We sat down with Dr. Davietta Butty, a Northwestern School of Medicine graduate, avid writer, and pediatrician! She is an amazing MedSchoolCoach advisor who has helped hundreds of students through the admissions process with a focus on the medical school personal statement. Her insights into what an admissions committee member looks for are extremely important, so read on for some great tips!
Could you give us advice for students who want to write a good personal statement but aren’t able to start one or are in general struggling to write a good personal statement?
First of all, it’s really intimidating to look at a blank document and decide “okay this is where I am going to start or this is what I’m going to do” or know how things are going to be organized. I don’t think anyone necessarily goes into their personal statement with everything figured out. I think people get stuck worrying about wanting it to be great and fabulous. It has to be first, before it can be those things. Rather than focusing on how good you want it to be, just start writing. Even if it’s a stream of consciousness or just your ideas but try to get them on the paper because once they are there then you can cut, paste or change the organization so that you have something to work with. You can then decide whether that experience speaks to you or whether you have this other experience that you think might work better; but you can’t actually do that until you are able to let go and start writing. Don’t worry about it being good at first, just worry about getting your thoughts on paper.
Great! From your experience, what are the top three things that you might have seen in great personal statements or what you think comprise a really good personal statement?
I think the best personal statements are the ones that showcase the applicant’s personality. All of the primary applications is all numbers and a lot of data and the personal statement is one of the only places where you can show who you are as a person. I think it’s important to remember that that type of thing to reach medicine but don’t get stuck in trying to be formulaic about it. Remember that this is your story and not anyone else’s story and you get the opportunity to say it how it makes sense to you. I think one of the things a lot of people struggle with is thinking that they don’t have anything unique about them or not knowing what to say in that personal statement because they haven’t lead a mission trip to Africa, won a Nobel prize or created some wonderful medical engineering invention. I think people get hung up on people not noticing them for not doing those things. What people notice is your story, your heart and your ability to show that you made connections with people. Ultimately, you hope that someone is looking at you, sees the things that you have done and say ‘good job’ while giving you an award. Most of the time people are not going to see that. The people who are going to know what kind of job you are doing are your patients. So, if you are able to show the admissions committee and the reader that you are able to in some small way touch someone’s life even in five minutes or less, then I think that’s more important than holding up an award and saying ‘hey, look at what someone else saw me do’ because people aren’t going to be watching or rewarding you for your career. It’s going to be the reward of making contact with your patient and improving their lives even in the short term.
“In personal statements, what people notice is your story, your heart and your ability to show that you made connections with people.”
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