Getting accepted to medical school depends on 3 big factors: undergrad GPA (overall and science play a part), your MCAT score and your Personal Statement. We’ve interviewed each of our physician advisors, tutors, and quite a few students to write this comprehensive guide to writing medical school personal statements in a way that capture the authentic you as well as the attention of the admissions committees at the Medical institution of your choice.
Quick Link: Personal Statement Review Service
“What sets me apart from every other applicant?” is a question that most medical school applicants obsess about in the months leading up to applying. And before you ever even get an opportunity to interview, your personal statement is where you must answer this question and prove to admissions committees that you deserve a shot.
Personal statements can either make or break your application for medical school.
By writing a powerful personal statement, you show the admissions committee that you are the kind of candidate who will make an exceptional physician and be a valuable asset to the school. Additionally, it helps to distinguish your application from the many other students with similar MCAT scores and GPAs.
Similarly, a weak personal statement can tank your chances of getting an interview. When a medical school admissions committee has several hundred applications to review, a poorly written personal statement with typos and lackluster content is irredeemable.
Apart from its role in weeding out unqualified candidates, the personal statement also serves as a foundation for many interview discussions and questions. Committee members often only have a few minutes to glance over an application when they sit down to interview them. Personal statements provide them with the right amount of information. They can use it as a springboard for the interview by picking out a few key points to discuss.
Since it’s possible this is the only part of your application they’ll read, it needs to be perfect.
This guide will take you through every aspect of writing your personal statement – to knowing how it’s presented on your application, to what makes a great (and not so great) essay, the writing process and tips. We’ll also share many examples of traditional and non-traditional personal statements, and include additional resources that you can study as you prepare to apply to medical school.
While applying to medical school can be a grueling process, the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) strives to make it a bit easier with its centralized medical school application processing service.
This means that most of your information: academic stats (GPA, MCAT, etc), work experience, volunteer activities, extracurriculars, and research opportunities will fit into nice little boxes and form fields on your application. Your application is saved so that you don’t have to reenter information multiple times if you’re applying to lots of schools.
The essay part of the application comes in Section 8. And, this is the one part of the application that you might need to tweak multiple times based on the schools or programs you’re applying to.
The personal statement prompt is presented on the AMCAS as:
Seems pretty straightforward, right? Except knowing how much weight is placed on the personal statement is what makes this deceptively simple prompt the cause of so much anxiety for students.
Before we get into what makes a great personal statement and offer some advice for writing, here are a few tips for entering the essay on the AMCAS application:
Keep it under 5,300 characters (including spaces) – You will receive an error message if you exceed the character count.
Do not type directly into the text box – Use a text only word processing tool, or type the essay into Microsoft Word or a Google Doc – but save the file as a *.rtf. This will eliminate formatting issues when you copy and paste the essay into the AMCAS box.
Proof the PDF the AMCAS generates – This version is exactly what admission committees and interviewers will see. If you see any formatting issues, fix them before submitting your essay.
Don’t settle for anything less than perfection – There is no spell checker function on the AMCAS application. In addition to checking the PDF for formatting issues, proofread carefully for spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Once you submit the application, changes cannot be made.
Even though the majority of medical school applicants have not conducted groundbreaking research to cure cancer, built a new hospital, or supplied water to a village in a third world country through outreach, medical schools still seek specific qualities when reviewing personal statements – specifically: accountability, reliability, and maturity, which are demonstrated through research, volunteer activities, and mentorship experiences.
If a student can show that they possess these characteristics through their personal statement, they can set themselves apart from other applicants.
So what, exactly, makes a great personal statement? Of the thousands of personal statements our advisors have read over the years, here’s what you should do to create a standout essay.
Being authentic in your personal statement is essential. Your goal is to engage the reader, but in a way that is authentic to you and your personality. Resist the temptation to write what you think admissions committees want to hear. What they want to hear is your truth about why you want to be a doctor, and what specifically sets you apart from other applicants.
It’s even more important to be authentic in your personal essay if you make it to the interview stage. Your interviewers will be comparing you – in the flesh – to the ‘you’ that they first met in your personal statement. If you hype yourself up in your essay then fall flat during the interview, interviewers will know you’re trying to pull the wool over their eyes.
As medical school student, Ariel Lee says, “Adcom members are very good at sniffing out hollow and disingenuous essays, so be sure to tell the authentic story of how you came to love medicine.”
