By: Ryan Kelly
The competition for medical school is fierce. With so many qualified candidates, it’s easy to fear being overlooked by admissions committees. Stellar grades and a laundry list of experiences aren’t enough on their own. You must present your path to medicine with flavor and insight. Remember to exercise your creative muscles during the writing process, or you’ll run the risk of blending in with the giant stack of applications.
These four strategies will go a long way in spicing up your writing and leaving a lasting impression on the readers.
Strategy #1 - Go Beyond Your Resume
Admissions committees are swamped with applications, and most of them sound the same. Pre-meds accumulate similar experiences, so if you simply narrate your resume in the personal statement, your story will come off as generic.
Instead, you should open your personal statement with an anecdote that illustrates your personality. Unlike the work and activities list, the personal statement is a chance to exhibit what makes you, well... you.
Your hook doesn’t need to relate to medicine. REPEAT: it doesn’t need to relate to medicine. Are you a musician or a programmer? Did you major in something other than biology? Have you worked a summer job as a kayak instructor or a used car salesman?
As long as the personal anecdotes you share were meaningful to your growth and development, then everything is fair game. With enough creativity, you can make the connection to medicine that you’ll eventually need.
For example, as a kayak instructor, you might navigate us through a dangerous situation, or write about particular pupils who overcame their fears under your guidance. You could parallel these experiences to certain roles of a doctor, while also opening a discussion about what medicine offers that kayak instruction is lacking.
Strategy #2 - The Element of Surprise
If there’s any way to upend your readers’ expectations, it’s probably in your best interest to do so. As long as you’re not being controversial or raising any red flags, you should take risks with your writing.
If you don’t have an unusual backstory, try to find an element of surprise among your recent medical experiences. If you’ve encountered a patient case or situation that challenged your preconceptions or changed your outlook on the field, consider opening with this revelation. If something surprised you, there’s a good chance it will also surprise the readers. Some examples might include:
patients refusing treatment, even when it seems to be in their best interest,
treating an emergency situation without the proper resources,
an unexpected hoop you jumped through when organizing a public health event,
a routine situation that quickly turned into a dangerous scenario.
Besides making your opening more attention-grabbing, this strategy will also illustrate your diverse exposure and show your willingness to embrace medicine’s challenges.
Strategy #3 - Be the Catalyst
No matter which details or anecdotes you use to open the personal statement, your impact is always what matters most. Try to highlight moments in which you played a crucial role or served as the catalyst.
Have you ever translated for a non-English speaking patient in the heat of the moment? Or recruited hesitant patients for a clinical trial? Outside of the clinic, have you spearheaded an outreach event? Or created a new organization at your college?
Admissions committees want to read about students who possess initiative, poise, and the confidence to step out of their comfort zones. Don’t hesitate to narrate your moments of vulnerability and doubt along the way to success. Focus on the events that tested you the most, encouraged your growth, and honed your best qualities. That way, you’ll present medicine as the means of bringing out your full potential.
Strategy #4 - Bring Your Story Full Circle
We’ve discussed how to make a solid first impression in the introduction, but what about the final impression?
Your hook becomes even stronger if you call back to it in the conclusion. If you don’t, the reader might lose sight of why it was there in the first place, or worse, forget it altogether.
Our kayak instructor might write something like, “Like the rapids of a rushing current, medicine brings constant challenges that require foresight, adjustments, and new approaches to a problem. I hope to be a guide and lifeline for patients and help them navigate troubling waters.”
Echoing the introduction at the end of your personal statement will add cohesion and style that will help set your writing apart from the pack.
Remember that flavor and insight we mentioned earlier? That’s up to you. There’s no one right way to write a personal statement, but we guarantee that these four strategies will sharpen your writing and make your essay more compelling. Good luck!