Applying to medical school is one of the most involved application processes that anyone can go through. The application cycle feels overwhelming. Now that I'm well on the other side of the application process and I near the end of medical school itself, I can share some lessons to help you through the intense yet rewarding experience of the application.
I struggled to write my personal statement for medical school. The words just weren’t coming to me. I wanted to say, “It just feels right.” Now that I am here, I can assure you: you won’t truly know until you’ve begun. Your true why will come when you least expect it.
For me, that "aha" moment came in the middle of a night during rotations after being awake for 20 hours. Exhausted and nearly delirious with lack of sleep, I suddenly knew it was the right choice. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t thrilled to commit to a life of long shifts (up to 27 hours!). However, something about being able to visit and support a patient during one of the worst nights of their life—their most vulnerable moment—struck me. I could finally articulate my why for myself.
Now, back to the reason you’re reading this. Finding your why. You have to ask yourself a few things:
1. What do I want from my life?
It seems like a big question, but break this down into small steps. Start at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy and go up the ladder: physiological (food and clothing), safety (job security), love and belonging needs (friendship), esteem, and self-actualization. Fill in your dreams.
2. What do I think will make me happy when I’m nearing the end of my life?
Is it caring for patients? Is it research? Is it having a balanced life? Is it having a hands-on job?
It’s quite morbid, but life is short. Your medical career will be long. To know yourself, you must be vulnerable. Death is one of few things that we avoid discussing as young people, but it is a guide that keeps us from getting trapped in unimportant details.
3. What about medicine brings me joy? What about medicine worries me? No career is perfect. Are the things that bring me joy greater than the ones that worry me?
Medicine is a vast field. There is no “typical” doctor. And there shouldn’t be. But you absolutely must have a purpose to be able to help people in a genuine way. I’ve found that listening is often the most healing I have the privilege to do as a physician.
Ask yourself these hard questions and give yourself honest answers. When times get hard, I pull out my personal statement to remind myself that there is an end goal and there is a dream that can become a reality.