Keeping your voice throughout the personal statement is important. Don’t let your parents write this essay for you because you will get caught in a trap. You want to make sure the admissions committees knows who you are as a person and the personal statement is one great place in the medical school application where you can do that.
You need to demonstrate why being a doctor is important to you.
We talk a lot about avoiding cliches in your personal statement. Saying you want to become a doctor “to help people” is just one of them. Dr. Renee Marinelli, Director of Advising at MedSchoolCoach, cautions that some cliches are “extrinsic experiences that now looking back as you apply to medical school, you think would convince an admissions committee that you want to go into medicine but in actuality, they didn’t have as big of an impact on you than you may have thought.”
For example, saying “I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was 5 because a really nice doctor helped me when I had a broken arm.” While it may indeed be your personal story, it comes off as cliche.
Your passion for medicine doesn’t have to stem from some grand experience or sudden revelation. Of course you want to help people if you are going into the field of medicine. But maybe it didn’t all click for you until college when you fell in love with psychology and started volunteering in nursing homes.
You don’t need to have a lifelong dream of becoming a physician to demonstrate your passion and go on to become an amazing doctor.
Your theme is also considered your personal brand or narrative, and it is the essence behind your answer to “Why do you want to be a doctor?”
Emily Singer, a graduate from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and writer at ProspectiveDoctor.com, offers this advice for developing your theme,
“Perhaps a better approach to starting the personal statement is not to focus on the question that your essay will ultimately answer, but on the personal aspects of your experiences on earth that shaped who you are – a person whose goals and values align with entering the medical profession.”
Developing a central theme that connects your passions to medicine is a critical component of your personal statement. A consistent narrative keeps your essay focused, aids the flow of content, and keeps the reader engaged and reminded of your unique story throughout the beginning, middle, and end of the piece.
You can draw on many personal experiences and attributes during the process of developing your theme, including:
• 1. Personal Experiences
• 2. Academic Achievements
• 3. Passions & Interests
• 4. Values & Principles
• 5. Research Opportunities
• 6. Extra Curricular Activities
• 7. Volunteer Initiatives
• 8. Leadership & Mentoring
A memorable personal statement captures the reader’s attention from the first sentence, which is usually accomplished with an interesting personal story or anecdote. It’s absolutely ok – and encouraged – to include some creativity, ingenuity, humor, and character. However, some students tend to go over the top, let their anecdote carry on a bit too long, and ultimately come off as trite or immature.
Admissions committees care far less about what you did, and more about the reasons why you did them, what you’ve learned, and how you grew as an individual. Your personal statement gives you the opportunity to show, not just tell, how your experiences have impacted your journey to medicine.
Consider the following examples of statements about a student’s volunteer experience at a food pantry:
Which do you think performed better in terms of conveying personal characteristics?
Yes, admissions committees want to know why you want to become a doctor. But they also want to know how you envision yourself impacting the medical community in the future.
This doesn’t have to be as grand as “curing cancer.” If you grew up in an underserved community, perhaps you saw the inequity in healthcare and want to work toward accessibility and affordability.
What’s not ok to say here is, “I want to become a plastic surgeon and make a lot of money in the future” (even if there’s some truth to it!). Instead, say something more along the lines of, “I want to become a plastic surgeon to help people regain their self-confidence.”
In addition to your personal statement being grammatically accurate and error-free, there needs to be a little something-something to it! Admissions committees read hundreds, if not thousands, of essays every year. It can become tedious, especially if the writing is dry and the reader isn’t engaged. Creative writing, a distinct voice, and letting your personality shine are all good things when it comes to your essay. This is the time to ditch the onerous APA formatting and hypothesis-based research papers and dazzle adcoms with your unique story.
As Dr. Davietta Butty, a Northwestern School of Medicine graduate, avid writer, pediatrician, and MedSchoolCoach advisor puts it, “I think the best personal statements are the ones that showcase the applicant’s personality. 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.”
Personal tragedies, like the death of a loved one, can be a powerful motivator for a personal statement. In a field where life and death are constantly at odds, experiences in death can seem like an impressive qualification, but must be treated with caution.
It’s important to focus on the why, and not the how. Don’t get mired in the details of the tragedy, but show how the experience impacted you as it relates to your career in medicine. How did it help you develop skills? Have you changed your perspective as a result? How did you use that new perspective or those new skills? Would it make you a better medical student?
If you’re considering including an emotional experience in your essay, read this article for some more insightful advice.
