Applicants often dread writing their personal statement. Prospective medical students are repeatedly told complex, confusing and irrelevant information about how to make their application stand out from the crowd. As a result, many are unaware of what medical school admissions tutors are truly looking for, what information to include and how to make sure they are ticking the right boxes.
Giving the best impression of yourself in your personal statement is crucial. Aspiring medical students require a simple and concise explanation of the material that should be included and prioritised, in line with what admissions tutors want to see in their application.
Here are five tips for medical school applicants when constructing their personal statements to aid them in their ambition of gaining admission into the increasingly competitive field of medicine.
1. Ensure it's about you
The first and foremost thing to mention about a personal statement is that it really should be personal! It is surprising how many applicants simply read examples and attempt to imitate what they have just read onto their own writing pad. The personal statement should be specific to you: your motivation, experience, skills, achievements and extracurricular activities should all be your own and written in your own style of writing. That's not to say you can't look at example personal statements to gain inspiration for your writing, however, your personal statement should be unique to yourself.
Whenever you are writing your personal statement, be truthful. Remember, admissions tutors will be reading numerous personal statements so will likely have a keen eye in spotting things which seem to be exaggerated or don't quite match up. Even if you don't have much work experience, you may find speaking to doctors or medical students about what the vocation and studying medicine is like is just as effective, rather than inventing a 2 week placement which may cause problems when asked about in interview. Moreover, the medical profession demands one to uphold a certain level of integrity, of which honesty is an essential part.
2. Demonstrate you are well-rounded
It's definitely commendable getting straight As, or completing your Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award, or being the captain of your district hockey team. However, have you done them all? Showing that you're well-rounded rather than just a one trick pony or someone who is strong in some areas but weak in others may be the thing which makes your personal statement stand out from others.
Knowledge of the profession is vital in order to show genuine interest and valuable insight into your chosen career. Gaining work experience in a clinical setting, reading the Student BMJ and attending medical lectures are all potential methods of illustrating your understanding of medicine to the admissions tutor. Being to be able to establish what you did and further reflect on how this has contributed to your understanding of working in the clinical environment is paramount.
Another hugely important aspect of medicine is altruism. Whether that's volunteering in a care home, helping out at your local charity shop or peer mentoring younger pupils, a selfless desire to serve humanity is a quality which every doctor (or future doctor) should have. Working with people, particularly in a care setting, can demonstrate to the admissions tutor that you possess the many of the attributes required in the profession such as empathy, resilience and teamwork, communication and listening skills.
In addition, showing the admissions tutor that you know how to unwind and relax when necessary is vital in order to prove that you have mechanisms to cope with the demands and intensity of medicine as a career choice. Having hobbies and interests outside of medicine is crucial for a healthy work-life balance, as well as both physical and mental health. Unfortunately, this section is sometimes overlooked by applicants and deemed as being 'less important'.
3. Keep it simple and to the point
Fourteen-hundred characters is not a lot when you want to prove why you deserve a place to fulfil your dream of studying medicine. Therefore, neither you nor the admissions tutor has the time or space for unnecessary information in your personal statement. Sentences should be to the point and language need not be over-complicated in an attempt to impress the person reviewing your application. The style and vocabulary used should be of a high, professional standard whilst at the same time be kept simple and easy to read.
Group related subjects into the same paragraph to give your personal statement a logical flow and direction. Varied sentence length will help hold the interest of the reader and can add impact to your writing if utilised correctly. Be sure to check for spelling and grammatical errors; they are inexcusable at this stage and have the ability to taint even the best of personal statements. When you reread what you have written in your personal statement, it should be concise, well-refined and have a natural progression from one topic to the next.
4. Be enthusiastic!
Ensure your passion comes across to the admissions tutor who will most likely be reading through dozens of monotonous personal statements. How excited are you about this opportunity to study medicine? How badly do you really want to get into medical school? What does becoming a doctor mean to you? Your personal statement needs to convey your enthusiasm in a compelling yet controlled fashion.
Enthusiasm to study medicine and become a doctor should also transpire as commitment in the endeavours you have embarked on. Medicine is no walk in the park: it's a long haul and requires a serious amount of dedication. In order to prove that you are ready, evidence of previous long term activities is fundamental. Demonstrating commitment is crucial in showing the admissions tutor that you have the perseverance, determination and devotion the profession requires from you.
5. Start with a hook and end on a high
Be sure to explain your own motivation for applying to medicine. What has brought you to choose this vocation? Did a certain experience in your life inspire you? Did you try other things and find that this was what suited you best? Is there any reason you find this profession unique compared to others? It is best to place the reasons for your application to medical school at the beginning of a personal statement-it catches the eye of the admissions tutor and helps sets the scene for the remainder of your personal statement. The opening paragraph need not be totally exclusive and different from others, however, it should demonstrate a degree of introspection and thought.
The ending to your personal statement should be short but memorable. See it is a final opportunity to explain to the admissions tutor why they should choose you over other candidates to award a place into medical school. If your personal statement is viewed as borderline, a powerful closing statement may be enough to tip the balance in your favour. Summarise the main points you have previously mentioned in your personal statement and relate it to medicine-end on a positive note to leave that lasting impression.