Writing a Personal Statement can be intimidating; having to pitch the most important reasons why you would make a great addition to a medical school (within a mere 4000 characters) can feel like a Herculean task that can wait until tomorrow.
This guide will help you put pen-to-(metaphorical) paper, and break down what exactly makes a successful Personal Statement for Medicine, including how to structure each section of the statement, things to do, and things to avoid.
Why is a Personal Statement used?
A Personal Statement is a way for Universities to find out a bit more about you as there is only so much that a set of grades (that is going to be remarkably similar to many other applicants) on a UCAS form can say. It is a chance to showcase what makes you a strong applicant and convince them that you deserve an interview. Additionally, many Universities will also use it as a springboard for certain interview questions, so it can be a prompt to help you in this part of the process too.
What should your Personal Statement include?
Motivation should be conveyed convincingly as the degree and profession can be gruelling.
Medical schools invest a lot in each participant, so naturally would like to ensure the majority want to see the degree through (see more later in the Introduction guide).
Passion is expressing why you would be enthusiastic to undertake this path and what areas truly interest you.
This can overlap with, and form part of, motivation. It can, inevitably, get a little cringey or cliché so there are tips discussed later about how to avoid this.
Make sure you can verbally expand on whatever areas of interest you mention at interview especially if you claim that you read around the topics.
Suitability comes under what skills and qualities you have that would make you a good doctor. These can include:
- Good teamwork skills,
- Effective communication,
- Being trustworthy and acting with integrity,
- Being organised,
- Being emotionally resilient,
- Punctuality and being dependable,
- Being hardworking,
- Being caring and empathetic,
- Being confident but not arrogant etc.
The GMC has a good document explaining some of the traits they require from doctors. Medical schools also often specify which traits they want to see on admissions websites (like this one from UCL).
Make sure you show proof of these traits as opposed to just listing, which is less believable – known as “show don’t tell”.
#4 Evidence Of Interest
Evidence of interest (work experience, volunteering etc) – this is crucial to include as it shows you have proactively engaged with your interests.
A key trap many people fall into is listing and going for breadth over depth. It’s understandable as you may want to include everything you’ve done, but what you learn and how you reflect from each experience is far more important than whatever the experience happened to be (see later in the Main body guide).
How do medical schools use Personal Statements?
Medical schools have different marking criteria or ways of using the Personal Statement in the application process.
Medical School Personal Statement Marking Criteria
Some, such as Nottingham, use it alongside UCAT scores to settle tiebreaks between interview scores, whereas others, such as UCL, use it more holistically. To optimise your chances of getting offers, you should do thorough research and hit all the criteria that medical schools ask for.
A good way to approach this is to make a list of the key things each medical school you have applied for requires in the Personal Statement (this is often the motivation, passion, suitability and evidence of volunteering/work experience) and you will often find a lot of this overlaps. This will give you a good base with which to populate the main body of your Personal Statement with.
It can be hard to strike a balance as some medical schools prefer a Personal Statement to show that you are an all-rounded individual and like to hear about the extracurricular activities.
UCL Personal Statement
UCL, for example, like to see “other interests, for example music, travel, sports, or any activities that are considered to broaden the general education of the candidate”. If this is not clear in other parts of the UCAS application, it would definitely be wise to add in a paragraph in the Personal Statement to tick this box.
Cambridge Personal Statement
However, others such as Cambridge, do not place much weight on “specific extra-curricular activities that are not relevant to the course applied for” and like to see additional activities pursued that relate to Medicine or Science.
A way around this for Cambridge applicants could be the SAQ (supplementary application questionnaire), which has a box where you can include additional information that may be more academic and allows you to be slightly more balanced in the PS that goes off to other Universities.
Whichever way you attempt to strike a balance, make sure you do not completely alienate one of your choices in terms of their criteria.
Up-to-date information can often be found on websites for each University and below are some details about how certain Universities use Personal Statements. Remember that this can change year upon year (for example, Nottingham no longer use it as a weighted component) so it is important to get up-to-date information from the specific University websites.
Do not be afraid to drop the admissions team a quick email to signpost you to the correct information if you are ever uncertain!
How to structure a Personal Statement
There is a reason why many agonise over the perfect way to start their Personal Statement. This is because it is undoubtedly impactful and creates the first impression that sets the tone for how an admission tutor reads the rest of your statement.
If you are finding the introduction hard to write, a good way to begin is by asking yourself why you decided to study Medicine (motivation) and write down the first thing you answer.
The key reason for doing this is once something is written down you can edit it, or change it altogether, but it is something solid to work with. You could even wait until after you have written the main body and then revisit this first attempt at an introduction and reshape it.
Personal Statement Opening Line
There has been research completed about how common certain opening lines were in Personal Statements. Here are the top five (to avoid!):
|Rank||First Line||Used By How Many Candidates|
|1||From a young age I have (always) been [interested in/fascinated by]…||1,779|
|2||For as long as I can remember I have…||1,451|
|3||I am applying for this course because…||1,370|
|4||I have always been interested in…||927|
|5||Throughout my life I have always enjoyed…||310|
Things most people like to focus on in the introduction is a few lines about the “personal” nature of their choice to pursue Medicine as this is a good way to segue into writing. This could be some experience that shaped you, or simply what it is about Medicine that makes you want to spend the next 5-6 years studying it. You want to find the balance between conveying passion without being overly dramatic or cliché.
Make sure you are sensible – there is no expectation for your first word to have been “doctor” or to have been driven to study this since age 3. Instead, try to be honest and realistic, and make the reason something you would be comfortable saying out loud face-to-face if it came to it.
