Tips For Writing A Strong Personal Statement That Stands Out in Med School Application.

Tips For Writing A Strong Personal Statement That Stands Out in Med School Application.

15 Tips for Writing a Strong Personal Statement

1) Answer the prompt

The AMCAS prompt reads “Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.” This is, hands down, the shortcoming I’ve seen the most of. I’ve read quite a few essays where the applicant's way of answering the prompt was by retelling a patient encounter that really inspired them. While that’s great, that doesn’t quite answer the prompt.

You can be inspired by a patient as a medical assistant or a scribe, and you can love working with patients, but that explains why you want to go into healthcare. After all, you can continue working with patients in your current position. If you love helping people and making fulfilling connections, you can do that as a psychologist or a social worker. You don’t need to explicitly say why you don’t want to go into other fields, but it does need to be clear why you specifically want to be a physician. The question you want to address is this: “What can’t you do right now that a doctor can do? How would going to medical school allow you to benefit others?”

2) Start early

When you first start shadowing and/or taking care of patients, write down any patient encounter that stands out to you or made an impact on you. This way, you’ll hopefully have a good variety of anecdotes to draw from for not just when you write your personal statement, but also when you go to medical school interviews. By accruing anecdotes early on, when it’s time to write your personal statement, you can see which experiences would be most powerful and would be more likely to tell your story to medical schools. Additionally, because our memories tend to falter over time, you’ll be able to draw from specific details because you’ve already written them down rather than trying to remember what happened a few months or years later

3) Addressing writer’s block

Your goal isn’t to write well, it’s to think well - Admissions committees understand that you’re not a journalist or an author. The goal here is to persuade and to express, and you can do that without delving in the complexities and formalities of writing. Write down your reasons for wanting to pursue medicine and set up an outline. Then, forget all the formal rules and just let the words flow out. You’re not going to write a perfect personal statement the first time you set pen to paper, and that’s okay. That’s what revisions and edits are for.

4) Organize

General format of an essay The general format of an essay starts off with the intro paragraph, followed by two or three body paragraphs, and ending with a concluding paragraph. It’s up to you how you want to organize the order of your paragraphs. A common one is through chronological order, but you can always write your experiences from least impact to most impactful or in some other order, so long as the ideas flow well from one to the next.If you do choose to write chronologically, there’s no need to write an origin story of what got you initially interested in medicine if that story isn’t a compelling one. There’s nothing wrong with jumping into the middle of your journey and writing from there--we won’t know the difference.

Have a compelling hook - In the intro, you start off with the hook, which is the starting sentence that’s written to engage the viewer. As the name implies, the hook should hook the viewer’s attention and make them want to keep reading. A good way to write a hook is to describe a specific scenario rather than jump into why you want to pursue medicine.

Intro paragraph - This generally includes the thesis, the main idea of your personal statement. Without needing to go into details yet, the reader should have an idea of why you want to pursue medicine within the first paragraph.

Body paragraph - Start off with the topic sentence that touches upon the point you’ll be discussing through the rest of the paragraph. Then you have the body of the paragraph, which is essentially the middle section where you go into details. And then you end with a concluding sentence, wrapping up the ideas that you wrote about in the paragraph.

Concluding paragraph The conclusion should briefly summarize your reasons for wanting to go into medicine. A nice way to tie it up would be to connect your conclusion back to some other part of your essay, or to expand upon an idea--but doing so without bringing up any new ideas.

5) Ensure fluidity - With each new paragraph or idea, you want to make sure that you have a proper transition. For example, common ones are “Furthermore,” “On the other hand,” etc. Just something to indicate that you’re either elaborating on a topic or going into another topic.You can also use chronological transitions, such as “Once I moved away for college,” “When I first started working as a CNA,” etc. Regardless of what transition you use, the idea here is to connect different topics so that you’re not jumping from one to the next and confusing the reader.Furthermore, another way to ensure fluidity is to write in the same tense. So you don’t want to jump from past tense to present tense and back again. And of course, once you’re done writing, you want to get rid of any grammatical errors because that can undermine the reading experience as well.

