6.2 How to write a personal statement

Your personal statement should be a self-reflective article that deals with why you personally want to become a medical student as well as thrive in medical school.

To cut down on endless re-drafts, perhaps focus on increasing your planning time. This is not to say you need to write the perfect statement first time round, 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.

Perhaps start with a checklist of what you think a great personal statement should include – what would you want to see if you were on the selection panel? Write down key relevant experiences, extra-curricular activities and key motivations to study medicine and use these to generate a working mind map, which you can later link and tie together. If you are 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’d be a great medical student and doctor. You can then develop these into a plan and gradually form your first draft.

Use the following questions to help jot down ideas that you might have to jump start the whole process.

  • Why do you want to be a doctor?
  • What experience of medicine do you have?
  • What qualities do you have which are similar to that expected of a good doctor? And what examples do you have to back them up?
  • How have you demonstrated commitment to medicine?

How do you even start?

This is a simple way to begin to structure your personal statement. This will result in a basic but functional personal statement that you can then re-edit as you see fit.

  1. Introduction with a brief description of how you got attracted to medicine, and why you want to do medicine
  2. Short overview of your work experience
  3. Short overview of your voluntary experience
  4. Short overview of your extracurricular/academic activities
  5. Closing paragraph that relates all of your accomplishments to your introduction

What do you do when you finish your draft personal statement?

With so much riding on the personal statement, you should be very careful in writing and editing it. You should show it to your teachers for their input and advice. You should try rewriting again and again until you have perfected it.

  • Editing
    There is always room for improvement, and you should aim to send it to at least two to three people for their input. An English teacher would be useful to check over your grammar and use of English. Your reference writer would be a useful person to proofread your personal statement so that they can fill in gaps in your application with their reference.
  • Pitch and tone
    Make sure that your tone and pitch is appropriate – it should be personal and specific to make you memorable whilst avoiding the use of abbreviations or slang. Again imagine you are the admissions tutor – are you impressed by what you’re reading? If not then go back and re-draft.
  • Print a copy
    Always keep a copy with you throughout your application process when you finish it for good. The 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: “I love working with others,” versus, “I visited a care home every day for two months to get a feel for the difficulties that the elderly face.”
  • Long waffly sentences: These dilute the impact of the message, keep it short. Avoid repetition.
  • “I want to help people”: The phrase is overused. It’s also naive – if you write it, admissions department will assume that you have not fully thought out 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 to explain from someone in authority about 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.

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