Many pre-medical students tend to write off the personal statement as unimportant and secondary to MCAT score, GPA, and extracurricular activities. While it is true that these parameters probably hold more weight, the personal statement can make or break an application. My numbers are not exactly stellar and my extracurricular activities are slightly above average at best. However, I believe that I received interviews and acceptance to many schools because of the passion and drive I portrayed in my personal statement. Thus, I would encourage applicants applying for the Class of 2017 to start writing NOW.
The biggest mistake that pre-medical students make when writing the personal statement is to create a prose form of their resume. This is boring and redundant, since most of what is said in the personal statement is most likely in the extracurricular activities section of the AMCAS application. The personal statement should be, well, personal. For example, I began my personal statement discussing my grandfather’s battle with cancer and how if affected my desire to go into medicine, primarily oncology. Later in my statement, I wrote about my experiences shadowing doctors abroad and I what I learned about the daily struggles of a medical practitioner. As you can see, the purpose is to be reflective and pensive rather than merely descriptive.
So how to begin? First try some brainstorming exercises. Before you can accurately sell yourself to medical schools, you need to fully know and understand yourself. Make a list of questions and answer them without holding back any thought or feeling. Why do you really want to go into medicine? What have you done to learn more about the medical profession? What did you learn by doing this? What was the most challenging moment in your life and how did you learn from it? What separates you from the other medical school applicants? Answers to these questions may give you ideas for what to write about in your personal statement.
Once you have chosen topics to write about that strongly portray your desire to go into medicine, now you need to tie these thoughts together. Find a theme so your personal statement flows and is coherent. The theme does not need to be extremely unique and distinct. For instance, my theme was my desire to go into medicine and how various moments in my life influenced this. Although the stories I discussed were extremely different from each other, I related each to the theme and was able to tie everything together at the end. Think of your personal statement as a story. It should be entertaining to read and fluid from beginning to end.
Once your first draft is finished, find someone you trust to read and provide opinions. A good rule of thumb is to have three sets of eyes to edit your personal statement: one reader who knows you well personally, one reader who has knowledge of the medical school admissions process, and one reader who is a grammar freak and able to critique your sentence structure. In my personal experience, I had my parents, my pre-health advisor, and a Writing Fellow from my university read my draft. When in the revising stage, it is important to know that your statement will never be perfect. Although you may fix everything your editors deemed unsatisfactory, there will still be one sentence or idea that someone will not like. The key is revising until you feel your statement strongly and truthfully reflects your desire to go into medicine while remaining fluid and making for an easy and enjoyable read.
I started the writing process in January and had my final draft completed in May. Writing a personal statement is definitely a long process, but hard work and the willingness to be brutally honest and personal pays off. Many of my interviewers said they enjoyed reading my personal statement or that something I mentioned resonated strongly with them. Thus, a well-written personal statement makes a great impression and provides conversation topics during the interview. Not only does the personal statement help in the admissions process, but it also allows one to reflect on life and the journey into medicine, allowing for a transformative and illuminating experience.
Lauren is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in Molecular Biology. She will be attending medical school next year. From a scientific perspective, Lauren is interested in cancer, infectious diseases, and global health. Her hobbies outside of medicine include reading, traveling, participating in triathlons, and enjoying ethnic cuisine. Follow her on Twitter.