Menu Icon Search
Close Search

Not Another Crayon in the Box: Writing a Successful Personal Statement for Medical School Part 2

Created September 26, 2012 by Alex M. Jennings
Share

 

Part two of a two part series. Part one may be found here.

Personal Narratives

The medical school admissions committee members interviewed in the aforementioned studies offer plenty of advice on what they are looking for in a good PS. Mark Stewart, author of Perfect Personal Statements, offers this advice: “Strive for depth, not breadth. An effective personal statement will focus on one or two specific themes, incidents, or points” (Stewart, 2002). Thus, despite there being five rhetorical moves, you need not use as many personal narratives: keep it short, focused, and poignant. Content is the key.

Judy Colwell, Assistant Director. Of Admissions at Stanford Medical School, said that as far as content, they want applicants to show who they are. She continues: “Some personal statements are so wonderfully written that we’ll get goose bumps or be in tears. Most applicants don’t write so beautifully, of course (Stewart, 2002).” With thoughtful consideration, you should be able to find the right stories to tell. Then, maybe your PS will have as deep an effect on your reader as Colwell says.

One way that you can show who you are is by revealing thoughtful, personal insight. For example, J. Freedman, from StudentDoctor.net, says that he has read hundreds of narratives about healthcare experiences. These can get trite and boring, he says, “yet the good ones still stand out and tell me so much about the applicant’s motivation, character, maturity and insight (Freedman, 2010).” His point is that it is not just what you say, but how you choose to convey your insights—that is what makes all the difference.

There are several ways to add color to the picture you are painting of yourself through your PS. The Carnegie Mellon Health Professions Advisement office offers some good ideas, including:
…using sensory details to help set scenes, like mentioning what the sky looks like, what color a child’s dress is, or how the food smells. This is one way to make sure your reader is right there with you. You can also share your personal emotions and indicate how your surroundings affected you. This will give the reader a better idea of your individualism, and make experiences that may be common seem unique (“Tips for Writing Personal Statements”).

By following these suggestions, you will ensure that you “show, rather than tell”, who you are. There are also several style details of which you need to be aware. One of them has to do with length limitations. Since you only have 4500-5300 characters to work with, depending on where you apply, there is not enough space for a full introduction or conclusions. You should also avoid “hackneyed introductions and conclusion clichés” (Stewart, 2002). In addition, Stewart warns against referring to yourself in the third person (“Alex will make a great physician because he…”), trying to impress with vocabulary or technical jargon, and doing anything gimmicky with fonts, formats, or rhyming schemes (p. 16-19). One reviewer recalls receiving a PS where the text was shaped into a large tear-drop and written in rhyming couplets. Although originality is key, don’t be annoying and overbearing! Doing so will hurt, rather than help your chances of getting an interview.

Conclusion

“Show, don’t tell!” –This trite expression is oft repeated to pre-medical students. While it may be a good piece of advice, it’s something that is easier said than done. Hopefully, with this summary of relevant research, you will see the importance of weaving deep, personal insights into a standard rhetorical framework. Although the medical school application essay prompt is designed to let you freely express yourself, research has shown that the most successful PSs follow these highlighted suggestions.

The biggest task left to you now, as an aspiring future physician, is to think deeply about which experiences have shaped your life the most. You need to dig deep to uncover that poignant experience which fuels your drive to medicine. It’s a hard path you’ve chosen, but only you know why this is right for you. As you consider which stories to tell, make sure not to just tell the reader what you think they want to hear. If you’re wondering about how to tie in your experience as a missionary in Guatemala, your difficulties in overcoming challenges as a minority, or whatever it may be, first ask yourself the following: Is this a part of my identity and reason for pursuing medicine? Remember that what an experience means to you is more important than how impressive it looks to others.

According to Bekins et al. (2004), your audience wants to see “a clear statement of what the applicant had learned from his or her life experiences” (p.60). Introspection and reflection, showing how “life lessons” shaped your thinking or behavior, count more than technical preparation. Even blemishes on your record can help you, if you show what you learned from them (p. 67).

Life is about to become complicated for those of you who are preparing for medical school. You’re studying for the MCAT, securing your letters of recommendation, and filling out your applications—all time consuming, tedious tasks. When you feel overwhelmed, or when you get to work on your PS and can’t think of what to mention, simply pretend you are just writing to a friend about why you want to go into medicine (Harvard University, 2011). If you get stuck or frustrated, just think about how deeply your essay could affect your readers. How much relief will you feel when you get an interview, and you find out it was because of your thoughtful PS? Writing well can be difficult, but with these tips, the keys are now in your hands.

References
American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service. (2011). AACOMAS Application Instructions 2012, 13. Retrieved from http://www.aacom.org/Documents/AACOMASInstructions.pdf

American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). (2011). How to apply. Retrieved from https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/amcas/how_to_apply/.

