Pause before writing your personal statement

Trust me: The time you spend thinking about your personal statement before you start writing will make the actual writing process much, much easier.

Before you even start writing a word, spend some time reading personal statement examples. Read good ones, read bad ones, read strange ones. The reason for this is to give you an intrinsic idea of what you personally liked and didn’t like. Moreover, you will begin to understand what sounds cheesy, what “showing” rather than “telling” means, and what to focus in on in your own personal statement. While Google, Student Doctor Network, and Reddit are great resources, remember that all the other applicants are reading the same personal statement examples. In the back of your head, start thinking of a theme to your essay. You’ll see them in the examples of good statements, a unifying glue that holds the entire piece together. You don’t have to settle on it, just something to stew on.

After you get a taste of some personal statement examples, take some time to think about what you want to convey. What do you want the reader to know about you at the end of the page that they didn’t before? Why do you want to go to medical school? Why would you make a good doctor? The personal statement is a chance to “sell yourself” and allow medical school admission committees to learn more about you in ways they can’t through your grades and test scores. Take some time and reflect back on your experiences, about what truly brought you to apply to medical school, and take note of the moments that fundamentally impacted you.

Next, create a list of character traits, qualities, or attributes that make you unique. These qualities may be the same qualities you think will make you a fantastic physician. Whether it be insatiable curiosity, resiliency, empathy, or optimism, you want to actually write down a few of these qualities you want to highlight in your personal statement.

The next step is to think of times you demonstrated these qualities. Whether it be working in the emergency room, volunteering to build a house, or working with kids in an after-school program, identifying these core experiences is important as they will serve as the backbone of your essay. In classing writing style, you will want to “show” and not “tell.” Someone letting you know they’re empathetic versus a moving example of an interaction demonstrating empathy is much different. Remember, your personal statement is only a page long: You don’t need many stories, a few core ones will be plenty.

Turn the experience you just thought of into a specific story. Rather than talking about your time in the emergency department overall, discuss an interaction with a patient. This is where the “art” of writing comes in. The story doesn’t have to be riveting nor life-changing, but writing about it in a compelling, engaging way is critical.

Brainstorming the personal statement

Now you’ve thoroughly analyzed and introspected, you’re ready to start writing your medical school personal statement. At this point, you should have qualities that you want to demonstrate along with compelling stories that highlight those qualities.

Writing is (clearly) a key piece of this. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but just start writing your essay. Given your hard work above, you should have a general idea of what you want to convey. Get your computer out and start typing. Get a very rough draft together. It won’t be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be. What’s important is you are just writing.

If you are stuck, put the pen (or keyboard) down for a few days. Come back to it later. Or, perhaps even better, think of a different idea entirely and do this process all over again. You may end up with two drafts you that you might combine together. What’s crucial here is you’re getting a feel for what fits together in the way you want yourself to perceived. At this stage, many applicants go from “I don’t have enough to talk about” to the “how am I going to fit this all in here?” stage. Don’t worry about that: It’s easier to delete content later than to add new material.

While we’re not spending a lot of time discussing the importance of the personal statement introduction in this post, remember that you want it to be very compelling and serve as a guide for the rest of your statement. You want your first sentence to hook your reader in so they want to keep going. Even more important, you want it to be unique to you!

That’s it. That should get you started on writing an exceptional personal statement. Keep in mind that your content should always be unique and personal, demonstrate depth and reflection, and highlight the qualities you deem to be important to your story.

Ryan Karmouta is dermatology resident and founder, AcceptMed.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

Leave a Comment

Join 150,000+ subscribers

Get the best of KevinMD in your inbox

Sign me up! It's free. 
close-link
✓ Join 150,000+ subscribers 
✓ Get KevinMD's 5 most popular stories
Subscribe. It's free.