There are several written parts to the medical school application (the personal statement, activity descriptions, and secondary application essays) but the central component—and the one in which you have the most open space to convey your past experiences and future goals—is the personal statement. In the AMCAS application the prompt for the medical school essay (also known as the personal statement) is:
“Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.”
The space allotted is 5300 characters, including spaces, which is approximately one single-spaced page. In that short amount of space you must articulate clearly why you want to go to medical school. Your medical school personal statement should be a convincing piece of prose: through your writing you need to convey your excitement about your chosen profession, along with evidence that you’ve tested the profession through clinical experiences.
The personal statement should have both immediacy—drawing in the reader instantly—and big-picture goals. It should help the reader understand what you’ve done to learn about the medical profession and convey your broad interests and what you eventually hope to accomplish as a physician.
I have given numerous presentations on writing the personal statement to both past students and at national conferences and have distilled my approach into a Personal Statement Worksheet that I share with clients. The worksheet often helps applicants figure out how to write about their experiences in the most effective way, while also helping them refine their thoughts, distilling them into the most relevant content for the statement. Here are some tips to writing a winning personal statement:
- Keep a journal: For applicants who are a year or two removed from writing the personal statement it’s wise to keep a journal of your clinical experiences. It’s not only useful when you begin to write the statement since your reflections about your experiences with patients can be helpful to draw upon when you start drafting your statement, but it is also beneficial to process what you see in your clinical experiences by writing about them.
- Create an outline: When it’s time to write your personal statement mull over what you want to include in your medical school essay, then create an outline. This will guide your thoughts and writing process, giving it shape and focus.
- Write an enticing opening paragraph: The opening paragraph is critically important. It should draw the reader in immediately and convince him or her to keep going. Make it compelling! Using present tense and visual images is often the most effective way to accomplish this.
- Show and don’t tell: Good writing consists of showing and not telling. In other words, it is not effective to write, “I am empathetic,” whereas it is effective to write about an experience in which you actually USED your empathy with others. Use your clinical experiences to demonstrate your personal traits.
- Help the reader understand what motivates you to become a physician: The personal statement should help admissions committees understand you better and, in particular, it MUST convey why you want to be a doctor. It is essential to include information addressing what motivates and drives you to become a physician.
- Help the reader get to know you. Include information about your intellectual interests, values, and future goals. It’s helpful to convey what inspired your choice of undergraduate major since this allows readers understand your intellectual focus. In addition, projecting your goals helps admission committees envision you as a physician.
- Create a polished and impassioned piece of prose: make the reader want to have a conversation with you. The medical school essay should help you get an interview. As such, it should make the reader want to meet you. After you write your essay have others read it and see if they believe that the essay accomplishes this task.
Writing the personal statement takes great effort and focus—and considerable thought about your experiences and goals. I have extensive experience helping applicants refine their medical school essays. If you are interested in medical school personal statement consulting please contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 410-292-5219.
–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admission Consulting