We’ve received a number of Personal Statements to from students, and many need quite a bit of improvement.
Specifically, quite a few students have trouble conveying their work and volunteering experience in a relevant and powerful manner, as well as struggling to write in a concise and stylistically pleasing way. There are also points to be made with regards to structure and flow. As a result, we thought it’ll be helpful to give you guys a somewhat thorough dissection of a top personal statement, as well as run through five principles for constructing a convincing and relevant personal statement for medicine.
Although there certainly isn’t a single template for success, the Personal Statement below fulfils many of the selection criteria medical schools expect applicants to meet, and is a model example we give out to students that have emailed us so far. Please read through it first, perhaps noting first what you like (or don’t like) about the content, and then the structure, writing style and way experiences are described and built upon.
medicine Sample Statement
“For several months this year, I volunteered at a school for children with mental and physical disabilities. One particular student caught my attention, a violent and withdrawn boy. By patiently encouraging him to engage in activities through a toy caterpillar, I found a way to connect with him. The experience highlighted the importance and value of every human life, of having compassion for others, and of being aware of other people’s needs and problems aside from our own. Medicine is a lifelong endeavour; it is an opportunity for me to contribute to an expanding scientific field, as well as confront the physical, social and emotional challenges that face humanity.
As a naturally inquisitive person, my fascination with science has led to a profound interest in the human body. My wider reading included “The Music of Life” by Denis Noble, which gave me a better understanding of the physiological functions within the body and the interaction of genes with the environment, cells and organs. Further study of the applications of genetic engineering resulted in me writing a paper on the use of nanotechnology in Medicine. This discussed the relation of current scientific research to the management of various pathologies; the task required me to scrutinize secondary sources and gave me stronger analytical skills. Realising that this combination of science and practical undertaking appealed hugely, I sought some real world experiences to confirm my career choice.
Earlier this year, I undertook work experience in a Renal Unit of my local hospital. This gave me the opportunity to attend ward rounds and clinics, as well as observe dialysis and venous catheter insertion. Through talking to patients, the physical, and at times, mental fragility of some individuals surprised me. The empathy shown by the doctors inspired me deeply. A junior doctor recounted her tough experiences; there were instances where she was confined to a desk organising paperwork, and occasions where she didn’t get any sleep. However, her involvement with patients was satisfying, and seeing them progressively improve motivated her. From these experience, I appreciate how being a doctor can be gruelling, but also very gratifying. Above all, I realise the importance in having moral fibre, perseverance and humility.
Every Wednesday for four months I shadowed my local GP. Watching him give both medical and social advice with such understanding and clinical skill to people from every race, culture and faith made me realise the importance of primary care, good communication and careful allocation of resources.
As a concert pianist, I have gained experience in handling stress and performance anxiety. I perform at a local hospice every week and through successful piano competitions, I had the honour of playing at the Jacqueline De Pre Hall in Oxford. I enjoy conveying the emotion of a piece of music in a beautiful and hopefully profound way. As a school mentor and piano teacher for younger students, I developed skills in passing on information effectively and in listening to others with patience and respect. My experience in representing the school in badminton and hockey has given my stronger teamwork abilities, which I was able to apply in helping organise the school charity week, in which we raised £16,000. I hold positions of responsibility as a school prefect and founder of two societies, where I teach students musical theory and philosophy. Having also been a St John first aider for three years, I gained experience in making others feel comfortable in times of close contact and in assessing situations quickly and effectively. I also enjoy helping out at community events. Finally, I enjoy acting, and also performing magic; being able to instil wonder and joy in others is priceless.
I believe I have the humility, scientific acuity and empathy to become a committed doctor and to face the challenges ahead in my chosen career.”
Now, we’re going to take apart this Personal Statement and have a look at what makes it work.
Remember, though, we’re not going to teach a set formula, but instead, instil some general principles you can use when you’re writing your own.
Personal statements are ‘personal’ after all, so try not to put across things that don’t faithfully reflect your own experiences, understanding and individuality.
Breakdown Of The Statement
The first paragraph is often the hardest the write, and there are a number of ways you can go about it.
