How to Write Your Personal Statement
Your personal statement should be a self-reflective article that deals with why you want to be a medical student. It should also convey the reasons why you will thrive in medical school.
To cut down on endless re-drafts, focus on maximising the time spent planning what you are going to write. This is not to say you will write the perfect statement first time around: no one will. But instead, spend a while thinking about what you want your statement to get across by writing out ideas and forming a rough plan of how you can effectively fill the limited space.
One way to start is to use a checklist of what you think a great personal statement should include: what would you want to see if you were on a selection panel? Write down key relevant experiences, extra-curricular activities and key motivations to study medicine and use them to generate a working mind map, which you can later link and tie together. If you are get stuck, start by jotting down whatever excites and inspires you about medicine and some ideas about the transferable skills you have developed which support why you would be a great medical student and doctor. You can then develop these ideas into a plan and gradually form your first draft.
Use the following questions to help you think of ideas:
- Why do you want to be a doctor?
- What experience of medicine do you have?
- What qualities do you have that are similar to those expected of a good doctor? And what examples do you have to back them up?
- How have you demonstrated commitment to medicine so far?
Where do I start?
The following outline is a simple way to begin to structure your personal statement. It will result in a basic but functional personal statement that you can then re-edit as you see fit.
- Introduction with a brief description of how you became attracted to medicine and why you want to be a doctor
- Short overview of your work experience
- Short overview of your voluntary experience
- Short overview of your extra-curricular and academic activities
- Closing paragraph that relates all of your accomplishments to your introduction
Once you have a draft personal statement
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.
There is always room for improvement, and you should give it to at least two or three people for their input. An English teacher would be useful for checking your grammar and use of English. Your reference writer can be another useful person to proofread your personal statement so that they can fill in the gaps in your application with their reference.
Pitch and tone
Make sure that 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. Again, imagine that you are the admissions tutor – 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.
Cecilia – University of Liverpool
‘After writing my personal statement, I gave it to several people I trusted to read, such as my parents, close friends and my career advisor. I received generally positive feedback, however since they were people who knew me well, they observed that my PS was too rigid and wooden, and that 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. 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 that I felt more confident speaking about my experiences during my interview, which was based on the new and improved version of my PS.’
Seth – University of Southampton
‘It will take several drafts to get to your final personal statement. It is hard to squeeze in all of those key points about why you’d make a great doctor and why medicine is right for you within the tight constraints of the word count. Remember you don’t need to give everything away on that one page, instead just provide key pieces of insight into who you are as a person and why you are motivated and well-informed to follow this career choice. My best and final draft was when I ruthlessly took out much of the bulking and left just a few key messages I wanted to come across about myself. You can always talk about those other things you want to discuss in your interview. I had a fairly dramatic opening describing a medical emergency which I had witnessed, which was a poignant moment for me in deciding to pursue a career in medicine. This greatly helped to capture the reader’s attention straight away.’
What should I avoid in a personal statement?
- Using 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 that the elderly face’. Don’t use empty phrases like the first one shown here.
- Long, waffling sentences: long sentences dilute the impact of the message: keep it short and avoid repetition.
- ‘I want to help people’: this phrase is overused. It’s also naive – if you write it, the admissions department will assume that you have not fully thought about why you want to become a doctor.
- Showing 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 and having a realistic understanding of what a doctor does.
- Apologising for low grades/lack of experience: the personal statement is for you to build yourself up. Use your reference letter, written by someone in authority, to explain any extenuating circumstances.
- Mentioning controversial topics: for example, abortion or religion. Your reader might have differing views, and you will put them in a bad position by forcing them to make a decision based on your personal beliefs rather than your ability to become a doctor.