2. Main Body
The key things you want to ensure you cover in the main body are:
Some people like to approach the main body by dividing into paragraphs of certain traits/interests + examples and then work experience + reflections. Others like to integrate traits into paragraphs about their experiences. The key point to realise is that you have to prioritise what you want to mention as there is no way to crowbar everything in.
Another crucial thing people forget that they need to do is to reflect. For each major experience you mention (eg. a work experience placement) you MUST reflect on things like what it has taught you or how you have gone off to research further about the area etc.
It is a key skill in the profession itself and without reflecting, the main body becomes a list of things you have done which quickly becomes boring to read. By not reflecting, you do not demonstrate your capacity to improve and it does not add some of your personality and thoughts to experiences that others may have had.
For example, one candidate who simply states they did a flashy placement in a well-known hospital and lists all the things they did will have a far less effective and meaningful point than another who may not have managed to obtain clinical work experience, but reflects profoundly on lessons they learned and skills they acquired whilst making cups of tea for elderly people at a care home. By reflecting on major points, you will manage to strike the correct balance of breadth and depth in the main body.
Like the introduction, this can often be one of the hardest sections to write. At this point you have likely toiled away over the main body, and the job of the conclusion is to wrap up the statement and leave a positive impression on whoever is reading it. People like to approach this in different ways. Here is a list of some of the things you could use your conclusion to discuss:
This being said, there are plenty of things to avoid doing in a conclusion:
- Don’t trail off – after using this guide to write a fantastic Personal Statement, don’t ruin it by waffling and not having a decisive end. This will not leave the desired bold impact, and will make your piece seem weak and unstructured.
- Don’t make it very lengthy – the bulk of your information should be in your main body so use characters wisely in this set of closing remarks and be concise.
- Avoid being vague and introducing lots of new information– if you have a new big point, the main body is the place to make it as quickly wrenching it into the conclusion can just confuse the reader (and also likely means there is no reflection on this point)
Check out these Personal Statement Inspiration and Examples Articles:
Writing Top Tips
Apart from the points made above, here are 5 key tips to use when writing your Personal Statement:
Put pen to paper as early as you can.
The process of editing and checking takes most people longer than the writing of a first draft so organise ahead and leave plenty of time. If you are getting other people to check your statement, remember that they may be busy and take a while to reply. Factor this in and do not cut it too close to the deadline.
Start and end with impact.
Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions tutor who is going to be reading Personal Statement after Personal Statement. They are only human and, even if this is your labour of love, it is natural that they may switch off slightly. To create a lasting impression, make sure you hook them in with a good introduction, and end with a strong resolute conclusion.
Flawless spelling and grammar.
Making a mistake with spelling or grammar is a cardinal sin with such a prepared piece of writing.
As far as spelling goes, make sure you use spellcheck and have a very thorough check for words like “or” that may be typed as “of” etc.
Try reading it aloud a few times to see if commas are in the right place and sentence structure makes sense. Often teachers offer to have a read of your Personal Statement so reach out to them for a fresh set of eyes.
For the content side of things, it may be wise to find someone who has experience with the application process to have a read over but pretty much anyone can help you out by checking for spelling and grammar so don’t be afraid to ask for help and feedback.
Don’t use a thesaurus too much.
If you’re a fan of Friends think along the lines of Joey with a thesaurus. If you can say something simply in fewer words then that can often be better than using overcomplicated vocabulary that can be misused and make the piece challenging to read.
It’s mentioned in detail in the Main body guide, but make sure your statement is a reflective essay and not a list. This is the best way to ensure you make the Personal Statement about you and shows you can learn and improve.
Now that we’ve been through 5 tips for your Personal Statement, let’s go the other way and cover things you SHOULDN’T say:
This point is very medic-specific but often people give their motivation for picking the profession as wanting to save lives.
This can seem harmless and certainly doesn’t make you a bad person, but it does not demonstrate you have a true awareness for the field you are entering as the job will not always mean you can, or will be able to, save lives.
Whilst sounding a little less heroic, a better alternative is talking about how you want to improve their quality of life (and learning that this was the job of a doctor could even work in to a reflective point about something you learned from work experience/exposure to the field!)
Although it is a point you want to convey, the word “passion” is very overused. Check how many times you repeat words like this and try to cut out unoriginal phrases like “I am fascinated by” or “I am passionate about”.
It might be tempting to fib and over-exaggerate, but remember that asking about anything you put in your Personal Statement is fair game in an interview.
They aren’t expecting you to be superhuman and have an amazing background, but if you get caught out in a lie during the stress of an interview you basically throw your integrity out the window, which is a key trait for future doctors.
Remember that all choices see this Personal Statement so do not alienate and show disinterest in other choices by name dropping one.
Similarly, for your 5th non-medical option, check with the admissions team if they mind having a Personal Statement geared towards medicine. It is often the case that many biomedical courses do not mind this, and means you can focus on the medical aspect without alienating them, and give your best shot at the 4 medicine options.
Be VERY aware of plagiarism.
A quick Google search can unleash hundreds of exemplar Personal Statements.
This is a good way to understand the sort of thing you could write about but that should be it. Medical schools are very concerned with ethics and it would be very hard for them to excuse a violation of this before you have even set your foot through the door by means of plagiarising.
A good way to avoid this is by resisting the temptation to write your Personal Statement with another one in the same window on your computer. Additionally, be wary about posting excerpts of your statement in public forums as other people could lift these phrases.
Understanding the things to write is as important as learning what not to write when it comes to a Personal Statement. Hopefully reading this has helped break down what you need to do to write a successful personal statement section-by-section and has inspired you to start early.
All that’s left to say is good luck with writing your Personal Statement and the application process as a whole!
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