By: Elliot Stein
Setting out to write a personal statement for medical school is a daunting task.
Fret not! You have been preparing to write this statement all your life, and all you need to do is distill your story into 5300 characters. This guide will help you do it.
Plan your statement
While you may be eager to start putting pen to paper, it is important to pre-plan your statement. This can save significant revision time in the future and create a more comprehensive argument for medical school admission.
Although it’s not a requirement, most personal statement authors choose to include a personal vignette or narrative about how they decided to choose a career in medicine. The vignette is easy to write about (because it happened to you!) and is very amenable to storytelling. Sometimes this vignette is a childhood experience, while other times it describes a shadowing, community service, or research experience. Take some time to reflect and pick an experience you can honestly say guided your decision. Then, free write about this experience in a stream-of-consciousness format without paying attention to grammar, word choice, or brevity at this point in time.
Next, pick four to five experiences, be they volunteer, clinical, research, work, or personal that answer either or both of the questions: “Why would I be good doctor?” and / or “Why do I want to be a doctor?”. Again, write about these experiences in stream-of-consciousness style in a document. Each of these experiences will become a paragraph of your personal statement.
Write your statement
Now, all you have to do is translate the informal verbiage you’ve just created into an essay with 5,300 characters or less! Most personal statements begin and end with the personal vignette, and the middle of the statement consists of the 4 to 5 experiences you’ve chosen. You don’t have much space to work with so pick each word carefully but don’t perseverate: You’ll have time later to revise.
Keep in mind that the most important take home message from this guide is that each and every sentence should be answering or set up an answer to the questions “Why would I be a good doctor?” and / or “Why do I want to be a doctor?”.
It is important to string your paragraphs together into a story by using transitions. A transition is the first sentence of each paragraph, which serves to gently guide the reader away from the last experience you’ve written about and into the next experience you’re about to bring up. Some people organize their statement chronologically and others organize it by the intensity of the experience. There is no science to this: pick a progression that works for you.
Perhaps the most important part of the process is revision. Here are some tips:
- Write over many sessions. Don’t attempt to write the personal statement in one day or in one sitting. Put it down for a few days in between sessions. Each session should begin with a re-read of the statement. Find out where things don’t flow right and note where you trip up. These are the parts that need revision.
- Scrutinize every detail. No typos allowed! Look carefully for subject-verb agreement, misspelling, and homonym errors (i.e. their, there, and they’re).
- Go through and make sure that every word belongs in the statement. If a statement is unnecessary, chop it out!
- Don’t use overly flowery language: this can come across as disingenuous and hyperbolic. Instead, demonstrate your excitement and passion for medicine by showing rather than telling. For example, instead of saying “Talking to the patient one-on-one made me feel connected to him” (telling), say “I talked to the patient for hours about everything from his condition to his favorite baseball team” (showing).
- Always substantiate claims: Be sure to say why something is the way it is. Don’t just say “I want to be a doctor”, say “I want to be a doctor because…”
- Send your statement to other people to read and re-read. Ask them, “Does the essay sound like me?”, “Has it convinced you I belong in medical school?”, “Where could it benefit from some improvement?”
Good luck! You’ve got this!