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What Does a Successful Personal Statement Look Like?

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There is a lot of advice available online for how to write a personal statement for medical school, including my post here. You can also find sites with examples of previous successful personal statements, such as here.

Below I have dissected my own personal statement, from 2013. It made me very nostalgic to do so! I hadn’t even looked at UCAS since mid-2015, and I wrote my personal statement in October 2013. I then graduated from Sixth Form in 2014. I didn’t start at King’s until September 2015, because I applied for deferred entry to university. Unlike many people, I applied for differed entry alongside my UCAS application instead of after I was offered a place. I would really recommend taking a gap year to anyone thinking of applying to medicine. The year I had out before starting medicine really set me up for the long-haul that is medical school.

I have edited it from the original for privacy reasons.

What goes into a personal statement?

If you haven’t already read my guide on how to write a personal statement, please do so here!

Remember that UCAS will run a similarity check on your personal statement. I am providing mine here to give an example of a successful personal statement. Please do not attempt to copy or plagiarise what you see below. Your personal statement needs to be personal.

My introduction:

“I aspire to be part of the extraordinary and dedicated teamwork that is at the heart of the NHS. As a doctor I would relish the cycle of learning, adapting and improving that leads to excellence in care and procedure. I am fascinated by advances in medical research that could one day become available to the public. My recent experiences as a volunteer have strengthened these feelings.”

What is good about my introduction?
  • Explained why I want to study medicine- I have explained why I want to be a doctor and what I am looking forward to once I graduate,
  • Mentioned the NHS- The NHS is an amazing healthcare system, and many universities are closely involved in NHS policy. Training to be a doctor in the UK, you will need to learn to work in the NHS and demonstrating an excitement for that is a good start.
  • Honesty- I never had a medical epiphany moment, so I didn’t try to make one up.
  • Mentioned my key strengths- I truly believed that my key strengths were teamwork and communication, so mentioned these from the start. You will see below that I go on to justify these skills.

My Medical Work Experience:

I was lucky enough to partake in two lots of medical work experience, one at a hospital and one at a GP practice. I got both by asking doctors if I could shadow them. I didn’t know either of the doctors before contacting them. The GP practice was at the top of my road, I went in one day and asked the receptionist for the work emails of all the practice GPs. I then emailed all of them explaining that I was an aspiring medical student wanting some work experience. I got the hospital placement by asking every family friend and acquaintance if they knew any hospital doctors. Eventually I was put into contact with a doctor at KCH, who was the grandfather of my younger brother’s school friend!

“My time shadowing a medical team at a hospital gave me insight into the reality of a doctor’s role on both general medicine and elderly care wards. In addition to learning about a doctor’s official duties, I found myself enjoying my exchanges with a wide range of people including those with mental health issues, for whom coherence and communication were sometimes a challenge. I found it disturbing to see patients debilitated by their conditions and without the capacity to consent to their treatment; I saw the challenges to the NHS of caring for an aging population. I discussed approaches to reassurance with ward staff and felt proud to be able to help several patients by putting these into practice. When interacting with some of the more agitated patients, I also drew on my own experiences. Over the course of a week I saw the actions of a medical team as a patient’s health deteriorated, leading to palliative care and eventually death. I was struck by the compassion and caring that the consultant brought to this and the extent to which the patient’s best interest was central to decision making. I arranged to conduct an audit into the preventative interventions of hospital-induced delirium present on the two wards, comparing hospital practice with NICE guidelines and suggesting a number of changes to the healing environment, for which the consultant commended me.”

“While shadowing a GP, I observed the huge range of patients and conditions with which a GP is confronted, in particular chronic disease. I noted that, while dealing with more routine appointments, he was alert to other possible issues. Attending a local GP collaborative meeting I found, as I had in MDT meetings, that organisation and communication were crucial to effective care. I was impressed with the depth and quality of discussion about the implications of funding decisions.”

What is good about my medical work experience?
  • Begun by outlining what type of medical work experience I undertook.
  • Mentioned specific areas of personal interest and things that stood out to me- In this case communication with patients and the difficulties some patients found in communicating.
  • Discussed something that stuck with me- “I found it disturbing” is a very emotive description and implies emotional competence.
  • Dropped in key words- “Aging Population”, “MDT”, “Compassion” and “Chronic Disease”
  • Described how I went above and beyond the scope of the medical work experience- I undertook an audit during my time at the hospital.

As you can see, I dedicated about 1600 of my 4000 characters to the work experience section. Having managed to do two separate placements, I felt I had a lot of value to add in this part. I also felt that sacrificing so much time to work experience also warranted more characters. I would not recommend using so much of your personal statement on one section, unless you feel that you have a particularly large amount to say.

My Extracurricular Activities:

“I have learned a lot about communication, teamwork and leadership from my hobbies. For eight years I have been to Forest School Camps every summer and love the world we create for ourselves. I find the organisation’s inclusive ethos uplifting and akin to my own. I have learned independence, commitment and the value of other people. I am now training to be a member of staff, caring for younger children and hoping to bring to others what it has brought to me. I have been playing instruments for eight years and for the last four have been bass guitarist for the local Big Band. I have taken on responsibilities with the younger children as I have matured, especially during tours in Sweden and Barbados where the ensemble acted as ambassadors. I swim three times a week, which is a great stress relief. Competing for the local Aquatics team, I have gained a sense of loyalty and an understanding of how repetition and practice really improve skills. I am a qualified lifeguard and enjoy the responsibility of safeguarding others.”

What is good about my extracurricular activities section?
  • Focussed on what strengths I have gained from each hobby.
  • Mentioned long term activities- Swimming, Camping, Big Band
  • Listed my commitments and obligations- regular activities that I have committed to weekly
  • Shown trustworthiness- Lifeguarding and Staffing on the children’s camps demonstrates accountability and responsibility
  • Demonstrated that I have a life outside of education

My conclusion:

“I aim to further my experience of secondary healthcare during my gap year, through volunteering in Sydney, and then to travel back through several countries. This will allow me to further my knowledge of other cultures. I believe that growing up in a diverse community has already given me skills in working with people from many backgrounds and I regard this as an important skill. I pride myself on being empathetic and nonjudgmental and hope to explore how I can use these strengths to deliver effective healthcare to the community.”

What is good about my conclusion?
  • Specifically mention that I am taking a gap year- I think that medical schools like people who have taken a gap year. Having a year out of education prepares students for the following 5+ years of university and improves all the life skills you will need to study medicine.
  • Outline my plans to improve myself- I mention areas that I want to improve over the coming year, learning about other cultures and taking part in long term volunteering.
  • Honesty- I am honest that I will not dedicate my whole year to volunteering and will take some for myself to travel.
  • Ending on my strengths- “empathetic” and “non-judgemental”

My personal statement is far from perfect. However, I got interviews for 3 out of the 4 medical schools I applied to. I hope my analysis of my personal statement proves helpful to some readers. To learn more about the academic and extracurricular requirements of UK medical schools, please read my other posts. You can read more about getting into medical school with my other posts in the Admissions category, please do check out the other blog posts in the series.

Let me know what other aspects of the medical school admissions process I can help with in the comments below. To get in touch with me, use the Contact page.

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Connor is a medical student at King’s College London. For the 19/20 academic year he is undertaking an intercalated iBSc in Imaging Sciences, also at King’s.

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