By: Alex Withers
You’ve done it! You’ve made it through those 300 student organic chemistry classes. You’ve taken your MCAT exam after countless hours of waking up with drool on those prep books. You’ve even gotten letters of recommendation from all those professors you diligently brought apples to after class! But now, you’re sitting in front of your computer with a blank Microsoft word page staring at you, wondering how in the world you’re going to summarize why you want to be a doctor in 1 page. Writing a personal statement can be daunting – you not only want it to showcase all the things you’ve accomplished without it sounding like an essay version of your resume, but you also want it to be unique and memorable. Here are a few tips for writing a personal statement from someone who knows the struggle and made it through:
- Do some soul searching. Sit down and just spent 10-15 minutes (or as long as you’d like) asking yourself, “Why do I want to be a doctor?” Go deeper than just wanting to help others, because there are lots of ways to do that that do not require decades of schooling. What about medicine interests you? What has kept you going through all those pre-med classes? Why can’t you imagine doing anything else?
- Ask other people who know you well why they think you’re meant to become a doctor. This can yield some really valuable and sometimes surprising answers. That story you mom tells you about finding you performing play CPR on your crying younger sibling may just be the perfect 1 sentence anecdote to start off your essay.
- Breathe and just start writing. Take it from someone who has the tendency to delete the same first sentence over and over again, not wanting to move on to the next until its perfect – this is not the way to go! Just start putting words on the page even if it is in no way formatted like an essay – here are some ideas to get words flowing:
- Personal experiences with physicians, good or bad whether this is a mentor of yours or your own doctor
- Challenging or positive personal experience with a loved one who were cared for as a patient and how this affected you
- The first time you thought that medicine may be the path for you
- Memorable volunteering experiences in hospital or clinic settings
- Reflect and decide on your thesis. Your thesis will be the final, take-away message from your essay. This should answer why you want to be a doctor. Use the self-reflection and word vomit from the prior tips to help you with this.
- Make an outline. Maybe you haven’t done this since grade-school, but it truly is the best way to organize your thoughts and make sure that each paragraph is supporting your thesis and leading to your grand finale conclusion paragraph. Some paragraphs can focus on personal experiences, while others can discuss memorable accomplishments relating to medicine, like volunteer or research work.
- Have trusted friends and family read your drafts. Do ask them to be honest, and brutal, but do not be discouraged during this step! Drafts are just that- drafts! Your first go will not – and should not – be the essay you ultimately submit. All good pieces of writing have gone through countless revisions. And, if you’re lucky like me, you may even have a sister who was an English major in college who can help you take your essay to the next level.
- Put your beautiful finished piece aside, and start completely from scratch on a second draft. Yes, I said it, and no I’m not crazy! This was perhaps the most valuable part of my process. I am a firm believer in not getting too attached to the first essay you write. Start from scratch and come at it from an entirely different angle – maybe your first draft focused on your research or volunteer experience, and maybe this one is more creative. I did hear of a girl who was accepted to medical school with an essay in the form of a cooking recipe (please don’t do this). But in all seriousness, this is my most valuable piece of advice! Take it from someone who submitted their third draft which was radically different than the first and clearly the best.