Improving Personal Statement

Pre Meds: 3 Ways to Improve Your Personal Statement

You’ve got a draft. You’ve been revising, editing and rewriting for weeks now. But you need to figure out how to take your personal statement to the next level. You need to be sure what you are submitting to medical schools will gain their attention (for the right reasons) and convince them to give you an interview invite and, of course, an acceptance.

Grab Their Attention

The personal statement for medical school is not a creative writing project. As much as you may want to craft those 5300 characters into a compelling narrative about your journey to medicine, refrain from creating anything that reads informal or what you would see in a magazine. Take it from someone with a Creative Writing degree, if you try and turn your personal statement into Shakespeare, it’s not going to go well.

That being said, don’t bore your reader. There are ways to be both professional and enticing. Start by thinking about the most interesting aspect of your life or application (ideally, there will be some overlap). I had a friend who was an offensive lineman on his college football team before deciding to pursue medicine. He thought that having such an experience would hurt his application. Instead, it gave him an amazing amount of material to cover in his statement. You might be thinking, “I don’t have anything as obviously appealing as being a collegiate athlete.”

Not true.

It’s going to take some brainstorming, but find things in your life that make you unique and exceptional. The purpose of the statement is not to write about that thing, but to give your reader (an adcom, med student or physician faculty member) something to latch onto. You want to stick in their mind as the girl who took up sailing at a young age, or the guy who won a bunch of money playing video game tournaments. It doesn’t matter what it is, just give the reader a hook to remember you by. You want them to be able to recall your application during interview selections, and again during the admitting process.

Remember, your paper is about Why medicine? Your unique feature should not dominate the essay. It could be nothing more than a few sentences that lead into your more relevant experience for pursuing a career in healthcare. The purpose of the personal hook is to put some separation between your personal statement and other applicants. Last year over 13,000 pre meds applied to George Washington University’s medical school alone. Thirteen Thousand. The only guarantee you have in applying to medical school is that someone will read your personal statement. It’s your first, and sometimes only, chance to stand out.

Don’t miss that opportunity.

Remember the Prompt

AMCAS’s directions for the personal statement are purposefully subtle, “Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.“ They don’t want 50,000 applications that all say the same thing. As stated in the section above, there is room to go off in the direction you see fit. However, don’t gloss over the fact that there is a prompt to the personal statement. I will admit, the first time I wrote my personal statement I somewhat neglected to address the prompt.

It happens to a lot of students. Lost in the excitement of crafting the personal statement, they forget to hone in on the specifics of why they want to go to medical school. Your job with the personal statement is to convince medical schools that you deserve to be admitted. Essentially, that is your purpose for the entire application. Outside of your GPA and MCAT score, no other individual piece of your application will be weighed as heavily as the personal statement. Which is why I reiterate: your purpose is to convince medical schools that you deserve to be admitted.

It’s good to elaborate on what makes you a unique candidate, but you must also show them why you are a great prospect to become a physician. There is a severe shortage of doctors in America and it will only continue to grow worse in the coming decade. Medical schools are taking a risk with every student they admit. A single drop-out equates to a lifetime of patients who will not be adequately served. You need to show medical schools that you are serious. Focus on these things:

  1. Commitment. A lot of people want to be doctors. Most of them for the wrong reasons. Yes, you can make more money than the average person as a physician. You can also enjoy a level of respect and admiration that the typical working American will never receive. But you must prove that you are committed to working a long and tiring career. Every pre med takes the same science courses, so you can’t rely upon your good GPA to convey this to adcoms. Instead, focus on your healthcare experience. Whether that means paid employment or volunteer, highlight the threads in your life that tie you to a career in medicine. Avoid talking about personal experiences such as a family member being sick or nepotistic qualities, such as having a parent physician. That doesn’t equal commitment, it just makes you sound misguided.
  2. Don’t be naïve. “I want a career where I can help people and make a difference.” Then become a social worker. Or work at an adoption center. There are a lot of ways to help other people that don’t involve eight more years of schooling and training. Why do you really want to go into medicine? Why is becoming a physician the only career choice you could imagine having? Go somewhere quiet, take out a pen and pad of paper and start digging deep. You might surprise yourself. You might decide that you don’t actually have a good reason to attend medical school. But if you can find the true reason, the authentic reason for your pursuit of an otherwise arduous life, then bring it to the forefront of your paper. That authenticity will trump many of your idealistic-sounding peers. Avoid using the word

Put Your Best Foot Forward

I have a suspicion that the current iteration of medical school application paradoxically rewards those who are narcissistic. It might be difficult for some of you reading this, but you’ve got to sell yourself. The medical school application, and the personal statement in particular, is not the place to downplay your achievements. In an age of selfies, Facebook and Instagram, it’s worth reminding introverts that you’ve got to put yourself in the best light.

Don’t lie. Don’t cheat or inflate your accomplishments. But make them sound good. You only have 5300 characters. That may seem like a lot when you are looking at a blank MS Word file, but once you get a draft together you will be scrambling to squeeze in more words. Whatever is sacred enough to receive some space in your personal statement must be put in the best light possible. Most pre meds are cookie-cutter. Their applications all amount to the same things: volunteer, shadowing, research, etc. So if you did something like volunteered in a hospital, talk about how you were the best damn volunteer that Intensive Care Unit had ever seen. If you did research for two semesters, talk about how incredible the projects were and how much you learned from the guidance of your professor. Being humble is a valuable quality to becoming a physician—but not in your personal statement. Remember: hook, hook, hook. You have got to stand out. You have got to make yourself into an interesting, compelling application that has earned a chair in a medical school class. If your personal statement bores you while reading, just think how your adcom is going to feel.

Above all else, while writing your personal statement, keep your audience in mind. Your goal is to turn your adcom-reader into an advocate for your application. You want them to walk away impressed, convinced and persuaded to give you a chance at medical school. Don’t think about your GPA or your MCAT score. Just focus on telling someone the story of why you should be a doctor.

About Mike LaVere

Student, author and aspiring surgeon. Former bar bouncer and meat butcher. Mike LaVere graduated from a top university with a degree in English and Creative Writing. After spending several years working in healthcare as a surgical technician and EMT, Mike returned to college to obtain a post-baccalaureate degree in Biochemistry before applying to medical school. In addition to providing help for new writers and pre-medical students, Mike writes about the current state of healthcare and how it can be improved. His mission in life is to improve the quality of patient care around the world by inspiring providers to be more passionate about their work and to take pride in caring for their patients.