6) Be aware of your audience

Avoid controversial topics - Just as people are advised not to bring politics into the workplace, you have to be wary of the topics you choose to discuss in your personal statement. For instance, abortion is a hotly debated topic in healthcare. Regardless of where you stand on it, writing about an abortion case may upset some readers.Think about how your personal statement would read from the perspective of an admissions committee. Since you don’t know who’ll be reading your essay, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Don’t use medical jargon - Yes, there will be some admissions committee members that are physicians, but there are others that are researchers or other faculty. Don’t use medical jargon unless you explain what those terms mean. Along the same lines, unless it’s clear that the majority of readers would understand what you’re saying, make sure you elaborate on any complex ideas or words.

If using acronyms, write them out first - Not everyone will know what a PA or an MA or a CNA is. So it’s best to first write out a physician assistant, medical assistant, certified nursing assistant, etc. After writing out the full title, then you can add parentheses afterwards to denote the use of abbreviations from now on. This will ensure you don’t confuse any readers.

7) Show rather than tell, and be specific

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Any applicant can say they’re kind and compassionate in a personal statement, but not everyone has experiences showing that they embody these qualities. Describe your actions and allow the readers to understand the positive qualities you possess without explicitly saying them. Oftentimes, the stronger message lies in between the lines.

Furthermore, by being specific and retelling a patient encounter, you add a unique story to your personal statement. Many students have similar experiences. The problem is that many of the lessons they learned will be the same: they learned about the value of connecting with patients, the importance of teamwork, etc. By telling the reader what you learned or why you’re passionate, you risk losing yourself amidst the mass of other applicants who can say the exact same thing.

By writing about a specific patient encounter, you’re able to describe an experience that is solely unique to you and let the lessons speak for themselves. After all, a million people can work as a medical assistant, but each one will have a different experience. The way you write about and show this experience will be how you make your personal statement stand out from the rest.Tips on how to show rather than tell:

Focus on objective statements - Avoid talking about emotions explicitly, like saying something was done “with excitement,” “with sadness,” etc. With excitement or with sadness doesn’t paint a clear picture because people show emotions in different ways. Instead, use commonly known actions that are used to express emotions to show these emotions rather than explicitly describing them.

Avoid adverbs; instead, use strong verbs - For instance, instead of saying “He angrily took back the paper.” You can say “He ripped the paper out of my hands.” Use different verbs to denote positive or negative emotions rather than explicitly saying what you or someone else felt.

Elaborate on relevant descriptions - Describe the scene so that the reader can get a clear sense of what’s going on. One way to do this is to include sensory details--what did the environment look like? Smell like? Taste like? Feel like? Sound like? You don’t need to include descriptions for all of the senses, but if you’re struggling to think about what details you can include, answering those questions in your writing can help you describe a scenario.

However, you only want to elaborate on relevant descriptions. Just writing about the color of the wall or whether someone smelled nice without relating it to the story you’re trying to tell doesn’t exactly strengthen any points. And when every word counts, you want to make sure that you’re either using your words to answer the prompt or strengthen your story. Otherwise, revise it.

8) Incorporate variety

Sentence variety - Many of the personal statements that I’ve read are riddled with run-on sentences. I understand that you have many ideas that you want to elaborate upon, but you can still do that by using appropriate semicolons and commas, and dividing long sentences into two or more shorter ones. This is especially true when describing a patient encounter or a scenario that’s filled with action.

Experience variety - Taking care of patients is a major component of medicine, but there are other components as well. If you’ve already discussed clinical experience in one paragraph, don’t be afraid to talk about research experience, volunteer experience, or other experiences so long as they relate back to the prompt. They give you the opportunity to display other facets of your personality and your reasons for wanting to pursue medicine, as well as add more diverse and interesting components to your personal statement.

9) Don’t be repetitive - I often read essays where the author writes about their job duties or that they learned about the different parts of the heart in their anatomy class. Don’t tell me about anything that can be found in your resume, your activities section, or any other part of the medical school application. Each individual section of your application is an opportunity to showcase a different side of you. Don’t waste that opportunity by reiterating the same information that can be found elsewhere. By doing that, you’ll also bore your reader.

