Sample Personal Statement For Medical School Essays

Personal Statements - Essays

Overview ~ Brainstorming ~ Writing ~ Editing ~ Additional Information

  • Grammatical rules
  • Sought Characteristics
  • Sample Personal Statements (for medical school)
  • Sample Personal Statements (for podiatric and optometric school)

Overview

Personal Statement: Sometimes referred to as the “statement of purpose” or “personal essay,” is your opportunity to state who you are, where you come from, what you are passionate about, how you ended up at your current career choice, and where you want to go in the future. You must tell the reader why you are pursuing a career in _________ and what you are passionate about.
Essays: Many health schools also have secondary/supplementary applications on top of the general application you fill out. These secondary applications usually include specific long-answer essays. Many of the pointers on this page will apply not only to the personal essay, but to the long-answer essays you will find on these secondary applications.
What do Admissions Committee Members Look for in the Statement?
Admissions Committee members, when they read your personal statement, will be looking mainly at style and content. Remember, they will read countless applications and essays in a short time and, as a result, many of the admissions readers will skim personal statements. Consequently, you need to be concise in what you say and not repeat yourself throughout the essay. You should try to use key words and action verbs throughout your statement. Also, you should try to capture the reader’s attention by describing any out-of-the-ordinary or interesting experiences you have had, provide insight and original thought based on what you learned, and tell your personal story. Caution: Do not over-criticize the profession.
If you can, try to incorporate warmth and feeling into your essay so that the reader is able to tell that you are a compassionate, caring person. Remember, this is a statement about you: therefore it is okay to use the word “I” and to keep the focus on you. Do not provide so much detail that YOU get lost in the essay. The essay should also show your sense of humanity so that admissions officers see you as someone who would be valuable not only to the medical profession, but to their institution as well. Think of writing this essay as if you were writing a newspaper article in the sense that you want to answer the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of you and your journey into medicine.

Brainstorming

Think about what kind of information you want the admissions committee to know about you that is not fully described elsewhere in the application. There may be some overlap with information in the application, but it will be presented in a different way.
The following are some ideas that might help you get started in brainstorming/writing your personal statement:
  • What is your first recollection about medicine? What was your reaction to it? Or, what was your first experience dealing with some serious health-related dilemma (a parent diagnosed with cancer, etc.)?
  • Who do you know who is in medicine? What do you like, respect, admire about that person?
  • Why do you want to be a physician? Why not something else?
  • Who is your role model and why? What have you learned from this person?
  • What is the most memorable experience you had in the medical profession?
  • I’m the dean of the school—why should I let you in?
  • What are two things about you that make you different from anyone else you know?
  • When did you discover your interest in the medical field?
  • Why are you interested in medicine?
  • What academic strengths do you possess? For example: above-average grades, leadership roles in specific courses, teaching assistant/lab assistant experience, tutoring.
  • Are there some extraordinary circumstances that may need to be discussed? For example: your grades suffered in a particular semester/year because of a demanding work schedule, illness, or family problems. Before you venture down these roads please speak to your advisor or a professor as we may be able to address these issues more safely in our letter.
  • What honors/awards have you received? For example: scholarships, awards bestowed by an organization of which you are a member, recognition for work in the community, the dean’s list, honors.
  • What research activities have you participated in? For example: research assistant, slide prep, data entry/analysis, and survey development/administration.
  • What extracurricular activities have you participated in? For example: membership/office in a campus organization, membership/office in a professional/ community organization.
  • What volunteer experience do you have?
  • What relevant work experience do you have?
  • What specific areas of interest do you have within the health field?
  • Why will you make a strong addition to this program? What strengths do you bring with you?
  • What are your career goals once you complete your education?
  • Have you had meaningful life experiences: jobs, travel, Peace Corps., that would make you stand out from the rest?

**Make a list of all the information you want the admissions committee to have about you. Organize the items on your list into groups of ideas that seem to fit together naturally.

