Personal Statement for Medical and Dental Schools

Last updated: 8/08/2021

Introduction

Your UCAS personal statement is an essay about yourself. 

It’s part of your UCAS application and can be seen by all your universities. It is designed to give admissions tutors an idea of the person behind the application. 

Getting into medical school is a long road and your personal statement is written after much of the journey has already taken place. For this reason, it should be full of what you learnt and reflections.

Medify’s ‘personal statement guide for medicine and dentistry’

The October 15th UCAS application deadline is nearly here. Have you perfected your Personal Statement yet?

Use Medify’s Personal Statement Course for A-to-Z guidance on how to frame your experiences and demonstrate your suitability for medicine or dentistry. Complete your ready-to-submit PS in 3 days!

Plus: take advantage of our PS Content Review Service with structured feedback from two independent expert reviewers. Get feedback within five days or your money back!

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How is my medicine/dentistry personal statement used?

  • Selection for interview:

The personal statement can be used to rank students prior to their being selected for interview.

  • Getting to know you:

Admissions tutors want to understand your motivations for becoming a doctor and why you think they should select you. They will see applications from hundreds of people: and the personal statement is a way for you to stand out.

  • Information for interviewers

The personal statement is a resource for interviewers, giving them material for questions about your experiences and , as well as activities you’ve mentioned.

What are the admissions tutors looking for?

The Medical Schools Council's core values for medicine
Dental Schools Council's core values for dentistry

You don’t have to get every single one of these skills down in your personal statement but you should try to mention as many as possible while still making it sound natural and creating flow.

How is your personal statement marked?

Medical and dental schools will differ in how they mark their personal statements. However, each school’s markers will use fixed marking criteria to ensure applicants are fairly marked, and these will align closely with the core values of the Medical and Dental Schools Councils. This means the marking criteria can be predicted and will generally break down into three overall areas.

  • Commitment to the area

They will look at your motivation to study medicine/dentistry, your understanding of medicine/dentistry as a career, and your work experience.

  • Aptitude for medicine/dentistry

They will look at your community activities, leadership qualities, evidence of working in a team and your general interests.

  • Academic ability

They will look at your GCSE results, predicted/actual grades, and academic distinctions.

Here’s an example of the marking criteria previously used by University College London for medicine:

Criteria

Strong

Moderate

Weak

Motivation to study medicine

Understading of medicine as a career

Community activities

Evidence of leadership

Evidence of ability to work in a team

General interest

How long does the personal statement need to be?

The limit for your personal statement is 4,000 characters or 47 lines, whichever comes first. This limit is firm: your application simply can’t be submitted if your personal statement is too long. You really have to make every word count!

For good and bad examples of UCAS personal statements, read ‘Medical school personal statement examples’ or 'Dental school personal statement examples'.

What does a good personal statement for medicine and dentistry contain? A Checklist:

▢ Motivation to study medicine/dentistry

You need to show the admissions tutors why you really want to study your chosen course. This means having passion and a deep reflection and is most powerful when tied into your personal experience.

▢ Commitment to study medicine/dentistry

You need to show that you’re committed to medicine or dentistry. 5+ years is a long time and medicine/dentistry is a lifelong career. You can show your commitment by discussing extra reading and work experience.

▢ Key personal attributes 

Get a few important attributes into your personal statement, such as: communication, teamwork and empathy.

▢ Any work experience

Write about your work experience, what you did, and more importantly, what you learnt from it.

▢ Any voluntary work

Talking about voluntary work is a way to demonstrate your empathetic side. 

▢ Academic achievements

Be proud of what you’ve achieved and talk about it. Talk about how the courses you studied at A-Level or equivalent grew your interest in medicine or dentistry.

▢ Extra reading

Talk about books, articles and other interesting things you’ve read that fuelled your passion for medicine/dentistry. 

Medify’s Instagram page is dedicated to informing you of wider medical issues, including reading and other media such as podcasts. Follow us to get new tips every week.

▢ Extracurricular activities

Sometimes this is easy to overlook when you've got a lot of things to fit into your personal statement, but this is important to mention. 

