Writing Your Personal Statement
The personal statement is arguably the most important part of your application. It's the only place where you get to "speak" to them. They can hear your story, your voice, and get a sense of who you are as a person and the value you bring to the profession. Here are some of the basics of writing a personal statement.
Characters are Currency.
For Allopathic and Osteopathic applications, your character count is 5300.
Dental is 4500. Vet is 3000. PA is 5000. Nursing is anywhere from 1500-3000 per prompt.
You get an itty bitty space to do a whole lot. This piece of writing is unlike any other genre of writing. I describe it as a combo of creative non-fiction, policy writing and persuasive essays. You need to tell a story with only the most important details at the top, and all the while convincing your reader to pick you. You weren't taught in school how to do this, so don't feel bad if that sounds difficult.
Answering “Why Medicine” Traditionally
Saw a good/bad doctor
Don’t want anyone to suffer...
The question "Why (Medicine)?" has been the hot topic for quite a long time. Everyone thinks they need to have this profound story that led them to the moment where they knew they wanted to be a physician or dentist. But truthfully, some people don't have that story. And worse, some people's journey toward medicine has been carefully crafted since an early age by supportive parents with resources. For those whose life experiences align with a stereotypical "pre-med" life, telling the story sounds similar to thousands that came before them, yet they still have many moments to discuss.
But what about the person who didn't go to the best science camps, or get to travel abroad, or get access to the ED because their father worked there? What about those who had to work two jobs throughout college to support themselves and couldn't volunteer. Or those who didn't have a typical high school experience because they were at home taking care of their siblings? There are many folks who arrive at the decision to pursue medicine but don't have an amazing story of how they got there. They simply want to go back to their community and fill some void. It's more pragmatic than romantic. This is why I pull people away from why medicine.
First, anyone who takes Ochem, does all of the experiences you've done, takes a test, and spends the money to apply really wants to do this. You don't accidentally stumble into applying to medical school. That's a carefully crafted plan. For all those reasons, schools DO NOT doubt your motivation for wanting to be a doctor. They know you really want to do this. Why you want to do it? Honestly, who cares why you want to do it. As long as your parents aren't forcing you into it, and you understand that you won't make any money from the field for quite a long time, they aren't going to judge your specific motivation. But what they ARE looking for is what you can do for the profession, what skills or competencies do you possess that will ensure you'll make a good doctor one day, and what is it that you hope to accomplish in your career?
What is the value that you bring to medicine?
By showing them the answer to this question, you are showing them why you want to be a doctor. When you show how your past influenced your present decision making and then tie that to your future, you're showing who you are and how your motivation was generated. When you highlight a problem you've seen and show how you can specifically work to address it, you're showing us that your motivation is personal and real.
What do I mean by value?
Here are just SOME of the extra value a person can bring (in addition to empathy, compassion and a love for science).
Speaking multiple languages
Being part of or a strong ally for the LGBTQ+ community
Having an intimate understanding of the struggles of mental health
Having experience with addiction, substance abuse, etc
Understanding the relationship between poverty and health
Knowing how representation of race and religion matters
Articulating how to create a psychological safe space to increase inclusivity
Knowing the importance of culturally and linguistically appropriate care
Embracing cultural humility as an approach to build trust and community
Using Narrative Medicine or Motivational Interviewing as tools
Having an intimate understanding of being a patient
Wanting to go into policy or academic medicine
Below is a chart used by the AAMC showing the types of attributes and experiences that holistic screeners would look at.
Reveal Your Competencies/Attributes through stories in your paragraphs
Tie the lesson or takeaway from each paragraph to your future as a medical student or doctor
Share glimpses into how your background adds value to your future
Tell stories that SHOW who you are or what you learned (evidence) and TELL how that relates to your future and what kind of doctor you intend to be
Tell me how you arrived at (dentistry) “exploring” various activities chronologically
Tell me why you did not choose another field (such as research)
Criticize current practitioners
Use hyperbolic language “Patients want”
List your experiences without tying them together or to a larger point
Use second person “You”. I replace all You's with I
Tell me how you’re going to single-handedly solve huge problems that no one else has been able to solve.
If you don't know where to start, go with a five paragraph essay.
In your intro, start with a story that leads to the thesis. This story does not need to be your "moment in time" story. It just needs to illustrate how or why you want to be the kind of doctor you're stating in your thesis. The last sentence of your first paragraph should state what you intend to do.
Write three body paragraphs. Each paragraph is focused on a CONCEPT. Name the concept. It might be "Linguistically appropriate care" or "Listening" but it's not based on the experience. Use a transition sentence that introduces the concept, and then tell a story that illustrates how YOU did something related to that. At the end of each paragraph, tell me how that story taught you something or reveals something about you that relates to your future.
Your conclusion is going to start with a POWER STATEMENT. That statement is 1-3 sentences that synthesizes and summarizes the main elements about how you are and what you bring to the table. Lastly, you're showing what you'd like to do in your future. Show them what you hope to do and why having the training and education is essential to get you there.