Applying to Medical School

Weekly Weigh-in: The Diversity Secondary Essay

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: How did you approach “the diversity secondary essay” on your secondary applications?

Edward Chang, DGSOM MS3

Honestly I had a pretty tough time with the diversity question. I didn’t know how far I could go with this question and I had a difficult time putting what I thought made me unique on paper without sounding arrogant or cliche. At the time I was applying, I also thought this question was very ethnically charged (I felt that I couldn’t be “different” as a typical Asian American from a middle-class family) but looking back, I realized that I was approaching the question very narrow-mindedly. If I were to answer the question now, I would emphasize the unique aspects of my personality and the specific instances that demonstrate those unique qualities. I personally wouldn’t talk about race but rather focus on how my uniqueness would contribute to the student body overall. I think a few things that make me who I am are:

1. My overly sarcastic and dry sense of humor
2. Ability to turn ideas into fruition
3. My desire to bring different kinds of people together
4. Work ethic (I’m kind of a workaholic)
5. My lack of caffeine use

Obviously many people have those qualities but I think its the combination of those characteristics that make me unique.

|| Read: Diversity in Medical Secondary Questions ||

Evan Laveman, DGSOM MS3

When I was answering questions on diversity in my secondary statements, I would catch myself unconsciously interpreting the word ‘diversity’ as a difference in race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. I urge everyone to not be limited in their approach to portraying their own diversity. What sets me apart is not my skin color, religion, or how much money my parents make. What sets me apart is that I worked within the same marine safety department for 7 years. I got permission to obtain my EMT license earlier than most other California residents. I’ve been personally involved in saving lives and losing lives. I love the ocean. I once paddled 41 miles down the Southern California coast in one day.I helped to found a social fraternity at UCLA. I value community, camaraderie, compassion, and service. I attempted a day hike of Mount Whitney in the snow, and knew when to turn back. I’m a hard worker, but I strive to never work so hard that I lose my grounding. There are many qualities and characteristics I possess that I share with others, and some that may be unique to just me, but the constellation of what I’ve done is a fingerprint that I feel defines me and makes me diverse. This is how I chose to answer questions on diversity- by focusing on the active aspects of my character, instead of passive identifiers.

|| Read: Three Secondaries to Pre-Write ||

Brandon Brown, UCSF MS2

I approached the diversity question by just writing about what made me a unique individual that would provide new perspectives to the incoming medical school class. Diversity doesn’t merely mean diversity in how you look or where you came from, but how your experiences have shaped you as an individual and how your experiences provide a valuable addition to a group. I wrote about about my family, my upbringing, and some of the skills I’ve acquired (e.g. programming) and how those inform my decisions, thought process, and contribute to improving team work.

|| Check out: PDr’s Secondary Essay Prompts Database to start pre-writing! ||

Evan Shih, DGSOM MS3

As a heterosexual Asian-American male from an immigrant family with aspirations of applying to medical school, I wasn’t exactly jumping to the top of anybody’s diversity checklist, at least not in the classic sense of “racial background, sexual identity, and social background”. However, I wanted to show medical schools that despite growing up in an “cookie cutter” suburban community, I still possessed experiences that provided me with both an enriched background and an open-minded outlook. With my diversity essay, I sought to exhibit the fact that I was eager to learn more about the diverse patient population that I was going to serve in the future. I wrote about my experiences volunteering with a homeless clinic and the multitude of patient backgrounds in the Greater Los Angeles area: recently displaced families, chronic cocaine addicts, veteran war heroes, Latino immigrants, and countless individuals of the LGBT community.

Working with the homeless clinic showed me two things: 1) I knew very little about the world around me and 2) If I wanted to practice medicine in Southern California, I needed to hone my Spanish skills. These two realizations compelled me to plan a summer trip to Cusco, Peru with a friend. For 3 weeks we took medical Spanish, learned to salsa dance, and hiked the Inca Trail. My multicultural experiences in both Peru and inner-city Los Angeles provided me with an understanding of the many different patient backgrounds that I would encounter as a physician, and I wanted to show schools that I was confident that I could contribute the same enthusiasm and capabilities in medical school.

Emily Chiu

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

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