When it comes to writing your personal statement for medicine, having a clear focus and message is key. You’re trying to stand out from hundreds of other applicants, whilst being completely honest and true to yourself.
Below I have outlined my top five tips for writing your personal statement, and how to avoid the common pitfalls.
Before you begin, make two key lists
I advise every candidate, before they jump straight into writing, to answer a few key questions. The first is to write down why they want to do medicine in list form. Common items in these lists include “I love science”; “I enjoy a challenge”; “I enjoy problem-solving”; “I want to be involved in leadership”; “I want to help others”.
The next task is to build on this list. For every reason you have stated for wanting to do medicine, write next to it what you have done to show this in your life so far. For example, next to “I want to help people”, write all the ways you are doing this, such as “volunteering at a day centre” or whatever it happens to be! Don’t worry if it’s not healthcare related. Any aspect of your life that involves altruism will prove that you do care about other people.
The second essential list is to outline the qualities you have which you want to get across in your personal statement. Common items in this list include “Hard Working”, “Driven”, “Caring”, “Responsible”, “Empathy for others”, “Honesty”, and ideally should be things that will make a good doctor (so maybe keep that bad temper of yours off the list). Again, next to this list write the things you are doing which prove each of these, which can range from experiences to hobbies to past events.
Have a clear, logical structure
Make a clear structure for your personal statement and allocate out your word count accordingly. As with any document, you want it to have an introduction, body and conclusion. The introductory paragraph should outline the most important points you want to get across. Try not to clutter your introduction too much.
Ask yourself “What three things do I want the reader to know about me?”, or sometimes it can be helpful to think in this way, “What three things make me stand out from other applicants?”.
Those key things are your unique selling points. Make sure you get these across in your introductory paragraph. Often, I find it best to start your personal statement with a summary of why you want to do medicine, with a very brief explanation next to each reason how you have proved this in what you have done. The body of the personal statement can expand on these areas more, but you want to convince the reader early on.
The structure of the rest of your personal statement is up to you but try to include sections where you explain what you learned from your work experience, volunteer work and outside interests. Don’t underestimate the importance of hobbies. They will let the reader know you are well rounded and provide excellent interview material. Avoid putting specific music grades (I.e. “I received a distinction in Grade 6 Piano”). The admissions officer is more interested in what you do with your music, or what you have learnt from it (for example, how it helps you handle stress, or how you use it to serve others).
Finally, when you are talking about things you have done, be that Duke of Edinburgh Award, work experience, or volunteering, do more than just stating that you have done these things. The medical school wants to know what you learnt from doing these things.
Back up every statement about yourself
Every applicant claims to have a passion for science and a desire to help others. It’s not good enough to just state this. You need to back it up. For every statement, you make about yourself, or for every reason, you state for wanting to study medicine, tell them something you have done to prove it.
Here’s a simple example:
“I am passionate about science”.
That sounds lovely, but when 500 personal statements say this, you don’t really stand out.
How about this instead?
“My interest in science began through weekly attendance at the science club at school, going on to enter a national chemistry competition and helping to organise the science club meetings.”
This second person sounds like someone I want to interview. I’m convinced they do love science and will thrive in the pre-clinical years (if that is how your medical school is structured). The first person sounds rather generic.
Back everything up with solid factual evidence. You need to prove how you feel about medicine with things that you have done.
Avoid repeating the words “passionate”, “enthused”, “enthralled” and “always”
So many personal statements fall into the trap of saying “I have always enjoyed” or “I have always been enthused by the idea of…”, in an attempt to convince the reader that in some mystical way, medicine is your destiny. Unfortunately, these claims don’t carry much weight, so search for the word “always” after your first draft and analyse every sentence you have used it in to avoid this common mistake! This is the single most effective way to improve the quality of your personal statement. There’s an interesting article from UCAS in the references section which outlines the most frequently overused words and phrases in personal statements- something to avoid.
You can also use the search function after you have written your first draft to see how many times you’ve used other words such as “passionate”, “enthusiastic”, “enthralled”, “compassionate”, “caring”, “captivated” etc. If it’s more than once, edit your document until you have only used these words once, if at all.
Get as much feedback as possible from others
You want to get as much feedback on your personal statement as possible. Get as much critique as you can from your school career adviser, teachers, family and friends. Don’t be afraid to take criticism and improve. Your family will help you keep your personal statement true to you and clear, rather than using impersonal phrases that sound right but aren’t very genuine. If you know any medical students or healthcare professionals, don’t be afraid to send them a copy for their advice.
The key to personal statement success is building on criticism. Your first draft should not be your final version. Keep chipping away at it until it is foolproof, and don’t lose heart.
I promise you, it will be worth it in the end.
1. UCAS (2016), “UCAS shares the most frequently-used opening lines in university applicants’ personal statements”, https://www.ucas.com/corporate/news-and-key-documents/news/ucas-shares-most-frequently-used-opening-lines-university, accessed May 2018