Writing

Read the question carefully. Many times applicants have their own agenda and forget to focus on the question asked of them. After you are finished writing an answer, reflect on your question and make sure you have answered it fully.
Write when you write and edit when you edit! Your first draft should be straight from the heart, brutally honest, and inclusive of all the information you think will be useful to the admissions committee; you can edit later.
Do not just write what you think they want to read. If you do this, it will sound too contrived and give the impression that all you want to do is impress them, not express yourself and who you are.
Speak from your heart; trying to convey an honest representation of who you are is the best policy. You can’t fabricate a person who does not exist, nor is this the type of person they would want to admit to their institution!
A personal statement should be a reflection of your personality. By reading your personal statement the admissions committee should be able to develop a better understanding of you. An effective essay lets the reader know you would be an interesting person to interview and potentially a valuable addition to the institution. They may also go to your personal statement when reviewing your application to get an overall sense of you as an applicant. Be sure it functions as the “glue” that brings all aspects of your application together into a cohesive application.
Consider the readers of your application. Admissions committees are made up of persons who are proud to be associated with the profession, and are the gatekeepers of the profession. Do not overly criticize them, their professions, or the health industry. If you feel like you must point out some flaw you have discovered in your journey and that flaw is perhaps why you want to join the profession, make this statement in a way that makes it sound more like an inspiration or motivation and not a criticism or critique of the profession or health system. Also keep in mind that non-science minded people may read your essay. Avoid being too technical and scientifically-wordy when writing about YOU.
No whining and no excuses—do not write a laundry list of personal problems. The essay should be upbeat, illustrating how you have turned adversity to strength and/or pain/sorrow into motivation. An explanation is always better than an excuse and owning up to your own contribution to academic problems is a better way to go than blaming someone else or not taking ownership of what you did to contribute to a problem. Avoid the unusual, at least in the presentation of your essay. A personal statement in the form of a ceramic yucca or haiku is not a good idea.
Be specific and provide details. Your details and experiences are what make your personal statement unique and will impress the reader. Document your conclusions with examples and do not make general, far-reaching statements.
Do not laundry list your accomplishments and experiences without addressing how those experiences helped you determine your career objective or helped you to better understand yourself and your role as a potential healthcare provider. Otherwise, your list will not only be similar to your resume and what your evaluators write about you, but it will also make you appear egotistical. Everything in your personal statement should have a reason for being included. Formulate conclusions that reflect the meaningfulness of your experiences.
Be prepared to write several drafts and get an early start. Waiting until the last minute is never a good idea and will give you a personal statement which might be good, but could definitely be better and more refined. After you have written your statement, set it aside for at least a day or two and then revisit it. When you read it again, you may be in a different frame of mind and will be ready to revise.
Organize your ideas logically. Many personal statements are organized chronologically. Other statements are organized by topic (e.g. history, academic background, experience, and community service) or by theme or thesis (e.g. what will make a good healthcare professional in the year 2010 and how/why you would be that person). Whatever style you choose, it is imperative that you provide the reader with some reference points so that s/he does not have to spend time sorting out your information.
Set the proper tone. Remember that this is your chance for them to know you more personally and you should take full advantage of this opportunity. Try to avoid the use of clichés, slang and/or sentences or phrases that give a conversational or chatty tone to your essay. Remember: you are writing for professionals, so be professional in your choice of words and sentence structure.

Editing

Vary your sentence structure from time to time to keep your reader interested. What works is variety: controlling the rhythm of passages through the mixing of short, long and intermediate-length sentences.
Do not try to be clever or humorous unless you are absolutely certain you can pull it off with finesse. An application to medical school is serious business and an admissions reader is not going to want to admit someone who does not seem serious about medicine. Keep it professional.
Use the active voice. Put the spotlight on you rather than on someone or something else. (Weak: I was employed by the hospital to assist… Better: I assisted in the examination of…)
Watch for sentence fragments, run-on sentences, dangling phrases or ideas, and the occasional random tangents.
Use action-packed, descriptive verbs and be careful not to switch tenses. Avoid ending sentences with a preposition (e.g. with, of).
Do not be unnecessarily wordy. (Weak: After the course was finished, I was sure that I wanted to spend my entire life in daily contact with the world of medicine.
Better: That course convinced me my future was in medicine.)
Make sure your statement is organized and avoid redundancy. If it is too long or rambling, it will appear undisciplined, out of focus, and unrefined.
When using acronyms, give the entire name when it first appears followed by the acronym in parentheses.
Have several people review your draft—friends, family, faculty, and staff. They may know some things that you omitted, and may be more objective and give you an honest opinion of how you are coming across.
This is an exercise in perfection. Poor grammar, spelling, punctuation, and incomplete sentences are not acceptable under any circumstances and will weaken your application.

Additional Information

Grammatical Rules
Sought Characteristics
Sample Personal Statements (Medical School)
Sample Personal Statements (Podiatric/Optometric School)

 

Health Fields

Applicants

Resources

Sample Medical School Essays


This section contains two sample medical school essays

  1. Medical School Sample Essay One
  2. Medical School Sample Essay Two

Medical School Essay One

Prompt: What makes you an excellent candidate for medical school? Why do you want to become a physician?

