What should I say in my medical school application personal statement?

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Your personal statement on your application to medical school is your first opportunity to make a good impression on the admissions team. A good statement can make all the difference between securing an interview and getting an outright rejection – especially if you are borderline in other areas of your application. 

Your statement should be a reflection of the potential medical student you believe yourself to be, and should be as individual as you are. But broadly speaking, all university admissions panels are looking for the same qualities, and so the best statements will have many elements in common.

Here we list some things to think about when you sit down and stare at that blank page!

An overview of the operating room Research their criteria

What are the medical schools looking for? Every university has its own list of criteria but broadly speaking they are looking for someone who has the range of academic and interpersonal skills required for the role of doctor, as well as good motivational reasons for wanting to work in the field of medicine. Be sure to read the prospectuses of all the universities you are applying to to make sure your statement covers all their criteria – not just those of your first choice. 

Don’t overdo the motivational factors

Perhaps your desire to be a doctor was inspired by your own experiences as a patient or seeing a loved one cured from a life-threatening illness. But interviewers are likely to be looking for more than an emotional motivation and will expect you to show a broad understanding of the realities of a medical career. 

Do highlight your intellectual curiosity

There’s more to a medical career than the appliance of science, but interviewers will want to be sure that you love science and are curious about scientific developments – after all, you will be working with science every day and will need to keep up with developments in a dynamic field. Show them you care about this and that you are curious – but remember, the human and practical skills are just as important.  

Be sure to have some work experience

Interviewers will definitely be looking for you to have gained some experience working or observing in a medicine related environment so invest time in doing that well ahead of applying for medical school. Experience in other environments where health issues are a key focus can also give an additional angle to your understanding of a career in medicine – for example, time spent in a care home for elderly people or volunteering with a charity which helps children with special needs will all be useful experience.

Highlight what you learned from that experience

It’s not just the experience that matters – interviewers are most interested in what you learned from that experience. Highlight individual instances of patient care you witnessed and explain what you found satisfying about this – perhaps the doctor’s ability to put a patient’s mind at rest by diagnosing and explaining illness, and helping a patient recover? Or your ability to comfort an elderly person whom you were helping to feed or move? But also list what you found difficult or distressing – perhaps the emotional stress of  working with patients who are in pain or who are not going to get better. Interviewers want to see that you have come away with a realistic understanding of the challenges of medicine – not just the rose-tinted heroic outcomes portrayed in so many television dramas. 

Have you understood the reality of a doctor’s life? 

Show that your work experience gave you a genuine understanding of the practicalities of a medical student’s and a doctor’s life – long and unsociable hours, rotas and on-call provision, life-long learning to keep up with medical developments, working in stressful conditions which are often emotionally charged.

Then explain why you are still motivated

You should flag up that you understand the challenges and down-sides of of medicine – but that you are motivated despite these, because…..well, the end of the sentence will depend on your personal motivation. You should also flag up that you believe you have the personal qualities to deal with the   lows, as well as the highs.

Show how non-academic experiences have given you skills

Everyone knows that universities are looking for well-rounded individuals, so list interests outside of your academic activities, but make sure you flag up why it is worth the interviewers knowing this about you. For example, if you are involved in a local drama group, explain that this has helped you learn to work effectively as a team and to take responsibility for certain aspects of the production, such as props. Tell them that acting has helped develop your confidence and presentation skills, which will be useful for communicating effectively with patients and that performing has taught you to work under pressure. If you are applying for university during your gap year, Gap Medics placements can provide you with excellent experience to put on your statement. The ability to work in the challenging environments in developing countries which Gap Medics offers will help convince admissions tutors that you have a down-to-earth approach and strong commitment to medicine. 

Accuracy

If you are expecting the grades which will secure you a place at medical school, accuracy is probably second nature to you. But even a single spelling mistake will look sloppy on your application. Don’t rely on computer spell checks – ask a trusted adult to check your statement for spelling and grammar, as well as structure and clarity. This is your first point of contact with your universities of choice, and you need to convince admissions tutors that you have the natural inclination towards accuracy and detail that medicine requires.

Don’t tell fibs…….

If you are asked at interview about something you lied about on the form – or simply exaggerated – interviewers might pick up on this. If they believe you have told an outright lie they may find it ethically difficult to offer you a place on a course which requires huge levels of trust and integrity from students. If you have some genuine experience, you should not need to be untruthful.

……and don’t joke!

This is not the time to show people that you are a comedian-in-waiting. The tone and register of your statement must be appropriate if you are to convince admissions teams that you will be able to act appropriately and sensitively in a medical environment.

Check the university website for examplar personal statements

Universities are aware that many candidates struggle to put together their personal statement and agonise over whether they have included all the necessary information. To help you overcome this, many universities publish examples of excellent personal statements on their medicine department websites to give you a strong steer on what to write. These can be excellent models, but be sure to use all your own words and experiences on your application – don’t copy and paste sentences from theirs!

Get advice from experts

Ask doctors or medical students of your acquaintance what they would advise you to list on your application. Your school teachers or careers guidance teachers are likely to have helped a number of other students apply for medical school so ask their advice and let them have a look at your statement before sending it off. 

There is no perfect statement – but it is possible to produce a great one which will maximise your chances of securing that interview. Do your research and you will give yourself the very best chance of getting interviews at every univerity to which you apply. 

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