Whatever you write, always try to captivate the reader – although sometimes unavoidable, the first few sentences run a high risk of being clichéd. One possible way to sound more gripping is by richly conveying a personal experience, either as a volunteer or during your work experience.
Of course, this isn’t the only way: if you have a strong personal reason for studying medicine (which is actually quite rare among students) or just a strong interest in the sciences, make sure it comes across in the first paragraph, phrasing it in a more interesting and unique manner if possible; remember though, it’s important to always favour a more introspective and honest account of your experiences instead of something unrealistic and unnecessarily flamboyant.
Following the purely descriptive account of the boy, the model statement goes on to reveal what the writer learnt from the experience.
This is an important point: it’s never about what you did, it’s about what you gained from the experience. Many students make the mistake of simply describing all the things they did during their hospital placement or whilst volunteering.
Instead, medical schools are looking for students that are able to reflect upon their experiences, and you’ll be doing this for the rest of your career as you input reflections onto your NHS ePortfolio.
More importantly, a carefully thought out reflection of what you learnt or developed during your experience demonstrates an insight into the qualities and skills needed in good doctors. These qualities and skills may include compassion, empathy, humility, commitment, strong communication, teamwork, and perseverance, among others.
Throughout the application process, medical schools are looking not just for an understanding of the medical course, but medicine as a career.
The writer here shows an awareness of medicine as a profession that requires continuous learning and growth, as well as an opportunity to do good in the world. Of course, there is some flowery language here, but the writer carefully chose this sentence to offer a convincing ending to the opening paragraph.
The next paragraph begins with one aspect of the writer’s desire to study medicine: scientific interest. Ultimately, no matter how much you want to care for people, studying medicine requires some degree of interest in the biological sciences, otherwise, you may as well serve people through a number of other fulfilling career paths, as a social worker, for example.
Note how this opening sentence sets the scene for the paragraph to come – it clearly marks a scientific theme. The language used is also richly descriptive, with words and phrases such as ‘naturally inquisitive’, ‘fascination’, and ‘profound’ adding colour to the sentence. Too often students fail to pick up a thesaurus and can end up sounding grey, unexciting and almost apathetic towards the things they talk about in some areas of their statement.
Never underestimate how the careful choice of language can add a new dimension to your personal statement.
The next few sentences provide support for the natural inquisitiveness and scientific interest the writer claimed to have.
Wider reading isn’t always necessary, but rather a nice addition to more academic personal statements. It’s usually the case that students applying to the more traditional and research-orientated universities (Oxbridge, UCL, Imperial, etc.) offer a few sentences showcasing their interest in scientific research and topics outside of their science curriculum.
If do you want to include a book you’ve read, make sure you know what it’s about so that you can write a concise, perceptive description about it in your PS, just like the writer has done here. We would advise against emphasising A-level choices too much and focus on things you’ve read or done outside the curriculum; certainly avoid talking about how high your grades are as this is a prerequisite for studying medicine anyway.
If scientific research plays a lesser role in your reasons for applying to medicine, then dedicate more space for work experience, volunteering and extra-curricular activities.
Flow is important when it comes to writing your personal statement – don’t make the mistake of making the act of writing your personal statement a listing exercise, like you would for a curriculum vitae.
There should be some hint of an underlying narrative or flow to your writing; in terms of structure, each paragraph should have some theme – in this model statement, the writer has a paragraph on science, hospital work experience and volunteering, for example.
If you’re a fantastic writer (and most of us aren’t), then you may have already put together a beautiful story of how you discovered your passion for medicine and feel comfortable not sticking with a more conventional structure. If you’re not a strong writer, then we recommend you make your personal statement very thematic and simply use nice ‘linking sentences’ that bring together different themes between paragraphs. For example, the writer here draws the scientific paragraph to a close and links to the next paragraph, which talks about work experience.
Your description of where and when you did work experience should be short and snappy. There’s no need to give the full name of the hospital, and as a quick writing tip, try to avoid starting sentences with ‘I’.
You should then move on to what you actually did, keeping the descriptions as concise as possible.