Barton, E., Ariail, J., & Smith, T. (2004). The professional in the personal: The genre of personal statements in residency applications. Issues in Writing, 15(1), 76-124.

Bekins, L. K., Huckin, T. N., & Kijak, L. (2004). The personal statement in medical school applications: Rhetorical structure in a diverse and unstable context.Issues in Writing,15(1), 56-75.

Corbett, E. P. J. (1990). Classical rhetoric for the modern student. New York: Oxford University Press, 1.
Farmer, J. (2007). Before you write your personal statement, read this. StudentDoctor.net. Retrieved from http://studentdoctor.net/2007/06/before-you-write-your-personal-statement-read-this/

Freedman, J. (2010). Personal statement myths. StudentDoctor.net. Retrieved from http://studentdoctor.net/2010/04/personal-statement-myths/.

Harvard Medical School (HMS). (2011). Class Statistics. Retrieved from http://hms.harvard.edu/admissions/default.asp?page=statistics

Harvard University. (2011). The Medical School Personal Statement. [Powerpoint Presentation]. Retrieved from http://www.ocs.fas.harvard.edu/students/careers/medicine/applicationprocess/ personal_statement_2011.pdf

Huiling D. (2007). Genre analysis of personal statements: Analysis of moves in application essays to medical and dental schools. English for Specific Purposes, 26(3): 368-392.
Jones, S., & Baer, E. A. (2003). Essays that worked for medical school. Westminster, MD: Ballantine Books, 32-34, 40.

Stewart, M. (2002). Perfect personal statements: law, business, medical, graduate school. Lawrenceville, NJ: Peterson’s. In order of reference, the following pages were consulted: 112, 8, 111, 105, 16-19
Tips for Writing Personal Statements. Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Health Professions Program. Retrieved from http://www.cmu.edu/hpp/achieve/pstips.html

 

// Share //

// Recent Articles //

  • Do You Recognize the Classical Clinical Triad in This Emergency Case?

  • Posted May 26, 2017 by Figure 1
  • A 35-year-old female, G0P0, presents to the emergency department with lower abdominal pain and vaginal spotting. Her last menstrual period was nine weeks ago. She was treated for a chlamydial cervical infection in the past, and has never taken oral contraceptives. On abdominal examination, no mass is detected, however, there is moderate tenderness in the...VIEW >
  • You Can Buy That on Amazon?

  • Posted May 26, 2017 by The Short Coat Podcast
  • All work and no play…is not what we do. Sometimes you’re having so much fun that the time flies by and you forget that you have other important things to do.  That’s what happened on this week’s show, in which Dave brings Aditi Patel, Aline Sandouk, Kylie Miller and Irene Morcuende along for a trip...VIEW >
  • Considering Rejection: Lessons Learned From an ESL Classroom

  • Posted May 25, 2017 by Nicole Hawkins
  • I was seated on a child-sized plastic chair along a wall in the classroom when the teacher summoned me to the front of the room. She handed me a sheet of stickers and, in broken English that was heavily accented, indicated that my task was to watch the approximately twenty children in front of me...VIEW >
  • My Own Little Ice Age

  • Posted May 24, 2017 by Miguel Galán de Juanai
  • Reposted with permission from here. I can finally say I’m in my last year of medical school. It has been a bumpy ride, but only one clerkship, a research project and an OSCE separate me from graduating. I remember receiving my acceptance letter eight years ago. Thinking back to those days, neither vocation nor sentiment...VIEW >
  • What is Cirrhosis?

  • Posted May 23, 2017 by Open Osmosis
  • What is cirrhosis? Cirrhosis is a disease where the liver becomes scarred over time from chronic inflammation and liver cell damage. Cirrhosis can be caused by a variety of diseases, with alcohol abuse and viral hepatitis being some of the most common. This video discusses the cellular mechanism behind fibrotic tissue generation and the pathophysiology...VIEW >
  • Medical, +1 MORE
  • Q&A with Dr. Jennifer Villwock, ENT

  • Posted May 22, 2017 by Rafid Rahman
  • Dr. Jennifer A. Villwock is the current Rhinology and Skull Base Fellow at the University of Kansas Medical Center. After graduating in 2011 from the Michigan State College of Human Medicine, she completed her ENT residency at the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University. Dr. Villwock is active in the American Academy...VIEW >
  • Premeds Can Be Science Podcasters, ft. Terel Jackson

  • Posted May 19, 2017 by The Short Coat Podcast
  • An unstated goal of ours is to show medical learners that podcasting is a beneficial experience for both listeners and hosts,  and we’re always banging on about the need for better science communicators. So Erin Pazaski, Levi Endelman, Kylie Miller, and Irene Morcuende were recently excited to get an email from Terel Jackson, an OSU premed who said...VIEW >

// Forums //