Starting a personal statement for medicine can be a daunting experience. Hopefully after reading this post you’ll be able to create a piece of work that emphasises your strengths, interests and motivations, and really makes you stand out as a candidate.
The personal statement is your chance to show the admissions team who you are, what you have done and why they should accept you. With so many applicants meeting the academic requirements, this is one of the main ways that medical schools sort the wheat from the chaff.
Here I will walk you through:
- The main elements of a personal statement
- What to include and what to avoid
- An example of a successful personal statement
How long should my personal statement be?
A UCAS personal statement needs to be 4000 characters, including spaces, (about 500 words) long. Once you start writing, this will feel minute*! For this reason, you need to make sure you are clear and concise in what you are saying. I find that the best way for me to do this is to go through many drafts and redrafts until I have used the minimum number of words to truly express what I am trying to convey. That isn’t to say that your personal statement should be free of emotion or embellishment, but it needs to be succinct.
*As an example, this post is 6,875 characters long (1170 words!)
What structure should I follow for my personal statement?
Your personal statement for medical schools should roughly conform to the following template:
- Work experience
- Volunteering (or other long-term commitments)
- Your interests
- Your extracurricular hobbies
What should go into my personal statement?
This should briefly explain why you want to study medicine and become a doctor. It is your chance to explain your motivation.
Many people opt to start with an experience or moment that made them want to study medicine. This is a perfectly fine way to start, provided you can demonstrate a real-world application of that feeling- having a ‘Medical Epiphany’ is not enough without you developing as a person from it. Why did this experience make you want to study medicine? What did you go out and do to solidify this desire?
Another common opening gambit is some combination of “I want to help people” and “I liked science at school”. Again, this is a fine way to start your medical personal statement. You need to make yourself stand out though, so remember to provide a real example of your passion for science, an illustration of your caring nature and how you as an individual embody these two.
Remember, your personal statement must be personal. It should be a demonstration of who you are, and you must be ready to elaborate and explain anything in your personal statement in an interview.
Do not lie in your personal statement!
I have written a post on types of work experience here, which I hope you will find helpful if you are still looking to undertake some.
The work experience section of your personal statement should include some anecdotal experiences of your time in the healthcare environment. This could be interactions with doctors or patients, something you observed happening that stuck with you, a lesson you learnt first hand or something you found difficult. Show the admissions team that you are a human being who can interact with others and learn from your experiences. How did your work experience change your opinion of medicine? Did you realise you were holding some misconceptions of being a doctor? What stuck with you most from your work experience?
Volunteering and long-term hobbies
This section should be used to demonstrate you are committed and hardworking. Have you sacrificed your own time to help others? Have you worked hard on an activity for a long time? Have you been employed while you’ve been studying for GCSEs or A Levels? You need to show that you are not afraid of adversity, challenges or obligations.
What do you do except study? Pretty much everybody applying for medicine will have the required academic qualifications, and getting those grades takes hard work and intelligence. But these aren’t enough at medical school. When you move out of home, often to a new city, and take on the challenges that medicine presents, you need to build support networks, find new hobbies and unwind. In this section you need to prove that you are a well-rounded individual, and that you will be able to cope at university. Do you play in a band? Do you play in a sports team? What do you do for fun?
Remember to always link these pastimes back to studying medicine. How does such and such make you a better candidate?
Your Extracurricular Hobbies
Like the section above, but this part of your personal statement should be used to explain any additional, non-academic achievements you have made up till now. Have you won any awards? Have you placed well in national or international competitions? Even academic achievements made outside of the scope of GCSEs and A Levels could be mentioned here.
Your conclusion should summarise your previous points and leave the admissions staff without any doubts that you would be suitable for medical school. Maybe repeat why you want to study medicine, explain what getting into medical school would mean for you, and give another brief example of why you are the best candidate.
What Should I Avoid When Writing a Personal Statement for Medical School?
Here are some of the things I suggest excluding from your personal statement. This list is just a rule of thumb, if you truly believe that something on the list will improve your statement then by all means include it. After all, your personal statement is yours to write.
- Clichés- You can be so much more original than an overused cliché.
- Jokes- The admissions person may not share your sense of humour. Medicine is a serious topic, you don’t want to waste precious characters.
- Listing your strengths- Show, don’t tell.
- Purely emotional reasons for wanting to study medicine- Show that there is more reason to you applying than an ill relative.
- Experiences without reflection- Reflection is how you demonstrate true strength and emotional competence and, believe me, it is drilled into you at medical school. They love it!
- Lies- Do not make things up for your personal statement. If you get an interview you will be called out on it.
What Does a Successful Personal Statement Look Like?
In the next post I go though my own personal statement and explain why I included what I included. In the meantime, you can view some successful and unsuccessful personal statements here. For more on the academic and non-academic requirements of medical school, read my guides.
Interested in the journey of medical student to doctor? I’ve written this short guide to the UK system.
Thank you so much for reading this far! I hope you have found this guide helpful. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments section below and get in touch via the Contact page.