Writing medical school essays: prioritize depth

medical school admissions writing
By Siraj

Deeper is always better.

I am currently applying to medical school, and I have been overwhelmed by the success I’ve had with the process. And I have some educated guesses as to why things are going so well. At almost every one of my interviews, the same thing has happened: my interviewers have commented on the introspective nature of my writing—they recognize how deeply I have analyzed my own experiences. The ability to reflect is an important quality in a physician; a doctor must be able to learn from each patient-physician encounter, from their mistakes, from their interactions with their colleagues. Medicine is a career that requires you to grow throughout your life, and medical school admissions committees know that. They expect their physicians to take on rising healthcare costs, racial inequity in medicine, and other pressing issues in the world—how can they do that if they don’t reflect, if they don’t challenge their own assumptions? Your ability to analyze your experiences in writing is how you show medical school admissions committees that you are ready to become a doctor.

So, deeper is always better. But, as a medical school applicant, how should this affect what you write? 

1. Don’t be afraid to discuss your assumptions about topics, people, and the world.

Even more importantly, be sure to describe how your assumptions have changed. For example, one secondary prompt asked me to describe how COVID-19 has affected me. I chose to discuss how my view on medicine has shifted because of my work as a first responder during the pandemic. In another essay, I discussed how my perception on teaching has changed from experiences working with prison inmates. 

2. Don’t be afraid to describe your thoughts while writing.

We always hear “show, don’t tell,” but it’s honestly not a fantastic guideline. What’s the use of “showing,” if you don’t analyze your experience, if you don’t give your reader some insight into what you were thinking? For instance, in one essay, I wrote about advocating for a patient I had as an EMT. But at every point in my story, I was careful to let the reader into my mind—to do a bit of “telling,” to explain why I made a particular decision, to describe the doubts I had about that decision.

3. No cliches.

Absolutely none—those cliches don’t encapsulate how you’ve learnt what you did. 

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