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The Dreaded Medical School Personal Statement

One area of the medical school application process that may seem especially daunting to applicants is the dreaded personal statement. There are other parts of the application that you may be able to complete on autopilot. You researched things? Awesome! Put your dates here, mentors there, publication right here. You volunteered at a homeless shelter? Bless your soul, now just put the details in this box over here.

You’re listening to that beautiful engine purr as you deftly handle the array of application obstacles like some sort of ninja, when all of a sudden you hit that personal statement speed bump, your gearbox falls out, and now you’re pounding the console. It was all going so smoothly!

Well fear not, brave compadre, you are not alone. The rigors of pre-medical coursework have tuned up your “left-brained” traits that have steered you to success thus far, but now is the time to ditch the formal writing structure of your O-Chem lab reports in favor of a more “right-brained” approach.

If you can break yourself from the logical, algorithmic patterns you’ve already started to develop (and will continue to strengthen in medical school), you will discover that the free-flowing, associative nature of the personal statement is, in fact, quite fun!

The most important aspect of the personal statement is to be AUTHENTIC.

You want to grab the reader’s attention, but you want to do this in a manner that is authentic to you and your personality. You want to show the reader that you are a caring human being, but do this in a way that demonstrates how YOU are a caring human being, not how Mother Theresa is a caring human being. You need to illustrate specifically why being a doctor is important to you, not why it is important for the generic med student, or society for that matter.

When you go to interviews, your interviewers are going to consciously and subconsciously compare you to the “you” that they read about in your personal statement. The most important element here is congruence–if there is incongruence between the impression given in the personal statement and the one “in the flesh”, this is going to give the interviewer (and yourself!) a less than great impression of the encounter. If you really have no interest in research, but you make yourself out to sound like a lab rat because the school you are applying to is well-known for research, then you’re going to wear yourself out in the interviews trying to pull the wool over the eyes of your interviewers.

This doesn’t even have to be in terms of content. If you spent hours on your personal statement carefully crafting witty lines like you’re some kind of cocktail party wizard when that’s just not your personality, then you might fall a bit flat in the interview. If you “spice up” a former illness or death in the family just to pull at some heart strings, you’re going to appear less than authentic when interviewers ask you about this experience, as they have been living through these experiences professionally now for quite some time.

If you are that cocktail party wizard, or have truly been strengthened by a harrowing medical tragedy, by all means, display that in your personal statements! But if that’s not you, don’t cheapen your authenticity just because other people do have these personalities or experiences. Just be you, and like Sinatra, soon enough you’ll be singing “I did it my way”!

About the Author: Dr. Stephen Brandt is a graduate of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine