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Weekly Weigh-in: Personal Statement Writing Process

Welcome to PDr’s Weekly Weigh-in! Each week, we ask medical students and physicians to weigh in on some of our most frequently asked pre-med questions.

This week’s question: “What was your timeline and process of writing your personal statement?”

Edward Chang, DGSOM MS2

I first started writing my personal statement January of the year I wanted to apply. To be honest, I didn’t really know where to start. I had always thought about why I want to be a doctor but I never really put it all together in written format. One of my struggles when applying was deciding how personal I wanted to be. I had some family things that I could’ve included but ultimately left out. In retrospect, I’m not sure that was the best move but nevertheless, I felt that my personal statement was still pretty personal.

I also found it very difficult to write about myself. It was a tough balance between being confident without sounding arrogant. I underestimated how tough it would be logistically to talk about myself without being TOO forward. My writing style is relatively straightforward. I wanted to say: “These 3 reasons are why I would be a great doctor.” To be honest, I don’t know if that’s necessarily wrong; I just wasn’t comfortable with it.

I showed my first draft to a mentor. He said it was “OK”. Honestly I was really tempted to go with an “OK” personal statement. Honestly, that was laziness. After getting over my laziness, I rewrote my personal statement. I was much happier with it and so was my mentor. This whole processing started in January and kept going until May. Finishing my personal statement was a huge burden off my shoulders. Nevertheless, I was constantly tempted to make more edits. At a certain point, you just need to stop and be happy with it.

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

Evan Laveman, DGSOM MS2

My goal was to have my personal statement more or less completed by the end of the winter break (or just winter) before my application year. I started toying around with ideas for my personal statement in the fall, roughly 9 months before the AMCAS primary opened. I felt like that time was useful not only for my statement, but for my own reflections and intentions that ended up ultimately framing the rest of my application. I didn’t want to have to rush my personal statement at all, and I wanted to have something prepared in the event that my letter writers requested a draft of it. In the fall I came up with three “themes” that I was interested in representing myself with. By winter break I wrote 3 different very rough drafts on each one of those themes, and selected the one that I connected with the most. By the end of winter break, after countless email exchanges with my Dad, I finished a “final” rough draft of that essay. Over the next several months I occasionally came back to it, making both small and structural revisions. I had a few professors and family members read it, but was sure to weigh their suggestions against my personal views- no statement exists that all of your readers will unanimously approve of. In the end I submitted a personal statement that I felt was an honest, personal, and informative reflection of my character that added value to my application.

|| Read: Brainstorming Your Personal Statement for Medical School ||

Emily Singer, DGSOM MS2

I wrote my first personal statement less than a month before turning in my application. I was not accepted anywhere. My personal statement was basically my resume in narrative format. It neither revealed anything personal nor made a strong statement about my candidacy. In retrospect, how could I have expected a successful application cycle without spending more time on this critical piece of writing? For my final successful reapplication cycle, I started the personal statement from scratch in January – six months before AMCAS opened for submission. I started with a week of brainstorming about my personal experiences and values – events and people that had changed my life or opened my eyes. I then wrote an outline of the main points I wanted to express to the readers. I toyed with changing the organization of this skeleton and discussed it with friends, family, and a writing tutor before filling it in and creating a more detailed outline, which made the ultimate writing much easier. I set target dates for drafts, and made sure to email out each new iteration to someone for edits by these dates. Not everyone needs an outline or this sort of rigid timeline structure, but for me it eased some of the anxiety and stress of completing this very personal piece of writing, which – arguably – is the hardest writing assignment you will ever complete. I had a nearly final draft completed by the end of April, and was able to spend May polishing the language and focusing on other parts of the application. My approach to the logistics of writing my personal statement ultimately led to major improvements in the content, which undoubtedly contributed to my final acceptance to medical school.

|| Read: Personal Statements and Emotional Topics ||

Evan Shih, DGSOM MS2

One of the most helpful things that I did throughout college was keep a Word Document on my computer in which I wrote about significant experiences that helped shape my perspective of medicine. These were events or interactions that I wanted to make sure I remembered in detail: the setting around me, the exact words that were exchanged, the emotions elicited.

By the time I was ready to begin writing my personal statement, I had pages and pages of memorable interactions with patients, words of guidance from physicians and mentors, and even passages from books, news articles, and TED talks. I read through them and looked for a common theme in my pre-medical journey and found two prominent messages that I hoped to convey to medical schools through my essay. With that, I began writing my personal statement.

I began putting together my personal statement over my spring vacation in mid March. I outlined it so that it would include two detailed patient interactions that I wanted to share, as well as a specific introduction and a meaningful conclusion. The experiences in the Word Document provided the foundation of the essay. I sent my draft to my research mentor, an English professor, and 2 friends whose writing proficiency I admired. From each edited draft I took the most constructive suggestions and continued to fine-tune my statement. At one point I deleted my entire introduction and re-wrote it. I also would go a week without thinking about the essay and coming back to it with a fresh pair of eyes. By the time June came around, I was ready to submit a polished final statement.

|| Read: A Sample Personal Statement ||

Brandon Brown, UCSF MS1

I started working on my personal statement in mid April during spring break and finished a first draft after about a week. I first came up with some broad topics I wanted to cover, then among a few of those, I built an outline from which I could start writing a cohesive narrative. It went through a lot of revisions all the way until early June when I submitted my application. Unlike some of my pre-med friends, I only had a couple of people proof read it for me: my girlfriend at the time and an old English professor. I’m not sure why I didn’t seek more opinions; maybe it was because it touched on some personally sensitive issues or because I just didn’t feel like bothering people. In any case, I’d recommend everyone start early, don’t get stuck on one idea (try out several possible directions), and get feedback from people you trust.

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Emily Chiu

Emily Chiu is the Director of Logistics at ProspectiveDoctor.com. She is currently a third-year undergraduate student at UCLA. If you have any questions about her work, or are interested in contributing to ProspectiveDoctor.com, please contact her at emilychiu@prospectivedoctor.com. Follow ProspectiveDoctor on Twitter, @ProspectiveDr.

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