Medical School Personal Statement Advice

If your stats put you in the middle of the herd for med school applications, your statement takes on a new importance. It must differentiate you as a better-than-average applicant who has average numbers.

Fortunately, a lot of your fellow applicants will write terrible personal statements, making very common mistakes and relying on clichéd, overused advice. You do not need to write a fantastic statement; you just need to avoid writing a lousy one.

If a school receives 6000 applications, 5700 of the personal statements will be, in a word, heinous. You need to be part of the other group. Start with the following things in mind. After you finish, go through this list again as you edit to make sure you didn’t sneak something nauseating into your essay. You might even give this list to the people proof-reading your essay.

  1. Never forget what the essay is about. First and foremost, it must answer the question “Why do you want to be a doctor.” Spell it out. Don’t force your readers to guess and don’t leave room for them to misinterpret your motives. Make it absolutely clear. Once it is, then you can go into how you know you want to be a doctor and why you would be a good one.
  2. “Omit needless words.” -Strunk & White, Elements of Style. Be concise. Brief writing is powerful. It is clear. Wordy writing is cloudy, amateur, and boring.
  3. Do not start with a quote. This is lazy and overdone. You are not writing for your high school AP English exam – this is a statement about who you are and why you want to go into medicine. Admissions committees want to know about you, not Robert Frost, C.S. Lewis, Ralph Waldo Emerson, or Dr. Seuss. The only exception is if you have a hilarious patient quote, but even then don’t use it. As another blogger, Panda Bear, MD advises:
  4. “Avoid humor, by the way, unless you can pull it off which you can’t. You are not funny. You say some funny things occasionally, we all do, but that doesn’t make you a comedian.” This is perfect advice for your personal statement.
  5. Do not use the words “passion” or “fascinating.” In fact, for your reference, here is a list of the most overused words in all of the personal statements I’ve read:-      Underserved

    –      Deep (deep interest, deep desire, deep need, deep understanding, deep fascination)

    –      Fascination, fascinating, fascinated (by the human body)

    –      Make a difference

    –      Crucial

    –      Persistence, Perseverance

    –      Cutting edge (research, technology)

    –      Scientific knowledge

    –      Saving lives; improving lives; quality of life

    –      My patients, my future patients

    –      Captivated

    –      Cultivated

    –      Fueled, flamed, ignited, sparked, anything making fire a metaphor for you motivation or interest

    –      Empathy

    –      Humbling

    –      Gratifying

    –      Life-changing

  6. Do not talk about what qualities a good doctor should have, unless you have been asked to address this specifically in a secondary essay. You are not writing your personal statement to do the admissions committee a favor and educate them about health care. The personal statement is not a good platform to get philosophical about the practice of medicine.
  7. Do not use long or uncommon words. Even if you have a great vocabulary (not likely), give it a rest. Do not use a thesaurus. Use simple terms to avoid sounding pompous. Do not try to sound smart. If you are smart, it will show best in clear and concise writing.
  8. Do not use too many “ing” words. They sneak into your essay as present progressive verbs (i.e. “I was running…”[Forest Gump]) and as gerunds at the beginning of a clause or following a preposition (i.e “Learning is an art,” or “…the art of learning”). Use too many and your statement will flow like a kidney stone. Or, perhaps better said, using too many “ing” words ends up causing problems with the flowing of your writing.
  9. Avoid adverbs. You needn’t say “I ran quickly toward the door” because “ran” is already a quick action. You don’t need the adverb. Only use them if they actually modify, clarify, or enhance the verb or adjective with which they are paired. Adverbs make you sound verbose, which is uninteresting every single time. Instead use descriptive verbs and adjectives that require no modification.
  10. Do not talk about how many whales you have saved. Your service accomplishments should be listed in your application. Use your statement to answer “why medicine?” and to introduce things not covered elsewhere in your application. Don’t reiterate the litany that is your AMCAS application; instead, add depth to it.

Most people spend too much of the personal statement talking about things that appear elsewhere in the application. Readers do not like this, and it makes you seem either cocky, boring, or both. Talk about new things that will give the reader a sense of who you are. Remember, even on paper it is easy to tell when people are posing.

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