Writing Your Medical School Personal Statement? Follow These 3 Steps.


1- Tell a personal anecdote. Describe one experience you had in a medical context that you can connect to your interest in becoming an M.D.  This story has to show that you have the traits medical schools are looking for in students.   Too many candidates fail to illustrate that they possess the attributes they need to be good med school candidates.

2- Address the specific attributes you know the medical schools are looking for in candidates. Do your homework and know what it is they’re looking for: inquisitiveness? Open-mindedness? Clinical interest—a genuine curiosity for your profession? Familiarity with health care systems?  Good study habits?  Then spell it out—use the language you know they want (it’s the language used in their mission and vision statements, on the application, in the essay prompts, on their websites).  And be sure connect these skills, experiences, and attributes to your personal experience (step 1 above).  

The key is to do both #1 and #2—most candidates either claim to be the perfect candidate with everything the medical school has ever dreamed of having in a student or tell a really great story that illustrates the characteristics that will make them good doctors.  You have to do both and connect them—say that you are a good candidate and prove it with specific examples.

3- After you’ve written a draft of your personal statement, step back and read it with an outsider’s eyes (or, better yet, have someone else read it).

Be sure you’re not saying anything that appears to violate patient confidentiality. Don’t write about anything you experienced behind a closed exam room door.  Write generally about trends you witnessed in a medical context. 

Don’t tell a story that is critical of a doctor. Just as you never speak ill of a previous employer in  a job interview, you don’t want to tell a committee of doctors about a bad experience with a doctor.  Problems with the health care system–such as high costs, dealing with insurance, access to affordable care, broad issues with provision of care–are okay to talk about, but you don’t want the readers (who are doctors) to empathize with a specific doctor you are criticizing.  

Follow these three steps and you’ll be well on your way to writing a solid personal statement for your medical school application.

2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a career coach specializing in job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. For a $25 QuickCheck review of your medical school or residency personal statement, or to set up a campus workshop, contact Darcy: darcylear@gmail.com
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