Four medical school personal statement pitfalls and how to avoid them

medical school admissions personal statements strategy
By Jessie

Crafting your personal statement for medical school can be daunting – you have had so many incredible experiences that got you here, and you want to put them down on paper in a way that is compelling and makes your readers want to interview you. Whether you are still brainstorming or polishing up your latest draft, this post will review common pitfalls and how to work around them! 

Pitfall #1: your Personal statement centers on someone else 

This is a very common starting point for many students – a family member was sick, a patient you met had a compelling story, or you shadowed an incredible doctor. All these experiences are great to reflect upon, but it’s important to remember the statement is about YOU, not about them (it’s okay to be selfish and take the spotlight here, word count is limited!). Instead, spend no more than a couple sentences setting the stage and then focus on: (1) what you did in the interaction, (2) what you learned from this person/experience, and (3) what was missing that you’re hoping to gain from medical school (e.g., clinical knowledge, patient resources).

Pitfall #2: you are just Rehashing the resume 

At this point in the game, most people have more “meaningful experiences” than space in their personal statements. Remember that AMCAS allows you 15 experience slots, so there will be plenty of space to ensure your activities and accomplishments make it into your application. For the personal statement, including more than three big experiences can become overwhelming and prevents the space to reflect thoughtfully and weave in your drive to go to medical school. Consider picking a few impactful experiences from different categories: personal/pre-college, academic, clinical, research, or job-related. Or find a common thread (such as a key characteristic you’re hoping to demonstrate) and pick experiences that can be linked together.  

Pitfall #3: Too many editors 

Occasionally, the flow of the paper can become disjointed if there are numerous people making edits, and all of their changes have been incorporated. This can also lead to certain links between your paragraphs getting deleted or modified such that it is harder to follow a theme or common thread as mentioned before. It’s up to you how many editors you have reading your statement, but make sure to choose folks of varying relationships and backgrounds; I always recommend one person who knows you well, one person who doesn’t know you at all (e.g., from your school’s writing center), and one person in the medical field. 

Pitfall #4: you're Lacking a tie to pathophysiology 

It can be a pitfall if your statement does not provide clarity on why, of all the healthcare professions to choose, you want to go into medicine specifically. You may argue that you want to help patients, but there are countless ways to help patients (medicine, nursing, social work, research, physical therapy, etc). Expressing an interest in pathophysiology that is relevant to your life experiences can help you distinguish yourself. Did you want to know how a drug exerts effects on multiple organs? Were you curious how a disease process began at the cellular level? This can also be a nice avenue to incorporate your research and academic work into your personal statement! 

Jessie studied biochemistry and psychology at Tufts University, earning a 4.0 GPA (Phi Beta Kappa) and several awards for her leadership in the Chemistry Department. She is currently in her fourth year at Harvard Medical School and is pursuing a residency in Orthopaedic Surgery.

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