Now that you’re inspired by the prospect of writing an insightful and engaging essay, let’s take a look at what NOT to include.
It’s already listed in the data-heavy part of your application and it’s part of a computer algorithm that determines if your personal statement is worth reading. If your personal statement is being read, then you can be assured that adcoms know your scores are worthy.
With today’s word processing solutions and free grammar checking apps, there is absolutely NO excuse for errors.
Name dropping is obnoxious in almost any situation. It’s braggadocious and brushed off at best. At worst, it could negatively impact your chances if the adcom reader thinks poorly of the person you’re talking about. If it’s a well-known and well-respected name in the medical field, and you truly worked closely with them, a better route would be to request a letter of recommendation.
See the first point above: Be Authentically YOU. False or embellished stories could backfire and tank your reputation. Honesty and integrity are prized qualities in physicians; don’t start your career off with a lie.
The personal statement is not the time to rehash your resume. It IS the time to talk about how those experiences impacted you and steered you toward medicine. “I volunteered at nursing homes” is on your CV. “Volunteering at nursing homes and seeing the effect brain exercises had on patient recall and memory made me interested in geriatric psychology and Alzheimer’s research” is an appropriate way to expand on your CV in your personal statement.
If you’re going to mention any awards in your essay, make sure they’re recent and relevant to your goal of getting into medical school and becoming a doctor. Don’t reach back to high school and talk about your “Future Scientist” award.
Don’t overlook your closest sources of inspiration: your friends and family who have gone through the medical school personal statement writing process. Seeing what they’ve written about can help you get ideas, good and bad.
After you read a friend’s personal statement, think about what it meant to you. Did any of their examples or reasons feel like stereotypes? Did you think “WOW, I would accept this person!” or did you think “Meh, that was just okay”?
These gut feelings will help you understand what will work for you and what may not. This review process can also help determine whether or not what you plan to write about will come across as genuine and authentic or cliched and common.
Admissions committees know you want to be a doctor because you want to “help others.”
Other cliches to avoid include:
• an innate passion for medicine (“I’ve wanted to be a doctor my entire life”)
• dramatic patient anecdotes (“The patient was wheezing and his lips were rapidly turning blue. I knew something had to be done fast”)
• routine doctor visits (“That doctor helped me overcome my fear of immunizations and inspired me”)
• stories of when you were a pre-med and saved a patient’s life (“While on a volunteer shift I noticed the patient’s vitals drop and notified the doctor in time for the patient to get lifesaving treatment”)
Your personal statement is about you. If you wouldn’t have a conversation and refer to yourself as “Ben,” “him,” and “he,” then don’t do it in your writing, either.
Remember to let your voice shine through and make the statement about you, not other people. You might choose a story that involves your grandmother. Yet, your grandmother is not the one applying to college, you are.
If you write about other people make sure their story does not overpower yours. You should be talking about your relationship with the other person and how it molded, shaped, and impacted you.
You’re not going to tug on any heartstrings relaying the story about your second cousin who broke his toe. Personal stories are good, but remember that they need to be relevant, engaging, and close to you to be impactful.
If your essay is being read, it means that your grades are strong enough to have gotten you here.
We’ve talked about a lot of big picture dos and don’ts of the personal statement. Now let’s take a look at the actual components of the essay so we can start thinking about organization and writing.
Start your personal statement long, and then condense it. Pick a quiet place, turn off your phone, grab a cup of coffee, and begin drafting your medical school personal statement. This is your first impression, and it needs to be memorable. Start your essay with a personal story or anecdote and introduce your narrative/theme by tying it to the story.
For the early draft writers, focus on the overall content, structure and message, and then edit down your ideas to fit the length limits for the application. It’s much easier to write a long personal statement and then condense it than try to craft a perfectly structured, concise draft in one sitting.
AMCAS’ 5,300 character count works out to be about 500 words, or 1.5 pages. Easy enough, right? But when you’re staring at a blank page, it can be paralyzing.
Find a theme and stick to your theme. This affects how you will highlight pivotal experiences- remember, not just that you conducted research, but how it affected you personally and drove your desire to pursue medicine.
Also use this theme to tie back to any of your admirable traits that will make you a good physician. As cringeworthy as it feels to toot your own horn, the personal statement truly is the place where you need to shine and set yourself apart from other applicants.
