June 13, 2018, by studentcontributor
Writing the Personal Statement for medical school applications
Personal statement writing is one of the most difficult and tedious tasks that you must undertake as part of your application to medical school. Written in first person, the personal statement is a compulsory 4000 character essay (including spaces) which must reflect what you have done to present your interest and determination towards the medical course being applied to.
The personal statement is one of the first pieces of information about you that allows universities to filter candidates and most universities use this piece of writing (along with the UKCAT/BMAT results and predicted grades) to determine which candidates get an invitation for the interview stage.
A good personal statement must constantly reflect the type of person you are whilst mentioning the work experience that you undertook, your achievements and other holistic activities such as volunteering. Every word in the personal statement must add to the value of the essay, as cliché as it is, its ‘quality over quantity’.
In summary, a bad personal statement could be the reason you aren’t accepted to a medical course. Due to its importance and the competitiveness of the application process, it is important to start writing drafts as early as possible – organization is key to ensure you aren’t rushed or stressed.
While writing drafts, you will also need to balance work experience, UKCAT/BMAT revision, UCAS application and all the other things that are going on in your life – this is made more difficult by an early application deadline on (normally) October 15th where other applicants have until early January to submit their application.
Don’t be discouraged if you get criticism on your first draft from others, it took me exactly 23 drafts written over 3 months to feel that my personal statement was ready for submission.
How did I start?
I found a useful method was writing a list of everything!
Some examples of the things I included:
- Achievements (awards and recognitions)
- Work experience (completed and planned)
- Volunteering experience
- Summer schools attended
- Projects and publications
Once that was completed I had a list of all the potential things that could be included in my personal statement. The next step was the hard part – writing it all out to make me seem like the best applicant they could accept.
The structure that I followed was simple and is essentially the structure seen in most medical personal statements.
- It all starts off with an introduction – this should be a paragraph which grasps the interest of the reader while informing them of the reasons you would like to study medicine and any specific anecdotes.
- Now comes the bulk of the personal statement (2-3 paragraphs) – the paragraphs on work experience. It takes a real skill to be able to write these paragraphs effectively. I followed the rule of three:
i. Comment on what you observed
ii. Reflect on why this encounter was worth mentioning
iii. Mention how you will continue to develop the skills which were observed
Rough example: Witnessing how effectively the multi disciplinary team worked together highlighted the importance of communication and teamwork in situations of high stress. I aim to continue to develop these skills while competing internationally with my debate team.
- Then comes the extracurricular activities paragraph – here you can include the things from the aforementioned list which you believe are the most important. This paragraph should only include things that could potentially set you apart from other applicants i.e Debate champion, sporting champion, musical achievements (Grade 6 pianist for example etc)
- Conclusion paragraph – this paragraph should sum up everything mentioned and should give that last push to show them how much you want to study medicine. This paragraph is relatively short in most personal statements as it is more important to focus on the other sections of the personal statement.
More impressive personal statements attempt to maintain a theme throughout the essay, for example in my personal statement my theme was the prevalence of specific conditions in the Middle East.
A final point to remember when writing the personal statement is that this essay is still considered a piece of writing and therefore vocabulary, grammar, punctuation and spelling need to be checked and checked again. Make sure you proofread your final draft many times and also get others to have a read to give you their opinion on the essay.
- Start early – aim to have your first draft before the summer
- Write to your heart’s content at the start – it’s easier to remove irrelevant/ unimportant things then adding them at the end
- Don’t get too caught up on making your introduction SPECIAL – everyone wants to stand out, but essentially admission teams are looking for specific things in the personal statement and if your introduction is a 2000 character creative writing piece then that limits how much you can write for the more important parts of the personal statement
- Ensure you mention how you will develop those skills observed – some skills to mention: communication, teamwork, dealing with stress, organisation, leadership etc.
- In the extracurricular paragraph avoid mentioning things that they know – avoid mentioning results (as that goes on your UCAS application) and also avoid repeating yourself
- Many people will give different opinions – you will get many opposing opinions and many people will suggest that you change things, however only do edit your draft if you truly believe that it would better the essay. Again don’t be disheartened by people’s opinions, take all the comments as constructive criticism.
This post is an extract from the “UK Medical School Starter Pack eBook” written by one of our fourth-year medical student, Fady Anis.
Thank you for such a detailed article. I will definitely use your Personal Statement writing tips. I hope that you will continue to share your experience in this field.