Healthcare careers can be stressful, and tutors want to see that you have stress-release mechanisms in place to help you cope. 

What shouldn’t I include in my personal statement?

  • Descriptions of feelings

Compare ‘I love working with others’ with ‘I visited a care home every day for 2 months to get a feel for the difficulties the elderly face’. The latter is concrete and specific; the former only uses empty phrases.

  • Long, waffling sentences:

Long sentences dilute the impact of the message; keep it short and avoid repetition, repetition.

  • Sentences like ‘I want to help people...’

This phrase is overused and naive. If you write it, the admissions department will assume you haven’t fully thought about why you want to become a doctor or a dentist.

Show, don’t tell.

  • Family tradition as a motivation for studying medicine or dentistry:

This is not good motivation to study medicine or dentistry. The fact that some members of your family are healthcare professionals will not make you a better doctor or dentist.

Universities want applicants with intrinsic motivation - this means showing why medicine or dentistry is right for you and how your skills and attributes are best suited to it.

  • Any examples which show immaturity

Don’t write, ‘I will be running from one hospital room to another saving lives’. Instead, write about your experience of shadowing a doctor or a dentist and having a realistic understanding of what they do.

  • Apologies for low grades/lack of experience

The personal statement is for you to build yourself up. Use your UCAS reference letter, written by someone in authority, to explain any extenuating circumstances.

  • Controversial topics

For example, abortion or religion. Your reader might have differing views, and you will put them in a difficult position by forcing them to make a decision based on your personal beliefs rather than your ability to become a doctor.

  • Quotes

This is overused and a bit clichéd. It doesn't add anything to your personal statement so it’s best not to include it. 

  • Overuse of metaphors and poetic language:

Don’t waste characters with expressions like 'My passion for studying dentistry is as boundless as the night sky…' You’re applying to study medicine or dentistry, not English literature, and taking up space with sentences like this suggests that you don’t have enough to say about the important things. Keep your statement succinct and to the point.

It’s perfectly ok to be passionate about medicine or dentistry but try to show this through your insight and reflection rather than stating it directly.

  • Listing achievements after achievements:

'I volunteered in my local care home, organised work experience in the ICU of a large hospital, completed my gold Duke of Edinburgh…' Don’t list your achievements. Schools are looking for quality over quantity, so focus on one of these experiences and explore it in more detail - what did you learn about yourself, what skills did you develop, how has your perception changed as a result of this.

Withholding some of your experiences and placements entirely from your statement (if you have more than enough already) means you’ll have more space to focus on the few you choose to include and will give you ammunition in your interview that your assessors might not be expecting.

Why do you want to study medicine or dentistry?

This question is absolutely central to writing your personal statement. Avoid using clichés and give an honest answer. For instance, many students connect this to some childhood event, so you only want to say this if it’s overwhelmingly true and convincing.

Other ideas might be:

  • Your love for practical science
  • A strong desire to help people
  • Work experience that you enjoyed
  • Wanting an empathetic career
  • An ability to problem solve
  • Opportunities for lifelong learning
  • A balance of practical and theoretical learning

But don’t just say 'I love practical science'. Prove it, then link it to your chosen career: 

'I am part of a science club in which we test hypotheses through experimentation. For example, we tested whether there is a correlation between time spent playing video games and eyesight. This experience taught me how to create and test hypotheses in a systematic way.

I saw how I could apply these skills during my work experience at a local GP surgery. I witnessed the doctor making a diagnosis, interpreting the test results and adapting their response based on the evidence. I get a lot of intellectual satisfaction from this type of process and the fact that it is in aid of helping others enhances this.'

When should I start writing my personal statement?

Good things don’t always come to those who wait. 

Preparing a good personal statement takes time and repeated re-drafts. With applications for medicine and dentistry due on 15 October, you should start drafting your personal statement in the summer before Year 13, just after your UCAT exam. It may take several drafts to refine your statement, and the earlier you start, the more time you will have to make improvements.