Each paragraph or section of your personal statement should support the idea behind your theme. Whether you are sharing examples or defining your personal traits and values, each section builds and further develops your theme.
This is where everything comes together and you leave a lasting impression on the reader. Instead of using the conclusion to rehash the points you already covered (i.e. “For the reasons stated above, I believe…”), use the conclusion to look to the future and share your vision for how you want to impact the field of medicine. Your personal stories, pivotal experiences, and admirable attributes you already shared will all naturally support this vision and your reason for applying to medical school.
And don’t actually say “In conclusion” in your conclusion. Just wrap it up and conclude.
When it comes time to put pen to paper, think about big questions.
What are your biggest dreams?
What are your values? Why?
How will college help you achieve your goals?
What are your main academic interests? What appeals to you about those subjects?
Seek out information provided by admissions offices at your top choices. They will likely have clear language about what kind of students they are looking for and what kind of community they are striving to create. For example. Yale looks for “applicants with a concern for something larger than themselves.” Princeton looks for “students with intellectual curiosity, who have pursued and achieved academic excellence.” Find the mission statements for your top choices and practice writing stories that prove you are the kind of student they want to admit.
You know what makes a strong personal statement, what missteps to avoid, and have a plan for breaking it into manageable sections. Now let’s dig into the actual writing process.
Not all of these tips will work for all students. You know whether you’re a meticulous planner, or whether stream of consciousness writing and heavy editing works best for you. But these are some tips from advisors and students that may help you get started.
Consider the following brainstorming prompts. You can use these to get the creative juices flowing, or if you’re a more visual planner you can create an idea cloud or outline.
Significant/formative life experiences: things that have greatly influenced your life, the way you conduct yourself, your outlook on the world, or your decisions:
• Excelling at something, especially if it enables you to teach or impact others (sports, science, foreign languages, special skills)
• Getting a second chance at something
• Connecting with or working with a person that made a significant impact on your life
• Getting out of your comfort zone (traveling, moving, interacting with people from different backgrounds)
• Overcoming an obstacle or challenging life experience that was out of your control
• Reflecting on a mistake you made and how it influenced how you conduct yourself
People that had an impact on you (positive or negative), and how that affected your journey to medical school:
• Parents, siblings, or friends
• Mentors, teachers, or professionals
• Authors, actors, speakers, or personal heroes
Personal characteristics and skills that you have, and how those skills translate into being a good physician:
• Integrity, compassion, diligence, humanity, courage, respect, curiosity, or optimism
• Communication, organization, collaboration, leadership, or competence
I had just past the final mile marker, my ankles hurt from the uneven trail and my arm ached from my fall. My 21-kilometer trail run was finally coming to an end. From the beautiful rainforest valleys of Hawaii where movies like “Jurassic Park” were filmed, ascending above steep cliffs with endless views of the turquoise pacific water, down muddy, slick slopes with ropes to assist the unsure footing, my race was exhilarating, treacherous and exhausting. At last crossing the finish line, I held my arms high as my son and husband applauded my finish. This accomplishment was completed with resolve and determination; by taking each piece of the entire race as it came; from the river crossing, to the elevation gain and the finish running in mud soaked clothes and shoes. Instead of becoming overwhelmed on the seemingly insurmountable entire journey, I managed it step by step, and eventually succeeded. This approach has translated outside of my races and into my life where it has been exceptionally useful on my journey of becoming a physician.
What Does this Medical School Personal Statement Introduction Do?
Interesting, ‘paints a picture’ for the reader to imagine and continue reading
Discuss characteristics of applicant; dedication, determination, perseverance
Introduces ‘theme’ of personal statement- approaching life and journey to become a physician in a ‘stepwise’ manner
Student Accepted to Case Western SOM, Washington University SOM, University of Utah SOM, Northwestern University Feinberg SOM
With a flick and a flourish, the tongue depressor vanished, and from behind my ear suddenly appeared a coin. Growing up, my pediatrician often performed magic tricks, making going to the doctors’ feel like literal magic. I believed all healthcare facilities were equally mystifying, especially after experiencing a different type of magic in the organized chaos of the Emergency Department. Although it was no place for a six-year-old, childcare was often a challenge, and while my dad worked extra shifts in nursing school to provide for our family, I would find myself awed by the diligence and warmth of the healthcare providers.