10) Don’t speak negatively

Don’t speak negatively of any healthcare provider A common example I see of why someone wants to go into healthcare is that they were a patient themselves or knew someone who was a patient, and the physician in charge of their care didn’t treat them well. So then they’re like I want to go into medicine because I was upset about my lack of proper care, and I want to become a doctor so that I can do better and ensure everyone gets treated well.By writing this as your reason, you’ve just implicitly revealed yourself to be petty and/or resentful. No one wants a doctor who chose to enter this profession just so that they could show they were better than other people.

If that truly is your reason for wanting to pursuing medicine, think of something that that physician did well that may have also inspired you. For example, maybe you thought they were impatient and had a short temper with you (don't mention this part though), but you were impressed with how quickly they were able to diagnose and treat you. Or maybe there was another physician you admired.

Focus on what they did well, and how that made a difference in your life and set you on the path to recovery. Concentrate on what was done properly and what positive emotions that doctor’s actions elicited, and use those reasons to explain why you want to be a doctor who can do the same for future patients.

Don’t speak negatively of yourself Another common introduction I see is how the applicant didn’t know what they wanted to do for the majority of their life or that they hadn’t always wanted to be a doctor unlike their pre-med peers or that their parents forced them into it but they eventually grew to be passionate about it.

The prompt asks why you want to be a doctor, not why you didn’t want to be a doctor and then changed your mind. Giving admissions the idea that you were pressured into this profession and don’t actually care about patients but instead just want to make money, you’re painting yourself in a negative light as an applicant. Remember, you want the reader to like you and to think you would become a good doctor. Be honest about your mistakes and shortcomings, but don’t focus on your negative traits.

Expanding upon the notion of not speaking negatively of yourself, you want to lead with positive phrases. For example, you would lead with the negative by saying “I was sad, but my resolve strengthened over time.” Instead, you can say “My resolve strengthened to replace my distress.” It’s a slight difference, but it shines a better light on you by highlighting the positive aspects first. Take any chance you can to emphasize your positive qualities and encourage the reader to think of you as someone they would want to accept to their school.

Don’t speak negatively of others - Don’t write about patients as though you’re above them. As a healthcare professional, you have the opportunity to help others in need, but that doesn’t make you superior in any way. This particularly applies to talking about those with different physical / mental abilities.

11) Discussing challenges

Don’t make it a sob story - Whatever negative experience you had, write about it in a sentence or two. Don’t make it a sob story. Everyone has failed or struggled sometime in their life. You writing about a terrible experience doesn’t set you out from anyone else. Instead, write about what you learned from that experience, and what you consequently did as a result of that lesson.

If, however, the hardship you experienced was related to medicine, then you can write more about it. For instance, I’ve read quite a few essays of applicants who struggled financially or lived in underprivileged communities. Because of that, they were able to get a better understanding of how healthcare tends to be of poorer quality in those communities, and that understanding subsequently inspired them to want to be a doctor so that they can provide quality care to their own communities. You still want it to be rather short and concise when you describe your own challenges so that it doesn’t become a sob story, but you can elaborate more on what you learned and how that made you a more empathetic person or how that inspired you to want to pursue medicine.

Don’t write about anything you wouldn’t be willing to discuss in interviews - Anything that you include in your personal statement and med school application is fair game for interviews. If an interviewer has taken the time to read through your entire application, then it’s only fair that they get to ask you for clarification on any part of that application. So if talking about a certain challenge will bring back too many negative emotions and make it hard for you to maintain your composure during the interview, don’t mention that challenge in your personal statement or application.

12) Be concise and deliberate

Make the word limit count. Everybody has enough life experience to write more than the word limit allows while still remaining concise. With every sentence that you write, ask yourself: “Does this answer the prompt or is it at least relevant to the prompt? Does this strengthen my story?” If the answer is no for either of those two questions, then delete or rewrite that sentence or paragraph.