Personal statements can be hard to write. We have all experienced writer’s block, so start by listing all the things you want to mention and work from there.

How do I structure my personal statement?

How to structure your personal statement

Remember, whatever structure you use for your personal statement, make it punchy and memorable.

How do I reflect deeply on my experience in my personal statement?

When reflecting on an experience ask yourself the following questions:

  • What could I have done better?
  • What did I learn from this?
  • What skills have I developed from this and how?
  • How does this relate to the medical/dental field?
  • How did my decisions affect the people around me?
  • What if I looked at this scenario from another person's perspective, such as that of the patient or the patient’s family?
  • Did anything surprise me?

A good model for reflection is the 'What? So What? Now What?' model:

How to reflect on your experience in your personal statement

How should I format my personal statement?

There are no formatting options on the UCAS site. All personal statements will be the same font and size. The only way you can make it different to someone else's is through writing better content, so focus on that.

Can I copy an old personal statement I found?

Reading some example personal statements can be helpful when you’re getting started or are facing writer’s block.

However, remember that all personal statements submitted to UCAS go through a plagiarism checker. If any part of your personal statement is found to be plagiarised, this information will be passed on to the universities you’ve applied to and could result in your disqualification.

Do I have to be honest in my personal statement? 

A tiny white lie that no one will ever discover?

Don’t do it...

It can be tempting, but don’t. 

Your personal statement isn’t only read by admissions tutors. You can also be asked questions on it by interviewers. 

It doesn't take much for an interviewer to work out that you’re lying. If you’re found to have lied on your personal statement then your application will be rejected.

You wouldn't lie about your grades on your UCAS form or the school that you went to, so don’t lie in your personal statement.

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Once I’ve written my personal statement, what should I do?

You should take care in writing and editing your personal statement as there is a lot riding on it. Show it to your teachers for their input and advice. Then rewrite it again and again until you have perfected it.

  • Editing

There is always room for improvement. You should give it to at least two or three people for their input.

An English teacher would be helpful for checking your grammar and use of English. 

Your reference writer can be another useful person to proofread your personal statement, as they can fill in the gaps in your application with their reference.

  • Pitch and tone

Make sure your pitch and tone are appropriate; your statement should be personal and specific to make you memorable while avoiding the use of abbreviations or slang.  

Imagine you’re the admissions tutor and use our sample marking criteria above to help you. Are you impressed by what you’re reading? If not, then go back and re-draft.

  • Print a copy

Keep a copy of your statement close by throughout your application process, even after you have finished and submitted it. Your interviewers can base their questions on your personal statement, so you need to be able to recall what you have written quickly and effectively.

A student writing her personal statement

Cecilia – University of Liverpool

‘After writing my personal statement, I gave it to several people I trusted to read it - my parents, close friends and career advisor. 

I received generally positive feedback. However, since they were people who knew me well, they observed my PS was too rigid and wooden, and my enthusiasm for this career path wasn’t shining through. I scrapped my initial PS, only retaining the salient points which I was confident about. 

Then, I took a step back and reflected on my work experience more deeply and went on to produce a more heartfelt personal statement which embodied my passion leaps and bounds more than my first version. 

Needless to say I felt more confident speaking about my experiences during my interview, which was based on the new and improved version of my PS.’

Writing a personal statement for Oxford or Cambridge

The focus of a personal statement in this case should be academics. Oxford University recommends an 80:20 split between academics and extracurricular activities. 

Don’t just list the qualifications you have, and don’t mention any qualifications you’ve mentioned elsewhere in your UCAS application, like your GCSE grades. 

Talk about:

  • Books

If you’ve read any books related to medicine, talk about them. Discuss what you learnt, what interested you and your further reading on any topics mentioned in the book. 

Oxford also has a recommended reading list. It’s not compulsory, but if you have the time, read a couple of books from there that interest you.

Medify’s top books to read before medical school

  • Work Experience

Be sure to take a reflective approach to your work experience. Discuss the personal attributes that you have developed. You can also discuss any specific clinical cases that interest you as well as any further research you have done.