When I was twelve years old, a drunk driver hit the car my mother was driving while I was in the backseat. I have very few memories of the accident, but I do faintly recall a serious but calming face as I was gently lifted out of the car. The paramedic held my hand as we traveled to the hospital. I was in the hospital for several weeks and that same paramedic came to visit me almost every day. During my stay, I also got to know the various doctors and nurses in the hospital on a personal level. I remember feeling anxiety about my condition, but not sadness or even fear. It seemed to me that those around me, particularly my family, were more fearful of what might happen to me than I was. I don’t believe it was innocence or ignorance, but rather a trust in the abilities of my doctors. It was as if my doctors and I had a silent bond. Now that I’m older I fear death and sickness in a more intense way than I remember experiencing it as a child. My experience as a child sparked a keen interest in how we approach pediatric care, especially as it relates to our psychological and emotional support of children facing serious medical conditions. It was here that I experienced first-hand the power and compassion of medicine, not only in healing but also in bringing unlikely individuals together, such as adults and children, in uncommon yet profound ways. And it was here that I began to take seriously the possibility of becoming a pediatric surgeon.

My interest was sparked even more when, as an undergraduate, I was asked to assist in a study one of my professors was conducting on how children experience and process fear and the prospect of death. This professor was not in the medical field; rather, her background is in cultural anthropology. I was very honored to be part of this project at such an early stage of my career. During the study, we discovered that children face death in extremely different ways than adults do. We found that children facing fatal illnesses are very aware of their condition, even when it hasn’t been fully explained to them, and on the whole were willing to fight their illnesses, but were also more accepting of their potential fate than many adults facing similar diagnoses. We concluded our study by asking whether and to what extent this discovery should impact the type of care given to children in contrast to adults. I am eager to continue this sort of research as I pursue my medical career. The intersection of medicine, psychology, and socialization or culture (in this case, the social variables differentiating adults from children) is quite fascinating and is a field that is in need of better research.

Although much headway has been made in this area in the past twenty or so years, I feel there is a still a tendency in medicine to treat diseases the same way no matter who the patient is. We are slowly learning that procedures and drugs are not always universally effective. Not only must we alter our care of patients depending upon these cultural and social factors, we may also need to alter our entire emotional and psychological approach to them as well.

It is for this reason that I’m applying to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, as it has one of the top programs for pediatric surgery in the country, as well as several renowned researchers delving into the social, generational, and cultural questions in which I’m interested. My approach to medicine will be multidisciplinary, which is evidenced by the fact that I’m already double-majoring in early childhood psychology and pre-med, with a minor in cultural anthropology. This is the type of extraordinary care that I received as a child—care that seemed to approach my injuries with a much larger and deeper picture than that which pure medicine cannot offer—and it is this sort of care I want to provide my future patients. I turned what might have been a debilitating event in my life—a devastating car accident—into the inspiration that has shaped my life since. I am driven and passionate. And while I know that the pediatric surgery program at Johns Hopkins will likely be the second biggest challenge I will face in my life, I know that I am up for it. I am ready to be challenged and prove to myself what I’ve been telling myself since that fateful car accident: I will be a doctor.


Medical School Essay Two

Prompt: Where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be writing this essay and planning for yet another ten years into the future, part of me would have been surprised. I am a planner and a maker of to-do lists, and it has always been my plan to follow in the steps of my father and become a physician. This plan was derailed when I was called to active duty to serve in Iraq as part of the War on Terror.

I joined the National Guard before graduating high school and continued my service when I began college. My goal was to receive training that would be valuable for my future medical career, as I was working in the field of emergency health care. It was also a way to help me pay for college. When I was called to active duty in Iraq for my first deployment, I was forced to withdraw from school, and my deployment was subsequently extended. I spent a total of 24 months deployed overseas, where I provided in-the-field medical support to our combat troops. While the experience was invaluable not only in terms of my future medical career but also in terms of developing leadership and creative thinking skills, it put my undergraduate studies on hold for over two years. Consequently, my carefully-planned journey towards medical school and a medical career was thrown off course. Thus, while ten-year plans are valuable, I have learned from experience how easily such plans can dissolve in situations that are beyond one’s control, as well as the value of perseverance and flexibility.

Eventually, I returned to school. Despite my best efforts to graduate within two years, it took me another three years, as I suffered greatly from post-traumatic stress disorder following my time in Iraq. I considered abandoning my dream of becoming a physician altogether, since I was several years behind my peers with whom I had taken biology and chemistry classes before my deployment. Thanks to the unceasing encouragement of my academic advisor, who even stayed in contact with me when I was overseas, I gathered my strength and courage and began studying for the MCAT. To my surprise, my score was beyond satisfactory and while I am several years behind my original ten-year plan, I am now applying to Brown University’s School of Medicine.

