How to start your medical school personal statement

medical school admissions personal statements strategy

Starting your personal statement for the medical school application is a daunting task—it might be hard to recall the reasons why you want to pursue medicine, or even any stand-out moments throughout your years of researching, studying, and volunteering. When I first started writing, it took hours of scribbling down elements of my life then choosing the ones that mattered the most. 

Step One: Brainstorm

 By “mattering the most,” I mean unraveling the deeper, more substantive questions behind the AMCAS personal statement prompt. “Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school." You could consider the following: 

  • What first sparked your interest in becoming a physician?
  • What keeps you interested in becoming a physician?
  •  What are your long-term personal and professional goals as a physician? 

These questions can serve as the “skeleton” of your personal statement. For instance, your response to “What first sparked your interest in becoming a physician?” can serve as a brief introduction paragraph. Then, “What keeps you interested in becoming a physician?” becomes a couple of body paragraphs. Lastly, a response to “What are your long-term personal and professional goals as a physician?” can make for a compelling conclusion. Let’s flesh these questions out! 

What first sparked your interest in becoming a physician?  

Most of the time, the answer to this question is not a single event, but rather a series of events. Did this include a family or personal illness? A shadowing or volunteering experience? Witnessing a physician make an impact on patients?  

What keeps you interested in becoming a physician? 

The answers to this question may focus more on your recent experiences. This may include the feelings you had associated with your clinical volunteering or your understanding of the tangible impact you can make as a physician (perhaps gleaned from a shadowing experience).  

What are your long-term personal and professional goals as a physician? 

This question solidifies your desire to become a physician. Think about what you are passionate about with regards to medicine—whether it be addressing health inequities, ensuring the translation of research toward effective patient care, forming meaningful relationships, and so on. The possibilities are endless!  

Step Two: Drafting 

Once you have an idea of the concrete events and ideas that could make up your personal statement, the following step is to ensure that these elements are compelling and convincing. This entails showing the admissions committee that: 

  • You have gained perspectives and/or qualities that will make you a great physician
  • These perspectives and/or qualities are reflected by specific experiences.
     

As touched on above, these “specific experiences” can refer to various answers to the aforementioned questions, whether it be taking care of someone who is sick, performing research, or living with illness yourself. Usually, you want to choose two to three experiences to fit into your personal statement so as to not lose or overwhelm your reader.  

Most importantly, your experiences should be told as stories—so show, don't tell! Where applicable, use active voice and dialogue! Illustrate how your actions have affected another person, or conversely, how another person’s actions have influenced you! In this way, you should strive to address the following points within each story: 

  • What was your experience?
  •  Why did you pursue this experience? 
  • What perspectives and/or qualities did you gain from this experience? 
  • How did such perspectives and/or qualities make you want to become a physician? 
  • How will such perspectives and/or qualities make you a great physician? 

 

Identifying what you exactly “gained” from an experience is one of the toughest parts. Oftentimes, it helps to turn back to AMCAS’s core competencies and think whether you developed any of them throughout your experiences. At the conclusion of your personal statement, you want to re-emphasize how you will enact and value these perspectives and/or qualities as a medical student and—ultimately—a future physician.  

When you finish writing your draft, it will take multiple rounds of editing. Be sure to share your personal statement with trusted eyes, whether it be a current medical student, a friend, or a - whoever you believe will help you flesh out your story the best!  

Sophia attended Yale University, where she was a Global Health Scholar and studied Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, and History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health. Her research interests span health activism and social movements, DNA damage repair and metabolism in cancer, and bridging the gap between medical and mental health care.

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