How to write a Personal Statement for Medical School
What is the personal statement?
The personal statement is an essential element of the UCAS form. It is your first opportunity to give the universities which you’ve applied to an idea of who you are, and why you’d make an excellent medical student all within 4000 characters (around 500 words). Each university uses the personal statement slightly differently (details of which can be found on their website). Generally, the personal statement will have some weight in the decision to offer a candidate an interview or a place.
It may be helpful to look at your personal statement as an essay about yourself. Like with an essay, it has an introduction (the core themes), body (explaining the core themes) and conclusion (bringing the information from the essay together).
What should I include and where should I put it?
Getting started with a personal statement can seem daunting at first. There’s no single formula for the perfect personal statement. However, there are some key elements which should be present in them all:
- Your motivation to study medicine (put in introduction and conclusion)
- Clinical experience (paid or voluntary) and what you have learnt from it about medicine (put in the first paragraph)
- Personal qualities and experience that make you a good fit for a career in medicine (put in the second and third paragraphs)
- Back these statements up with examples from extracurricular activities and clinical experience
- Conclusion – showing that everything you have written about has given you an understanding of what a career in medicine involves and confirms it is what you want to do. Reaffirm exactly what your motivation to study medicine is and why it motivates you.
- Optional categories
- Further reading
- Academic achievements
These categories can be used to form a structural backbone for your personal statement. However, don’t forget that these elements should all include your own personal evidence and reflection. After all, your PERSONAL statement should be unique to you.
What qualities should I try and demonstrate?
Your personal statement will serve two principal functions. To allow the university to get to know you and to demonstrate that you’ll make a fantastic Doctor! Qualities that the University of Oxford list on their website as essential for a good Doctor include:
- Honesty and integrity
- Ethical awareness
- A good team worker
- Capacity for sustained and intense work
- Intellectual curiosity
- Communication skills
The best way to demonstrate you have these qualities is to back up your claims with personal experience e.g. “as president of my school’s student union I have developed my leadership skills through organising X, Y and Z” When writing your personal statement try and demonstrate as many of these qualities as possible. This will show you’re a rounded individual, with a suitable personality to work in the medical profession.
What should my introduction include?
Admissions tutors will have seen hundreds of different motivations to study medicine. Most motivations to study medicine include some combination of “people and science”.
To make your own statement stand out, back up your reasoning with personal experience. “My desire to study medicine was confirmed following a period of work experience with a cardiologist where I observed the varied, academically challenging and exciting nature of a career in medicine. This experience highlighted my inherent interest in medical science and love for working with the public” sounds much better than “I want to study medicine because I am interested in medical science and like working with the public”.
Including personal experience in the introduction is a great way to immediately show the admissions tutor you’re serious about medicine and have taken time to understand what it involves.
Explaining the key elements: your motivation to study medicine
Dedicating the introduction of your personal statement to explaining why you want to study medicine will allow you to set the tone for your personal statement. Introduce your work experience and articulate why your personal qualities and experience makes you suitable for a career in medicine.
How long should my introduction be?
You should aim to keep this section concise. Summarise why you want to study medicine in a couple of sentences and introduce the main themes for your personal statement. Think of it as the blurb of a book; the introduction should include key themes, intrigue the reader and leave them wanting to find out more.
Explaining the key elements: clinical experience
The best way to confirm whether medicine is the career path for you is to experience it first-hand. Therefore, universities almost always ask for applicants to have completed work experience in a caring environment. Admissions tutors understand that clinical experience can be difficult to arrange without the right contacts, for this reason, they’re less focused on what you have and more on what you’ve learnt. You can observe a neurosurgeon for a week but if you learn nothing, it’s useless.
How do I decide what experience to include?
If you’re lucky enough to have multiple periods of work experience, you’ll need to be selective about what you include. Avoid simply listing everything you’ve done. Instead, focus on two or three key experiences, describe them and say what you learnt and why it helped you decide you want to do medicine.
Should I include further reading?
Further reading is an opportunity to gain more of an understanding of the medical profession. Reading scientific publications are a great way demonstrate an interest in the medical field.
Writing about further reading alongside work experience e.g. shadowing a neurologist followed by reading a neurology journal, can show you have the inherent interest and passion for learning all Medical Schools require.
Explaining the key elements: personal qualities and experience
This section is your opportunity to let Medical Schools get to know you, and for you to demonstrate you already hold many of the personality traits of a good doctor. Like when discussing work experience, avoid listing all your non-academic achievements without adding an element of reflection.
Some good qualities to demonstrate through personal experience include
- Positions of responsibility and leadership i.e. Head Student or sports team captain.
- Working as a part of a team i.e. being on a sports team or having a weekend job.
- Basic teaching abilities i.e. mentoring younger students.
Similarly, to work experience, admissions tutors understand that some students have more opportunities to pursue a wider range of interests. The concern here is that you have some spare time and do something productive with it.
How do I reflect on my experience?
It is important to show that you’ve learnt from your experiences. “I am currently captain of the school rugby team, chair of the school debating team and play the cello in a local orchestra” whilst impressive this does not show any evidence of personal development through these opportunities. “As captain of the school rugby team, I have developed leadership, teamwork and resilience. My resilience was tested last year when we lost the cup final, to maintain my own morale and that of my team mates I did X Y and Z”. This sentence is better because it demonstrates concrete evidence of the qualities the individual is claiming to have. Medical projects have an in-depth ultimate guide to reflecting on experience (here).
How important is my non-academic experience?
With medicine being such an academically challenging course, it’s easy to disregard the importance of having other hobbies and interests. Universities, however, stress the importance of having a life out of medicine. Direct quote from the University of Manchester’s website: “Doctors must be able to communicate and empathise with their patients. This is enhanced by some shared life experiences”
Explaining the key elements: concluding your statement
Congratulations! You’ve successfully summarised your experiences, achievements and interests into just under 4000 characters. Like writing an essay it’s important to summarise your key points (clinical and personal experience) and relate it back to the central theme of the essay (why you want a place at Medical School and why you’ll make an excellent Doctor).
Try and keep the conclusion to 3 or 4 lines, you shouldn’t be introducing too much new information at this point. Use it as an opportunity to remind the admissions tutors why everything you’ve written about makes you so fantastic and worthy of a place at their Medical School!
Top tips for writing your personal statement:
- Remember your personal statement should be personal to you. Whilst the advice above is all relevant. If you feel using a different structure will improve your statement, then mix it up.
- Write down all your experiences in an excel table then what quality they demonstrate in the next column. This will make selecting relevant content much easier and help you to make your statement as rounded as possible.
- Ask for feedback. Teachers, friends, family… ask as many people to read through and critique your statement as possible, from this you’ll be able to refine the statement and may even come up with some new ideas! Give yourself time.
- Your personal statement is the first impression a university will get of you. Give yourself the best possible chance to impress by starting preparation early.
- Don’t stress too much. You’ve already got the experience, this is your chance to put it all on paper and show admissions tutors how great you are!
Author: Cameron Elsworth
Manchester Medical School