  • Interest beyond the classroom

Discuss how you’ve done further reading on topics studied at school. You could reflect on how these relate to medicine.

  • The selection criteria

Oxford has specific selection criteria, which are as follows:

Oxford Selection Criteria

Addressing attributes from this list will make it clear to admissions tutors that you’re suited to study medicine.

You can see an admissions tutor’s analysis of a personal statement for medicine here.

Personal statements for Graduate-Entry Medicine 

Graduate-Entry Medicine (GEM) is extremely competitive, more so even than Direct Entry. You have had more time to build life experience and demonstrate your aptitude for medicine, so your personal statement needs to reflect that.

Differences between Direct Entry and Graduate Entry Medicine Personal Statements

  • Why now?

As well as demonstrating a motivation for medicine, you need to be able to justify why you’re deciding on medicine now. 

If you’re coming from an unrelated field like finance, then this becomes especially important. You need to convince tutors that your interest in medicine isn’t just a passing phase.

  • Maturity

Having already undertaken a degree, you need to show a deeper level of reflection based on a richer repertoire of experience, as well as a firm understanding of medicine/dentistry as a career and how your personal attributes align. 

  • Writing style

The candidates you will be competing with have taken one or more degrees. This will mean you all have much more experience with formal writing. 

As a result, it is doubly important that the quality of writing is of a consistently high level with an appropriate style.

  • Previous degree and qualifications 

Reflect on your previous degree(s). Discuss what you learnt from it/them and what skills it/they helped you to develop.

FAQs in writing personal statement

FAQs

How do I write my personal statement if I’m an international student?

As an international student, you should aim to mention everything discussed here. Additionally, you should also discuss why you want to study medicine or dentistry in the UK and how you think that will benefit you. You can also reflect on the difference in healthcare systems between your country and in the UK.

Information for International Students

If I’m taking a gap year, do I need to talk about it in my personal statement?

If you’re deferring your entry so that you can take a gap year, you should mention it in your personal statement. Talk about why you’re taking a gap year, what you’re going to do and what you hope to learn from it. This will show admissions tutors that you’re an organised individual.

If you’ve already taken a gap year and are now applying, you should mention what you did during your gap year and what you learnt from it. The most important part of all that you write is how you reflect on it.

How many personal statements do I write?

You only write one personal statement, and the same one goes to all the universities you apply to, irrespective of the course, so don’t mention anything university-specific like the name of the medical school you like.

I’m applying to another course, as well. Should I do anything differently?

It can be hard to write a personal statement for two separate courses. If medicine or dentistry is really what you want to do then you need to give it your best shot. Focus your application entirely on medicine or dentistry. Sometimes if the rest of your application is strong, you’ll still get an offer from your fifth option.

Should I talk about my grades and qualifications?

You don’t need to mention your qualifications in your personal statement, as you’ll have already mentioned it in another part of your UCAS application. You don’t need to waste your characters repeating information your admissions tutors already know about you.

What’s more important? My personal statement or my UCAT/BMAT?

Different universities give different weights to different parts of your application. Some universities may give a greater weighting to your personal statement, but on the whole your UCAT/BMAT score tends to have a greater impact on your chance of success. Don’t let that stop you from focusing on your personal statement. In the case where your interview score, UCAT/ BMAT score and your academics are the same as someone else’s, it could be your personal statement that swings the decision in your favour.

I’m still stuck on how to write my personal statement. What should I do?

It’s perfectly normal to feel stuck when writing your personal statement. Summarising your motivation and life experience in 4,000 characters can be challenging. 

Remember that Medify offers a personal statement course to help guide you. For just £20 you’ll have access to in-depth tutorials, examples and advice from medical students, doctors and admissions tutors on everything that should be in your personal statement. 

You can also use Medify’s personal statement reviewing service to have your personal statement reviewed by 2 experts, who can offer detailed analysis and scoring within 5 days.

Besides the advice given on this and the next page, Medify offers more extensive guidance on completing your personal statement. See the Personal Statement Writer & Course and Personal Statement Reviews.

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