Don’t rewrite the same thing - For example, don’t write “In my opinion, I think.” You’re using different words to essentially say the same thing, and as a result, you’re not being resourceful with your word count. On that note, don’t even include phrases like “In my opinion” or “I think.” Instead of saying “I think it’s important that all patients are taken care of,” you can say “It’s important that all patients are taken care of.” Something being important is a matter of opinion and clearly not a fact. So the “I think” is implied and you don’t need to explicitly say it.

Be aware of your word choice - You can use different words to say similar things, but even words that are synonyms can be different in regards to the tone they set. For example, “I crashed into his car” implies a more severe accident than “I hit his car” or “I bumped into his car.” Even though they all tell the reader that one car drove into another car, the tone of each description is different.

Don’t use flowery language - Admissions committees can tell when you’ve essentially just puked up all over your personal statement. Don’t use any complex terms when simpler ones will do just fine. It’s not your expansive vocabulary that will impress them, but rather, how you choose to write.

Include patient names - For privacy reasons, you may want to change a patient’s name. However, you don’t want to say Patient X. People connect with names, not by being called “some guy” or “some girl,” but by the name that they’ve had their whole life.Similarly, you don’t want to say “the patient” or “Patient X” because that takes away any personal connection that the reader may feel with this patient. And remember, humans are, at the end of the day, emotional creatures. Readers will be more likely to remember a personal statement that resonated on a personal level with them.

Furthermore, going back to being concise, you can just write quotations around the patient name to indicate that that’s not their real name. You don’t need to say “The patient, who we’ll call Annie.” Just write “Annie” in quotations the first time you write her name.

13) Make logical conclusions

Creativity vs cohesion - There’s nothing wrong with creativity. When done right, it can really make a personal statement more unique and interesting to read. However, you want to avoid creativity for the sake of creativity--remember that regardless of what you write about or how you write about it, your words should always relate back to medicine and why you want to get into medical school.

Make connections for the reader rather than expecting them to do this themselves

Don’t write about an example or a patient encounter and assume the lesson or what you gained from that experience is evident to the reader. It’s important that you explain the lessons you learned or the impact you made, especially if you’re making bold claims for either of these components.

Don’t be the hero

Small interactions with other people can make a really big impact on their lives, but this is often rare. When you think about the day-to-day interactions in your life, chances are there aren’t many moments that stand out to you. And that’s the nature of how our brain works--if everything was important, nothing would be important because that would take too much cognitive effort to compute. So don’t write about your interactions as if you completely changed a patient’s life.

14) Rewrite and recheck

Get feedback from various people Get feedback from friends, family, etc. It may not be a bad idea to ask a willing acquaintance for their opinion as well as they’d be less biased. If you know someone in the healthcare field or someone who majors in English or writing, that may be beneficial as either of those parties will have had experience with this.

You want to be receptive to their criticism and always express your gratitude, but also be aware of the source and the value of the criticism. Just because a suggestion is made doesn’t mean that it’ll be beneficial for you to implement that suggestion, so take time to ponder others’ advice with a grain of salt.

Recheck everything And I do mean everything. Check for grammar, fluidity, organization, etc. Does each sentence make sense? Does each sentence have a purpose? And going back to the most important question you can ask yourself: does it relate back to the prompt?

Take some time away from your personal statement. Similar to how if you spend enough time with another person, you don’t really notice how they change over time. But if you visit a relative who you haven’t seen in awhile, they’ll be like oh my, you’ve gotten fat. Along the same line, when you take time away from your personal statement, you can look at what you’ve written with a fresh perspective and have a better idea of what you can change to improve your essay.

15) If you have space, talk about what you can offer

Medical schools want to admit students that they believe will become good physicians. What positive qualities can you contribute to not only the medical school, but to the medical field as a whole? What lessons can you teach? What ideas and qualities do you want to see more in the field of healthcare?

Alright, those are my tips for writing a strong personal statement. Remember, your personal statement is your chance to highlight your strengths as an individual. Don't give them reason to doubt your desire and/or ability to become a physician.

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