you can demonstrate clearly how they apply to medicine. Your activities portion of the application can cover these in more depth. In addition, if you try to describe every one of your accomplishments, your personal statement will become a list. Pick three activities that touch upon research, service, and mentorship and bring together how these activities allowed you to develop attributes that are essential to physicians. This also conveys to readers that you have insight into the demanding but rewarding nature of the profession. Moreover, these may serve as talking points during the interview, when you can re-emphasize your most meaningful accomplishments (after all, the more your interviewer hears or reads about your most impressive achievements, the more he or she will remember them). Most importantly, this will demonstrate a commitment to medicine and level of maturity. The conclusion should revisit your introductory anecdote, the reason you wanted to pursue medicine, to remind readers that this is your dream, your goal, and your dedication.
A good personal statement is the bridge to a great interview. But of course, that topic is for another discussion!