Personal Statements: 10 drafts later

It’s the summer before your UCAS application for Medicine needs to be submitted, and all you can think about is admissions tests and writing your personal statement. Here are a few ideas to help you write an effective personal statement.

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It’s the summer before your UCAS application for Medicine needs to be submitted, and all you can think about is admissions tests and writing your personal statement. Here are a few ideas to help you write an effective personal statement.

By reminding ourselves how much rests on this one page of self-selling, we tend to make this rather more stressful than necessary. While personal statements are indeed important, it’s good to have some perspective and realise that medical schools really use them to get an overall picture of how interested you are. They want to know that you’ve put in the effort to finding out what medicine is really like (that you’re not someone who thinks they’re going to university to become JD!) and that you have the right qualities to become a doctor. And I’m sure that for all of you applying to study medicine, you can already tick those two boxes! So it’s really just a matter of translating it to paper.

It’s a good idea to make a plan in your mind of when you need to do things by. Set a date by which to complete your first draft. Although it might seem unnecessarily early, it can be useful to have a very rough first draft done before you break up for summer. That way you can get your tutor at school to have a read (before everyone is bombarding them with personal statements) and give you some advice for improvements to make over summer. It’ll also bring to light any things you really want to get done over summer, such as any work experience/volunteering etc. Having said that, don’t worry if you can’t get a first draft done before summer, the priority should be exams.

The hardest part is when you’re staring at a blank page thinking of how to start it! So like with any essay, make a plan. Aside from your introductory and concluding paragraphs, you want to have sections covering:

Work experience/volunteering

How have these have given you a better insight into what medicine actually involves? How has this reinforced your desire to study medicine? E.g. “Conversations with junior doctors stressed the importance of communicating with patients in an empathetic, yet comprehensive manner. This was exemplified when a patient refused to have a procedure, so doctors explained the potential risks yet allowed him to reach a personal decision. This highlighted the emotional hurdles involved in medicine, so as part of my development, I took a counselling course.”

Extracurricular activities

How have these helped you develop the qualities required by a doctor? E.g. “I enjoy sports including cycling and badminton which have proved purposeful for relaxation and time management. E.g. I regularly mentor younger students which started off to be challenging but over time it has allowed me to strengthen my communication skills and patience.”

Extra reading/any research experience

This is something that might be more specific to Oxbridge and only needs to be a few lines but wherever you’re applying, it’s good to add! E.g. “I keep up to date with the Student BMJ and recently read an interesting article about a novel method of screening which might aid earlier detection of certain cancers.”

Most people say you shouldn’t have too many people read your personal statement and suggest improvements. Of course, don’t have every person you know read it, but at the same time, if someone’s offering and you trust their advice, don’t say no just because you’ve already had three people read it! In my experience, it takes time and effort to suggest improvements and if someone’s happy to do that for you then let them! Remember that any improvements they suggest are ultimately only suggestions – you don’t have to take them. So the idea is, don’t be too strict in how many people advise you on your personal statement, but be strict in the changes you make based on the advice you get.

Finally, know your personal statement like the back of your hand. For many medical school interviews, your personal statement will be like cue cards for the questions you’re going to be asked. Be able to back up everything you’ve written and talk about it in more detail. In fact once you’ve written it, go through it with the mind of an interviewer and make a list of possible questions. For example, in mine I talked about a medical ethics discussion group that I used to attend in school. One of my interviewers was an expert in ethics and asked about the most recent topic of discussion!

Just remember, you’ve done all the pre-work, now you just need to show it off in your application!

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