I can describe my new ten-year plan, but I will do so with both optimism and also caution, knowing that I will inevitably face unforeseen complications and will need to adapt appropriately. One of the many insights I gained as a member of the National Guard and by serving in war-time was the incredible creativity medical specialists in the Armed Forces employ to deliver health care services to our wounded soldiers on the ground. I was part of a team that was saving lives under incredibly difficult circumstances—sometimes while under heavy fire and with only the most basic of resources. I am now interested in how I can use these skills to deliver health care in similar circumstances where basic medical infrastructure is lacking. While there is seemingly little in common between the deserts of Fallujah and rural Wyoming, where I’m currently working as a volunteer first responder in a small town located more than 60 miles from the nearest hospital, I see a lot of potential uses for the skills that I gained as a National Guardsman. As I learned from my father, who worked with Doctors Without Borders for a number of years, there is quite a bit in common between my field of knowledge from the military and working in post-conflict zones. I feel I have a unique experience from which to draw as I embark on my medical school journey, experiences that can be applied both here and abroad.

In ten years’ time, I hope to be trained in the field of emergency medicine, which, surprisingly, is a specialization that is actually lacking here in the United States as compared to similarly developed countries. I hope to conduct research in the field of health care infrastructure and work with government agencies and legislators to find creative solutions to improving access to emergency facilities in currently underserved areas of the United States, with an aim towards providing comprehensive policy reports and recommendations on how the US can once again be the world leader in health outcomes. While the problems inherent in our health care system are not one-dimensional and require a dynamic approach, one of the solutions as I see it is to think less in terms of state-of-the-art facilities and more in terms of access to primary care. Much of the care that I provide as a first responder and volunteer is extremely effective and also relatively cheap. More money is always helpful when facing a complex social and political problem, but we must think of solutions above and beyond more money and more taxes. In ten years I want to be a key player in the health care debate in this country and offering innovative solutions to delivering high quality and cost-effective health care to all our nation’s citizens, especially to those in rural and otherwise underserved areas.

Of course, my policy interests do not replace my passion for helping others and delivering emergency medicine. As a doctor, I hope to continue serving in areas of the country that, for one reason or another, are lagging behind in basic health care infrastructure. Eventually, I would also like to take my knowledge and talents abroad and serve in the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders.

In short, I see the role of physicians in society as multifunctional: they are not only doctors who heal, they are also leaders, innovators, social scientists, and patriots. Although my path to medical school has not always been the most direct, my varied and circuitous journey has given me a set of skills and experiences that many otherwise qualified applicants lack. I have no doubt that the next ten years will be similarly unpredictable, but I can assure you that no matter what obstacles I face, my goal will remain the same. I sincerely hope to begin the next phase of my journey at Brown University. Thank you for your kind attention.

To learn more about what to expect from the study of medicine, check out our Study Medicine in the US section.

Sample Essays

Related Content:

Tips for a Successful Medical School Essay

  • If you’re applying through AMCAS, remember to keep your essay more general rather than tailored to a specific medical school, because your essay will be seen by multiple schools.
  • AMCAS essays are limited to 5300 characters—not words! This includes spaces.
  • Make sure the information you include in your essay doesn't conflict with the information in your other application materials.
  • In general, provide additional information that isn’t found in your other application materials. Look at the essay as an opportunity to tell your story rather than a burden.
  • Keep the interview in mind as you write. You will most likely be asked questions regarding your essay during the interview, so think about the experiences you want to talk about.
  • When you are copying and pasting from a word processor to the AMCAS application online, formatting and font will be lost. Don’t waste your time making it look nice. Be sure to look through the essay once you’ve copied it into AMCAS and edit appropriately for any odd characters that result from pasting.
  • Avoid overly controversial topics. While it is fine to take a position and back up your position with evidence, you don’t want to sound narrow-minded.
  • Revise, revise, revise. Have multiple readers look at your essay and make suggestions. Go over your essay yourself many times and rewrite it several times until you feel that it communicates your message effectively and creatively.
  • Make the opening sentence memorable. Admissions officers will read dozens of personal statements in a day. You must say something at the very beginning to catch their attention, encourage them to read the essay in detail, and make yourself stand out from the crowd.
  • Character traits to portray in your essay include: maturity, intellect, critical thinking skills, leadership, tolerance, perseverance, and sincerity.

Additional Tips for a Successful Medical School Essay

  • Regardless of the prompt, you should always address the question of why you want to go to medical school in your essay.
  • Try to always give concrete examples rather than make general statements. If you say that you have perseverance, describe an event in your life that demonstrates perseverance.
  • There should be an overall message or theme in your essay. In the example above, the theme is overcoming unexpected obstacles.
  • Make sure you check and recheck for spelling and grammar!
  • Unless you’re very sure you can pull it off, it is usually not a good idea to use humor or to employ the skills you learned in creative writing class in your personal statement. While you want to paint a picture, you don’t want to be too poetic or literary.
  • Turn potential weaknesses into positives. As in the example above, address any potential weaknesses in your application and make them strengths, if possible. If you have low MCAT scores or something else that can’t be easily explained or turned into a positive, simply don’t mention it.
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