Updated: Mar 20, 2022
“Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school”. That is the prompt that you are given when you are applying to medical school. And then you are given the next detail: you only have 5,300 characters to answer. When it was time for me to approach the personal statement, my major struggles were figuring out how to best articulate my story in only a page and a half. As I started writing and fighting through the writer's block, I found myself going through draft after draft, 17 drafts in total to be exact. Crafting my personal statement was no easy task and I realized while writing mine and now while editing others, that there are common mistakes that are easy to make.
This is why I am writing this blog as a guide to the personal statement. I'll be sharing the techniques and resources that helped me write mine.
What is the personal statement?
The personal statement is part of your primary application to medical schools which you submit through AMCAS. AMCAS is basically the Common App for medical schools. I'll make a separate post about how to fill out the rest of this application. It includes your demographic information, your parent information, grades, your MCAT score, up to 15 activities, and then the personal statement.
Your personal statement is the opportunity to tell your story and answer the main question "why do you want to be a physician and go into medicine."
My Final Personal Statement
Deciding to share this statement online was not an easy choice as the personal statement is truly personal. Writing this statement can be daunting and it is even more daunting to share it publicly. However, I had a few reasons that led me to share it with you all.
First, writing a strong personal statement is not an easy task and when I was writing mine it truly helped me to be able to read or listen to examples. I'm passionate about helping other students be successful in achieving their goals of attending medical school so I wanted to add to the repertoire of successful statements that are available for free.
Second, there is power in story telling and I am proud to share and document my journey and my story. I have been so blessed to have received multiple acceptances and I hope that this will inspire others to share their authentic stories when they apply to medical school. See the video above to hear my personal statement and you can read my statement below:
Breaking Down My Statement
I think a strength of my personal statement is that it was able to capture who I am as a person and some of the key experiences that not only led me to medicine, but that also made me who I am today.
I knew I wanted to talk about my upbringing in St. Martin and I knew I would tell Dimitri's story because it truly was the experience that sparked my interest in medicine.
I remember one of those late nights, sitting in my bed, reflecting on my childhood and reasons I want to go into medicine. Growing up on the island, bush tea is such a huge part of our culture and as I described in my statement it was what you drank whenever you were feeling unwell. By talking about bush tea in the simple story I told, I was able to share some insight into the culture I grew up in and this was a major discussion point in my interviews.
I think another strength of my personal statement is that I make clear connections between the stories I am telling and why I want to go into medicine. In the second paragraph, I introduce several important insights into my journey. I describe the big live changes from moving to losing my cousin to cancer. My great-grandmother was another huge inspiration for me, as I wrote about her I focused on how she impacted me and how I was raised to be a giving person who always helps those around me. I believe this introduction provided information about my background in a concise way.
In the next paragraph, I start to connect the bridge between these life experiences and medicine. I talk about my first clinical experience and how being in the clinical environment felt "right" to me - I wanted to learn more and to provide a deeper level of care. At this point my personal statement is progressing through my story, I gave my background as to where my spark in medicine came from and now I'm sharing how I was able to confirm this desire.
Middle of the statement - clinical experiences
In the middle two paragraphs, I talked about the key experiences that really furthered my desire to me a doctor. One of my key experiences was volunteering at a local clinic for pregnant women, in this role I was able to apply my passions for women's health and my interest in diminishing health disparities in my communities. I expressed this in this statement by describing the impact that experience had on me. I decided not to tell a story about one patient in particular because I did this in the most meaningful essay for my activity description.
For the next paragraph, I went back and forth with different versions of what I which experience I wanted to talk about. I had some drafts where I talked about my dad and discussed mental health in the Caribbean...but this was ultimately too personal and vulnerable for the statement that would be read by so many people at each medical school. I also had drafts where I discussed my leadership roles in Charles R Drew Pre-Health Society and how I was passionate about increasing representation in medicine...but this didn't fit either.
I finally figured out that, yes there are so many other stories that make up my journey, but the statement needs to be focused on why I want to be a doctor. I realized that because I decided to discuss health on a community level at the pregnancy aid center, that I should speak to one of my meaningful experiences where I was able to shadow the doctor-patient relationship and explain why I see myself in the role of the physician. I did just this as I told the story about "John" when I shadowed in the Children's Heart Clinic.
My conclusion is one of my favorite parts of the statement because I decided to be very bold with my beliefs and vision of what I see myself accomplishing in medicine. I also used the conclusion to restate some of the key parts of my story and I think it was overall a strong ending that left the reader feeling like "woah this was a powerful statement".
Overall, the goal of the statement is to explain why you want to go into medicine and explain your story. I truly feel like the best statements are one that are fully genuine and tell your story as honestly as you can.
When and how to start writing the personal statement?
I first wrote a draft of my personal statement in my junior year, about a year before I would be applying to medical school because it was part of my health professional writing class. This essay was completely different than the statement you read above, but it was helpful to have a place to get started. I really got started on my statement after I took my MCAT in January and dedicated time from February to May to continue to work on it. My advice is to give yourself at least a couple months to work on the statement and give time for people to be able to edit the statement and send you back your reviews.
How do you start writing the statement?
