What is a Medical School Personal Statement?
Why do you want to go to Medical School?
This broad but loaded question is essentially what you will be answering in your personal statement—and how you answer will partially determine your entrance into medical school.
You won’t be writing a novel about your entire life. Quite the opposite, in fact. AMCAS applications have a 5,300 character maximum. That equals about 1.5 pages, single-spaced in 12-point Times New Roman font.
5,300 characters is the maximum. You do not need to fill all of the available space. The more clear, focused, and concise you can be, the better.
Scroll below for two medical school personal statement examples that will give you a better understanding of the length, format, and feel of personal statements.
What to Include in a Personal Statement
Medical school statements pose a significant challenge to applicants because they involve self-reflection based on experiences that are unique to each individual.
Your personal statement should include anything you feel did not get covered in the other elements of the application process. The admissions officers will know your grades, transcripts, and classroom-based activities. What else can you share about yourself? Who are you outside of school? What unique life experience or insight made you choose to apply to medical school?
A personal statement is your chance to demonstrate your personality to the admissions officers. It’s not only about what qualifies you to enter medical school. The road to medical school is a long and difficult one. Why have you continued down it?
Admissions officers will be looking for an emphasis on patient care and the value you place on helping people. Demonstrate your compassion. What beyond your academic qualifications proves your ability to heal people as a medical professional?
Tips for Writing a Medical School Personal Statement
Reflect and Ideate
Start thinking and keeping notes about your personal statement months before you begin the application cycle. Take the time to do your own reflecting. Writing in a journal can help you reflect on the events of your life. What brought you to this point? What moments have shaped who you are? How do you feel about it?
You won’t have a perfect personal statement on your first draft. That’s okay. Don’t worry about perfect sentences and polished ideas when you start out.
Get all of your ideas out in a first draft, then cut it down later. Ignore the exact length of the personal statement at first. Don’t limit yourself. Just because you have a character limit doesn’t mean your ideas need to be small. That’s what editing is for.
Use Clear Language
Prioritize clarity in your writing. Find the clearest most direct way to get your points across. You’re not playing scrabble, so don’t worry about using the thesaurus to find the longest, most complicated word. Be clear and concise with your word choice.
School > Educational Institution
Prepare > Lay the groundwork, Endow, or Put in order
Cook > Culinarian
Let It Sit
Give yourself plenty of time when writing your personal statement. It is going to go through several iterations. Ideally, you want to write your personal statement, step away from your computer, and spend some time on something else. When you come back to review your personal statement after a night or a couple of days, you’ll be able to spot mistakes with a clear mind and fresh perspective.
Multiple Edits (Yourself and Others)
Review, review, review, and ask someone else to review too. Ask trusted friends or family to review your statement. Do they think you successfully demonstrated your reasons for applying to medical school?
The editing process should be quite extensive. With all the time and effort you are putting into your MCAT, you wouldn’t want a few silly typos or grammatical errors to be what stands in your way of becoming a medical student. Use online editing tools and consider hiring a professional editor to give it a detailed grammatical review.
Medical School Personal Statement Examples
Use our medical school personal statement examples to better understand the length, format, and feel of personal statements. Keep in mind that each personal statement is different and will reflect the experience of the individual applying for medical school. It’s up to you to determine the story you want to tell and how you will make your personal statement unique to you.
The passing of my grandfather was one of the most difficult experiences I had to cope with as a child. I did not quite understand the significance of his unsuccessful heart surgery, but I was terribly upset after watching my parents react in horror to the news. At that young age, I naively told myself that I would do something so that no one would ever have to die. I recall that moment as my first impulse toward the field of medicine.
My interest in medicine was rekindled in the tenth grade when I took a First Aid-CPR course at a local community college. Several days after completing the class, I used the Heimlich maneuver to save my aunt from choking. Instead of standing by helplessly as she struggled to breathe, I calmly took control of the situation and helped dislodge a piece of food stuck in her throat. Applying my knowledge to help save another person’s life was very gratifying, and it was then that I began to seriously think about medicine as a profession.
To gain a better understanding of the work physicians do, I volunteered at the UCLA Medical Center. As a patient escort, I accompanied patients from admission, to treatment, and eventual discharge. This was my first exposure to the clinical setting, and it was a very satisfying experience. I was later invited to help the hospital prepare for the national accreditation audit by surveying patient safety around the hospital. As a patient safety auditor with Project MAPS, I directly shadowed physicians and caregivers in nearly every unit of the UCLA Medical Center to verify that everyone was following the proper guidelines with respect to patient safety.
My experiences at the hospital taught me that nothing is more emotionally satisfying than using one’s medical expertise to improve another person’s quality of life. Once while in the ER, I watched as doctors stabilized a young man who had been stabbed several in the abdomen, eye, and back. I later saw physicians resuscitate a patient who fell three stories while attempting suicide. The way doctors applied their understanding of physiology and medicine to help these patients fascinated me. One time, I was able to personally aid in helping a patient by serving as a translator between a nurse and her Spanish-speaking patient. Having studied Spanish for seven years at both high-school and university, I was most pleased when I could put my knowledge to good use.
I will never forget the moment during my rounds at the hospital when a physician preemptively canceled a surgery because of insufficient blood supplies. I was so shocked and concerned for the patients that– after donating blood that day– I approached the Student Welfare Commission and helped promote a blood drive to help alleviate the shortage. I increased my involvement with the SWC Blood Drive committee and soon became the Publicity Chair; I served as Director of the organization in the following year. Under my leadership, the SWC Blood Drive obtained more units of blood than ever before, as the annual number of units raised doubled during my tenure. My involvement with the SWC Blood Drive was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life, as it allowed me to directly impact the lives of patients in our local medical community.
While my leadership activities have allowed me to apply my persistence and problem-solving skills to reach immediate goals, my research experience has shown me the value of applying knowledge to solve problems on a more long-term scale. For over two years, I have been working in a research laboratory at UCLA where I have undertaken an independent research project investigating the factors which control the movement of actin thin filaments by myosin. My experience with scientific research has proved extremely exciting and worthwhile. Not only have I been able to contribute to a body of scientific knowledge, but participating in hands-on research has allowed me the opportunity to continue my scientific education outside and beyond the classroom. As a Neuroscience major, I love to learn about the fragile, intricate functions of the human mind and body, and I know that pursuing a career in medicine will afford me the opportunity to continue learning throughout my life.
Pursuit of a career in medicine is a demanding path that requires both a full-time commitment and personal sacrifices. But, after volunteering many hours in the hospital and after speaking with numerous physicians and medical students, I am convinced that medicine is my true calling. In spite of the long-hours and declining state of the healthcare system in our society, I know that I will wake up every morning with excitement and a strong sense of purpose, prepared to utilize all my knowledge and experience to help care for patients. As demonstrated by my academic success, strong work-ethic, and commitment to anything I put my mind to, I am fully prepared to attack the challenges that I may face in medical school and beyond. My compassionate, personable, and positive attitude, in addition to my passion and dedication for the medical field, will enable me to become an outstanding physician.
A doctor named Zabdiel Boylston introduced me to the history of medicine. Actually, his book did. Boylston died 240 years before I first read about his experiments with smallpox inoculations in eighteenth century Boston. Boylston was the first physician to perform the revolutionary procedure on the North American continent. He began experimenting on his own children and slaves when smallpox hit Boston in the spring of 1721, managing to administer 246 successful inoculations by the end of the epidemic in 1722. He recorded his observations in a manual published in 1726. Archivists at Stanford secured an original, and I came across it in the fall of my sophomore year.
I was intrigued by what I read in Boylston’s accounts. I scrounged through old medical pamphlets in search of more information and scoured ragged letters and diaries from the period. Though fall quarter ended and I turned in a paper on what I had found, my glimpse into the life and mind of the doctor had touched a nerve. I was hooked on history. I declared a major in the subject the following quarter and spent the next three years preparing to enter medicine by studying its past.
I was drawn to medicine long before I first picked up Boylston’s manual on smallpox inoculations. As the daughter of two cardiologists, my interest may have begun in utero. My mother paired pregnancy with her final year of training, and much of my upbringing involved watching physicians work. Instead of cartoons, rounding in the CCU occupied most Saturday mornings. I often did homework to the sound of slurping heart valves as my father read cardiac echo-doplers on the family VCR. By age seven, I wore old scrubs for pajamas and practiced chest compressions on my younger sisters.
I started at Stanford as a typical premedical student. I enjoyed humanities, but I was drawn to scientific research. Five hours a day spent training with the varsity swim team restricted my schedule significantly, and a major like Biology with large morning lectures seemed the logical choice. The summer after my freshman year, I studied cardiac HERG-K+ channels at a nearby biopharmaceutical company while training to qualify for the Olympic Trials in swimming. I began my sophomore year poised to join a lab, but fate intervened. I enrolled in my first history course on a whim, and got my first taste of medical history when I read Boylston’s smallpox manual. Four weeks into the quarter, I traded in my lab coat for a cubby at Green Library.
My desire to become a physician today is stronger than ever. History taught me the roots of modern medicine and, in so doing, helped me better appreciate it. I studied research and innovation from the scientists who defined them. I read the original publications of Hans Sloane, Robert Koch, and Louis Pasteur. I learned about everything from botany to medical climatology. I wrote an honors thesis on tuberculosis and environmental therapy in nineteenth century California, a project that ultimately won a university prize.
As a historian, I sifted through recollections and personal accounts for information I could use and connect. I constructed case histories. The research that inspired my honors thesis began with the papers of a tubercular Iowan lawyer who came to California in 1876. Using scattered letters and diary entries, I traced the progression of illness from latent infection to full-blown disease. I noted his worsening cough and blood-tinged sputum. I worried when he began lamenting his emaciated frame and worsening insomnia. It didn’t take me long to discover what happened when his correspondence ended abruptly in 1890. I found his obituary in an archived newspaper collection and condolence letters in the papers kept by his wife.
I was moved by the demise of my historical subject, but what bothered me the most was that I couldn’t do anything to help him. Passivity is one of history’s fundamental problems, and one of the most important reasons I want to be a physician. I want to make a difference. I made an impact at Stanford through athletics and community work, but it pales in comparison with what I can do as a doctor. During my senior year, I chose to work with cancer patients at the Stanford Hospital because I could almost always brighten someone’s day. Even in terminal cases, a warm bath or a comforting smile mattered.
I’m glad Zabdiel Boylston introduced me to history. His story and others like it helped me realize the kind of doctor I want to be. Like Boylston and Koch and Pasteur, I want to experiment. I want to innovate. I want to think and study, and I want to build on what others have already accomplished. Biomedical research was something I began after freshman year, and something I’m returning to this year as a postbaccalaureate fellow at the National Institutes of Health, working with Dr. Carolyn Bondy to study sex-linked cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. Beyond a desire to innovate, though, history has given me a better appreciation for the living. I want to work with patients directly, using my skills and abilities to change lives. As much as I love history, I want to work in a profession of action. I could study medicine as a historian, but I could make history as a physician. The choice is easy for me. I pick the latter.
Build A Medical School Application That Stands Out
The Medical School admissions process is confusing, frustrating, and tedious. A high GPA and MCAT does not guarantee a medical school interview. Convincing admissions departments is a subjective process dependent on many different factors.
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