Though I associated the hospital with feelings of comfort and care, it sometimes became a place of fear and uncertainty. One night, my two-year-old brother, Sean, began vomiting and coughing non-stop. My dad was deployed overseas, so my mother and I had no choice but to spend the night at the hospital, watching my brother slowly recover with the help of the healthcare providers. Little did I know, it would not be long before I was in the same place. Months later, I was hospitalized with pneumonia with pleural effusions, and as I struggled to breathe, I was terrified of having fluid sucked out of my chest. But each day physicians comforted me, asking how I was, taking time to reassure me that I was being taken care of, and explaining any questions related to my illness and treatment. Soon, I became excited to speak with the infectious disease doctor and residents, absorbing as much as I could to learn more about different illnesses.
In addition to conventional medical settings, I also came to view the magic of healing through other lenses. Growing up, Native American traditions were an important aspect of my life as my father had been actively involved with native spirituality, connecting back to his Algonquin heritage. We often attended Wi-wanyang-wa-c’i-pi ceremonies or Sun Dances, for healing through prayer and individuals making personal sacrifices for their community. Although I never sun danced myself, I spent hours in inipis, chewing on osha root, finding my own healing through songs. In addition to my father’s heritage, healing came from the curanderismo traditions of Peru, the home of my mother, who came from a long line of healers, which involved herbal remedies and ceremonies in the healing of the mind, body, energy and soul. I can still see my mother preparing mixtures of oils, herbs, and incense while performing healing rituals. The compassion and care she put into healing paralleled the Emergency Department healthcare providers.
Through the influence of these early life experiences, I decided to pursue a career in the health sciences. Shortly after starting college, I entered a difficult time in my life as I struggled with health and personal challenges. I suddenly felt weak and tired most days with aches all over my body. Soon, depression set in. I eventually visited a doctor, and through a series of tests, we discovered I had hypothyroidism. During this time, I also began dealing with an unprocessed childhood trauma. I decided to take time off school, and with thyroid replacement hormones and therapy, I slowly began to recover. But I still had ways to go, and due to financial challenges, I made the difficult decision to continue delaying my education and found work managing a donut shop. Unbeknownst to me, this experience would lead to significant personal growth by working with people from all walks of life and allowing me time for self-reflection. I found myself continuously reflecting on the experiences in the hospital that defined my childhood and the unmatched admiration I had for healthcare workers. With my renewed interest in medicine, I enrolled in classes to get my AEMT license to get more experience in the medical field.
As my health improved, I excelled in my classes, and after craving the connections of working with others, I became a medical assistant. In this position, I met “Marco,” a patient who came from Mexico for treatment. Though I spoke Spanish while growing up, I had little experience as a medical interpreter. However, I took the opportunity to speak with him to learn his story. Afterwards, he became more comfortable, and I helped walk him through the consultation process, interpreting the physician’s words and Marco’s questions. This moment showed me the power of connecting with others in their native language. As a result, I began volunteering at a homeless clinic to continue bridging the language barrier for patients and to help advocate for the Latinx community and those who struggle to find their voice.
My journey to become a doctor has been less direct than planned; however, my personal trials and tribulations have afforded me the opportunity to meet and work with incredible people who have been invaluable to my recovery and personal development. Most importantly, I have seen the value of compassionate and empathetic care. Though I have not recently witnessed any sleight of hand or vanishing acts, what healthcare providers do for patients can only be described as magic. I look forward to bringing my diverse background as a physician and expanding my abilities to help patients in their path to healing.
Student Accepted to Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Harvard Medical School, Yale SOM
I’ll never forget his screams of pain.
It was the first time I had heard a man cry for help, and it shook me to my core. It had been a long night of training in South Korea for me and my fellow Army Rangers. We were reaching the end, heavy with exhaustion, when my friend took the direct impact of an explosive to his leg. The shockwave momentarily rattled my sense of balance. Struggling to see in the dark, I switched on my headlamp. In that instant, all I could focus on was his face. His eyes darted back and forth, sweeping the surroundings for any semblance of help, but all I could do was stand there and watch as our medics treated him.
No amount of training prepared me to see a friend in pain. As I watched the helicopter fly him away, I couldn’t help but think— even though I’d gone through some of the best military training in the world, in that moment, I could do nothing for him. Fortunately, he is okay, but had there been no medic available, the situation could have ended with tragedy. That night, I realized that through a career in medicine, I could be more than just a bystander to suffering— I could be in the position to not only reduce unnecessary pain but to also help those affected by conflict and trauma be restored to the fullness of life.