Remember, medical schools don’t care how many ward rounds you’ve been on or that you’ve even worked at a hospital (although hospital experience is rather important). What is important is that you explain the things you’ve picked up and realized as a result of your experience.
The writer here first demonstrates they took opportunities to speak to patients, which is one of the most important things you can take away from a hospital placement.
Medical schools want to know you’re able to communicate with real patients and reflect upon your conversations with them. In this case, the writer succinctly reveals a first-hand experience of how patients can be weak, fragile and utterly dependent on doctors and others to support them.
The writer then goes on to reflect on how the doctors treated these patients and offers one of the most important qualities needed in all doctors, that is empathy.
Note again how this sentence is phrased – it sounds more genuine and meaningful than a sentence such as ‘Empathy is important in doctors’, which is something a lot of students would write.
Always write about what you learnt and realized through your experiences in an authentic manner, it’s much more powerful than phrasing things in a way that suggests you’re just saying it to earn points.
At the same time, you should also be aware that personal statements can be a checklist exercise, with medical schools scrutinizing every sentence you write in order to determine whether you understand what being a doctor is about.
One of the important things you should include is the realities of being a doctor. All too often doctors are over-glamourized by students in their personal statements, with some going as far as saying doctors are trained to deal with all complications, which clearly isn’t true.
Instead, dedicate one or two sentences to the less attractive side of medicine, as the writer has done here. Of course, you don’t want to leave any negative sentences hanging, so tactfully counter them by adding on positives that more than make up for some of the downsides of being a doctor.
As you’ll come to realize when writing your personal statement, fitting everything you want to mention into 4,000 characters isn’t easy.
This model statement clearly makes sacrifices with the content it includes – in this hospital placement paragraph, only two main qualities are covered: empathy and the realities of being a doctor.
There is no doubt that the writer could have included much more – but it’s more effective to go into detail on one or two of the most significant themes, and then just list or briefly talk about other things that the writer picked up from his experiences. In a nutshell, you should sit down and have a think about which of the most important qualities you can and want to portray through your work experience, and sacrifice the less powerful content.
In terms of writing tips here, the writer uses the rule of three (and this technique is used throughout this model statement) when listing: this is a way of making things sound nicer, but also allows the writer to include more high-yield content.
The writer starts a new and shorter paragraph here, and this is purely for the sake of clarity. Do avoid writing long paragraphs and aim to split them into organized chunks if possible.
Again, the writer doesn’t give much of a description of what he did at the GP surgery, and neither is there much space to do so. Instead, it is more important to reflect on what you learnt and realized through whatever experiences you have undertaken.
The penultimate paragraph talks about the writer’s extra-curricular skills and qualities developed through such activities. Never just list a bunch of hobbies you do – instead, always reflect on how you’ve developed your skills, making sure the qualities and skills you talk about are relevant to a future career in medicine.
The writer here uses the word ‘profound’ again – as a writing tip, it is good practice to avoid using the same adjectives or verbs again or close to each other in a piece of prose; ‘powerful’ may be a more suitable word here.
It’s important to watch out in this section of the personal statement: many extremely talented students apply for medical school, and it’s easy to run the risk of sounding arrogant if the way you phrase things isn’t carefully considered.
One way to avoid sounding arrogant is to talk about how you ‘developed’ your skills, opposed to you already possessing them. For example, there’s a subtle difference between ‘I was given the responsibility to be a school mentor due to my strong communication skills’ and ‘I’ve developed strong communication skills through being a school mentor’.
Although the difference is certainly subtle, it can give you a sense of being humble, especially if you have impressive traits.
The ending of this model statement isn’t particularly novel and many personal statements finish with something similar. It is important though to have a closing paragraph that links together your principal themes and affirms your suitability for medicine: in this case, the writer chooses scientific acuity, empathy and humility to be his big three qualities; moreover, the writer also slips in a few other qualities expected in medics, emphasising a commitment and readiness to overcome the challenges that are sure to come in the future.
Although simple, short and nothing original, the content in the closing paragraph was carefully chosen – it does the job and most importantly leaves a positive impression, which is the aim of the game.