By: Ryan Kelly
If you want to stand out from the pack, then you should avoid the common cliches of pre-med writers.
They’re not necessarily bad ideas; in fact, most cliches make perfect sense. Of course you want to help people. Of course your time in the hospital inspired you. It’s precisely because they make perfect sense that they’re cliche: most pre-meds express the same exact thing. Over time, these sentiments have lost their power through overuse.
What are the most common cliches, then? We’ve identified the five we see most often.
I’ve always wanted to be a doctor.
Not only is this sentence overused; it’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter why you wanted to be a doctor when you were eight; what matters is why you want to be a doctor now.
The feeling is quite normal for pre-meds: to a certain extent, we’re all products of our environment. But since so many pre-meds say this in their essays, you’re going to need to find a different way to express why you want to become a physician, one that focuses on your current reasons for wanting to do so.
One day I hope to emulate Dr. Such-and-Such in my future career.
It’s awesome that you enjoyed your shadowing experience and bonded with the doctor, but it sounds a little naive as a basis for your future plans. Yes, you need mentors who will impart wisdom, but you shouldn’t position yourself as a “monkey see, monkey do” type of follower. If that’s the only reason for your choice of specialty, then aren’t you going to change your mind during every rotation in medical school?
Medicine has a high degree of variability, with a wide range of specialties and patient cases. Plus, the field is constantly changing, so the approach and treatments that you utilize in the future might not parallel what you’ve observed.
It's okay to say that you admired a certain quality in Dr. Such-and-Such, as long as you relate it to a quality you yourself have shown.
I am pursuing medicine because I want a career dedicated to helping others.
This sentiment is shared by 99% of pre-meds, and let’s be honest, if you’re not pursuing medicine for altruistic reasons, you might want to rethink your motivations.
But this sentence is far too reductive to be convincing. There are countless careers that allow you to help people (teaching, social work, other healthcare professions, etc). If helping others is the only prerequisite for your career, then you don’t need to spend a decade training to become a physician.
A good strategy for distinguishing medicine from these other careers is to “confirm by contrast.” Without disparaging teachers or social workers, you can draw a comparison to doctors and explain what medicine offers that these other careers are missing. You can even propose medicine as the ideal combination of multiple roles you hope to fulfill (prescribing medicine, making diagnoses, leading a healthcare team, etc).
I want to pursue medicine because doctors helped my mother / father / brother / sister / etc.
Watching loved ones suffer is heartbreaking, and the joy you feel when they recover is indescribable. Doctors play a crucial role in the healing process, and they help to remove the burden of illness. It’s only natural for you to admire them and draw inspiration from their efforts.
Despite the power of these moments, they come off as cliche in personal statements. The emotional appeal will likely be lost on the admissions committees, who have read these narratives too many times to feel deeply moved.
It’s easy to feel committed when the sick person makes a dramatic recovery, but medicine often isn’t so cut-and-dry. Complications arise. Patients get worse. Doctors make mistakes.
You need to show admissions committees that you see the field objectively, that you want to be a doctor for all of the moments, not just the dramatic recoveries.
I have always been fascinated by science, especially biology.
This is a bit like the “helping others” sentence. It’s a starting point, but it’s just not good enough for a “Why Medicine” reason. Someone who loves science could become a researcher, an engineer, a teacher, etc. A natural love for science does not equate to competency as a doctor, and it can only partially account for your medical aspirations.
In fact, you need to be careful not to present yourself as a science geek who spends all his or her time researching in the lab or studying textbooks. A good doctor is personable and relatable for patients, so you need to show your well-rounded skillset, which balances intellect with interpersonal skills.
A more acceptable way to convey your love for science is to make it work in conjunction with real-life experiences: “Although I loved learning biology in the classroom, I was even more excited to see its application during my hospital volunteering.”
Stay tuned for next week’s post, which will reveal the most overused words and phrases that commonly plague personal statement drafts.