Upon returning home from this deployment, I shifted my focus to developing my skills in trauma care. I completed various trainings on caring for casualties in a combat environment and preparing non-medic Rangers to provide self-aid or buddy-aid in the absence of a medical provider. In a final scenario-based training lane, I helped lead my team in the treatment and packaging of a trauma patient for evacuation, setting a record time in our company and earning a military medal. This achievement, however, was only the beginning. These trainings and my successes served as a foundation that I built upon to ensure I could provide life-saving care in combat situations. I continued to hone this skillset over my next two combat deployments as a machine gunner to Afghanistan, where, I was prepared to use these critical abilities to decrease mortality on the battlefield. In medicine, like in the army, the actual practice of one’s craft may be life or death. Therefore, evolving both dependability and proficiency during training is imperative in preparation for that final test, both in war and in medicine.
After leaving the military, confronting injury and trauma continued to be a reality. A year after exiting the service, two Army Ranger leaders whom I knew were critically injured on a mission overseas. One was my former team leader, who was shot in the neck, and the other was caught in an explosion that later resulted in a triple amputation. The relentless efforts of doctors and nurses is the reason why both of these brave men are alive today. Recognizing that without the diligent care of these medical professionals, these men would not have survived, I became ever more dedicated to serving others.
While in college, this dedication pushed me to routinely visit the West Haven VA Hospital to provide a community of support for the older, disabled veterans there. I first began visiting this hospital for my own medical care but witnessing the suffering of the other veterans at the hospital spurred me to return repeatedly not as a patient, but as a friend to my fellow veterans. As a veteran and student, seeing and hearing about the pain and loss of function experienced by many other veterans reminded me of the importance of advocacy in healthcare: to understand, to care for, and to fight for those who are unable to do so themselves.
I continued to see these effects of conflict while volunteering as a tutor to individuals from the Middle East who were affected by the very war I served in. Alaa lives in Syria and dreams of becoming a surgeon. Together, Alaa and I discussed chemistry, biology, and math. Despite his love of learning and dedication, the instability of his community, which was plagued by violence, often barred him from focusing on his studies and committing to a routine tutoring schedule. Although I’ll never intimately know the reality of growing up in a war-torn country, working with Alaa taught me to keep the bigger picture of healthcare in mind. It reminded me that a career as a physician would provide me with the capability to help those like Alaa who are affected by conflict.
When I reflect on medicine, I draw many parallels to my life in army special operations. The training is intense, the hours are long, and the structure is hierarchical. The mission, above all else, is to provide the best outcome for those around you. On my journey to a career in medicine, I plan to continue to add to what I’ve learned from my experiences so far: humility, empathy, dependability, communication, teamwork, and leading from the front. For over four years I lived by the Ranger Creed, and I plan to imbue the same ethos in serving as a physician— to keep myself mentally alert and morally straight, to shoulder more than my share of whatever task presents itself. In crossing from the path of a warrior to that of a healer, I hope to continue a life of service to improve the human condition and reduce unnecessary suffering in the world one person at a time.
Student Accepted to Weill Cornell
My path to medicine was first influenced by early adolescent experiences trying to understand my place in society. Though I was not conscious of it at the time, I held a delicate balance between my identity as an Indian-American and an “American-American.”
In a single day, I could be shooting hoops and eating hotdogs at school while spending the evening playing Carrom and enjoying tandoori chicken at a family get-together. When our family moved from New York to California, I had the opportunity to attend a middle school with greater diversity, so I learned Spanish to salve the loss of moving away and assimilate into my new surroundings.
As I partook in related events and cuisine, I built an intermixed friend group and began to understand how culture influences our perception of those around us. While volunteering at senior centers in high school, I noticed a similar pattern to what I sometimes saw at school: seniors socializing in groups of shared ethnicity and culture. Moving from table to table, and therefore language to language, I also observed how each group shared different life experiences and perspectives on what constitutes health and wellness. Many seniors talked about barriers to receiving care or how their care differed from what they had envisioned. Listening to their stories on cultural experiences, healthcare disparities, and care expectations sparked my interest in becoming a physician and providing care for the whole community.