My advice to start writing the statement is not think about the statement at all. Don't think about what you think your hook would be and don't think about paragraphs. Instead, my advice is to get a blank sheet of paper and just allow yourself to brainstorm why you want to go into medicine. What stories and experiences come to mind? I think doing this without the constriction of trying to format things into paragraphs will help you to dive deep and choose your most salient stories.
Here was some of my early brainstorming:
How personal is too personal?
So although the personal statement is personal, it does not and a lot of times will not capture every single part of your story. There are also experiences that may be too personal to include in your statement. As you see above, one of the stories that was also important to my pursue of medicine was my dad and I originally had a paragraph about him in one of my drafts. Then I also got some really great advice by a medical student that maybe it was too personal to include since it is something that really only my closest friends and family know about, she asked me "are you ok with entire admissions committees reading this" and "are you able to discuss this in interviews without getting too emotional."
In the end, I decided to remove this paragraph from my statement and instead I discussed my dad's mental health, difficulties dealing with it as a child and even now as a young adult, and mental health stigma in the Caribbean on a larger scale in my interviews.
You might have a similar story that is also impactful to you in your journey to pursue medicine. There is so much more to why I want to be a doctor than what fit into the 5,300 words but I think the purpose of the statement is to share your story in a concise and convincing way. I found that the secondary statements and the interviews were amazing opportunities to discuss more of these reasons. I talked about my interests in women's health, in improving health in the Caribbean, mental health, health disparities, anti-racism, and more during my interviews.
For more about the medical school interviews, check out my blog below:
What resources did you use to write the statement?
One of my favorite resources that helped me to craft my statement are Dr. Gray's videos! He has this amazing series called application renovation where he goes over applications where the applicant did not get into medical school and gives advice on how to improve them. I watched all of those videos and got to see the things that I should or should not do in my application. I also read his personal statement book which included examples of personal statements!
Who should edit your statement?
Personally, I had several people edit my statement. I had some family members who helped me edit my drafts. I also had medical students review my statement as part of the AMEC and Empower conferences. Finally, my pre-med advisor gave me some feedback as well.
I think it is great to have people in the following categories read your statement:
People who know you well - they can let you know if your personality is coming through in your statement
People who don't know you at all - these people can look at the statement through the eyes of admissions committee and try to get a sense of who you are
People in the medical field - accepted students, medical students, medical faculty or admissions staff, and doctors. They all either went through the admissions process or help to review statements and know what a good statement should look like.
Should you talk about research in the statement?
In some of my early drafts I talked about research, especially because I spent a lot of time doing research in my Gemstone for four years in undergrad. I also know that I want to incorporate research into my career as a physician. So some of my early drafts included this paragraph:
Overall, I found that talking about research was not as convincing to describe why I want to be a doctor was it was to talk about my clinical experiences. I also took out discussing the MD/MPH in my statement which was a good decision because I had to write a whole other statement for MD/MPH programs. (Let me know if you'd like to see that statement!) In addition, many secondary prompts may ask you to talk about what your interests in medicine are and what you plan to see yourself doing 10-15 years down the line. In those essays I talked more about being a physician who does research, outreach, public health and advocacy. I still touched on these in my personal statement but in a more condensed way - keeping the focus on clinical medicine.
How do you know if the statement is done?
After all of the editing, the brainstorming, and the writing...how did I know when my statement was done? I think I got to a point where I realized that my personal statement will never be perfect but that it did the job well. The statement got to a point where every time someone read it they were able to understand why I wanted to go into medicine and I got the response "I would accept you to medical school."
It is important to apply early to medical school and so you don't want to keep editing a statement until the end of time. My advice is start early and keep working on it on a consistent basis for a couple months.
Dos and Don't
DO start with a hook to intrigue the reader
DON'T tell a dramatic story to try to impress the reader, only tell the stories that are meaningful to you
DON'T make negative statements. Don't talk about yourself or others in a negative way.
DO reflect deeply on your experiences and have strong takeaways
DON'T tell instead of showing. It is boring to read and comes across as very generic instead of really sharing your story
DO read example statements! Get an idea of what a successful statement sounds like.
DON'T be significantly under the word count, you should have more than enough to say about why you want to be a doctor
DO write in 1st person and focus the statement on you. Don't spend too much time talking about other people
DO include stories about the clinical experiences you had
Personal Statement Webinar
For more advice and tips about the personal statement, watch our recording of our webinar above. The Pre-Med Webinar series is hosted by Morgan McManus and Kyeisha Laurence. Both Morgan and I have had very successful cycles so we decided to team up and share all the information that helped us to be successful. Join us each month for a different medical school topic! Go to stylebykye.com/mentorship for more information about upcoming webinars.
I am also offering free personal statement edits (I accept donations), you can go to stylebykye.com/mentorship for more information or to sign up!
As I've said, the personal statement truly is daunting and it takes a lot of work, editing, and hours typing at your word document to get it just right, but you can do it! I hope listening to my statement, reading this blog, and our workshop gives a better understanding of the personal statement and a starting point for those just starting to write or inspires someone facing writers’ block.
And I hope you are inspired to go out and tell your story as I told mine! Your story matters and everything that makes you who you are and got you to this point is what shapes the amazing doctor you will be one day.