Intrigued by the science behind perception and health, I took electives during my undergraduate years to build a foundation in these domains. In particular, I was amazed by how computational approaches could help model the complexity of the human mind, so I pursued research at Cornell’s Laboratory of Rational Decision-Making. Our team used fMRI analysis to show how the framing of information affects its cognitive processing and perception. Thinking back to my discussions with seniors, I often wondered if more personalized health-related messaging could positively influence their opinions. Through shadowing, I had witnessed physicians engaging in honest and empathetic conversations to deliver medical information and manage patients’ expectations, but how did they navigate delicate conflicts where the patients’ perspectives diverged from their own?
My question was answered when I became a community representative for the Ethics Committee for On Lok PACE, an elderly care program. One memorable case was that of Mr. A.G, a blind 86-year-old man with radiation-induced frontal lobe injury who wanted to return home and cook despite his doctor’s expressed safety concerns. Estranged from family, Mr. A.G. relied on cooking to find fulfillment in his life. Recognizing the conflict between autonomy and beneficence, I joined the physicians in brainstorming and recommending ways he could cook while being supervised. I realized that the role of a physician was to mediate between the medical care plan and the patient’s wishes in order to make a decision that preserves their dignity. As we considered possibilities, the physicians’ genuine concern for the patient’s emotional well-being exemplified the compassion that I want to emulate as a future doctor. Our discussions emphasized the rigor of medicine—the challenge of ambiguity and the importance of working with an individual to serve their needs.
With COVID-19 ravaging our underserved communities, my desire to help others drove me towards community-based health as a contact tracer for my county’s Department of Public Health. My conversations uncovered dozens of heartbreaking stories that revealed how inequities in socioeconomic status and job security left poorer families facing significantly harsher quarantines than their wealthier counterparts. Moreover, many residents expressed fear or mistrust, such as a 7-person family who could not safely isolate in their 1 bedroom/1 bath apartment. I offered to arrange free hotel accommodations but was met with a guarded response from the father: “We’ll be fine. We can maintain the 6 feet.” While initially surprised, I recognized how my government affiliation could lead to a power dynamic that made the family feel uneasy. Thinking how to make myself more approachable, I employed motivational interviewing skills and even simple small talk to build rapport. When we returned to discussing the hotel, he trusted my intentions and accepted the offer. Our bond of mutual trust grew over two weeks of follow-ups, leaving me humbled yet gratified to see his family transition to a safer living situation. As a future physician, I realize I may encounter many first-time or wary patients; and I feel prepared to create a responsive environment that helps them feel comfortable about integrating into our health system.
Through my clinical and non-clinical experiences, I have witnessed the far-reaching impact of physicians, from building lasting connections with patients to being a rock of support during uncertain times. I cannot imagine a career without these dynamics—of improving the health and wellness of patients, families, and society and reducing healthcare disparities. While I know the path ahead is challenging, I am confident that I want to dedicate my life to this profession.
Student Accepted to George Washington SOM and Health Sciences, Drexel University COM
Immigrating into a foreign country without speaking a word of the language is a terrifying task for anyone. My mentee at Computers4kids, Sahil, came to the United States at seventeen and had been struggling to integrate with society due to the language barrier. Although I was born in the United States, I can empathize with the struggle he encounters daily, since both my parents and many members of my family have dealt with the same issues. Often, these barriers exacerbate mundane issues the immigrant population faces as they have difficulty finding people who can understand and care for them. Since I am bilingual in Farsi, when Sahil approached me with his driving instructions manual written in Dari, I thought I could teach him the rules of the road with no issues. I asked him to read the first sentence, but he diverted his gaze and mumbled that he did not know how to read. As I realized he seemed embarrassed by his illiteracy, I placed my hand on his shoulder and assured him that he could learn. I increased my weekly hours at the site to spend an equal amount of time on the rules of the road and on phonetics and reading. Within a few months, he was more comfortable greeting others around the Computers4Kids site and participating in interactive projects. Upon reflection, I appreciate the importance of creating a judgment-free zone that encourages learning and reciprocal care. Once Sahil noticed that I saw him no differently after learning of his illiteracy, he was ready and willing to work on the basics of language and reading, instead of solely memorizing words.
I did not realize how pivotal a judgment-free zone in a medical environment is until I worked at the University of Virginia Emergency Department as a medical scribe. Although I had scribed at a smaller hospital before, I had always strived for a position at a high-volume healthcare center and level one trauma center. Close to the end of a long shift, I walked into the room of a patient with the chief complain of ‘Psychiatric Evaluation’. A male patient with schizophrenia was hyperventilating and speaking through tears as he described seeing his deceased wife and daughter everywhere he looked. Between short breaths, he mentioned he was going to Florida to attack the person who “murdered his family”. The resident diffused the situation by acknowledging the patient’s feelings and suggesting that he stayed for psychiatric help instead of flying to Florida. Eventually, the patient agreed and was admitted. Seeing the resident create this judgment-free environment was eye opening, as the previously distressed patient was now accepting counseling. The powerful influence of acceptance can lead to valuable insights about patients’ lives, potentially increasing the range of care one can administer.
I decided to transition to primary care in the most recent fall season because I would be able to build a more personal relationship with families in my community. I began working at Union Mill Pediatrics and was finally able to serve the community I grew I up in. I was given the responsibility of acting as the primary contact for a few families with children who have autism. Dr. Maura and I perused the plan of care for one of these children, Ayaan, determined by the Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), to ensure that set therapeutic goals were reasonable and generalizable. When I asked Salwa, Ayaan’s mother, about some of the goals set by her BCBA and the school, she mentioned they would repeat exercises he already knew how to complete. I informed Salwa of her right as a patient to bring up her concerns with Ayaan’s teachers. I was overjoyed when she updated me that she instructed Ayaan’s teacher to continue putting his hearing aid in despite Ayaan’s constant cries. Salwa explained that the tantrums would curb after two days, which proved to be true. Similarly to how I encourages Salwa to advocate for her son, I will advocate for my patients and help them develop confidence to speak about their needs. After finding her voice as the patient’s guardian, Salwa gained the confidence to ask about a support group as she faces difficulties raising Ayaan alone. After some research, I found a few active groups to send her. By proving to Salwa I had her best interests in heart, she opened up to me about her mental health issues, which enabled me to extend the appropriate resources her way.
I have witnessed the potential that physicians have at work to forever change a family’s quality of life by being open-minded and remaining judgment-free. As a physician, I will aim to provide for my community through attentive healthcare and community service. I will advocate for my patients with cultural, language or socioeconomic barriers to healthcare. Building a trusting relationship with my future patients can result in a more productive office visit and enhance my ability to administer holistic care. My goal is for patients to leave their visit with not only a reasonable plan of care, but also a greater appreciation of their health and their rights as patients.
Student Accepted to Hackensack Meridian SOM, Nova Southeastern CoOM/KPCOM
Growing up, I inherited a deep admiration for medicine. From my grandfather’s chilling stories as a forensic psychiatrist assessing mental fitness, to my father’s heroic accounts as a pediatric dentist operating on toddlers with severe tooth decay, I was enamored with the honor of healing. These exposures nurtured my natural curiosity and innate aptitude for the sciences. Yet my mother, who had studied dance and theatre, instilled in me a fervent love of the arts and creative practice. Following in her footsteps, I took up multiple musical instruments, attended a high school for the arts, and earned a degree in art history coupled with a dance minor. Still, my dream was to pursue medicine, and though it seems counterintuitive, my love of art has only facilitated my enduring love of science, reinforcing why pursuing a career as a holistic, health-centered physician is my deepest aspiration.
My affinity for the health sciences began in the dance studio, where I devoted many hours of my adolescence. Dance, insidious in its promotion of grotesque health practices, demanded that I limit my calories to 1,200 a day counting everything from ibuprofen to a stick of gum, and to dance through a severe hamstring tear. My conceptions of health were severely warped until college dance came to my rescue. These new progressive teachers uplifted dancers of all physical and cognitive abilities, distributed scientific journals on effective warm-up techniques, and abandoned conventional dance norms. I was disturbed by all the unlearning I had to do, but eager to reacquaint myself with my body and disseminate new knowledge. Thus, I was honored when dance again presented an opportunity in health, as I was hired to teach dance at my childhood summer camp. Here, I could separate my curriculum from unreasonable physical expectations and interpersonal competition. I found a fierce sense of joy and fulfillment from being an advocate for physical and emotional health, and I knew I wanted to continue helping others heal while also deconstructing my own negative health experiences.
These formative experiences in the arts profoundly supported my intellectual development, allowing me to thrive in science-based settings and ultimately prompting me to seek out colleges with robust research programs. At the University of Michigan, I had the privilege of participating in a campus research lab, undoubtedly resulting in my most valuable college experience. The world of scientific inquiry can be intimidating, but after a year of reading dozens of papers and learning novice lab protocols, I began my own independent investigation of zebrafish retinas. My goal was to uncover the mechanisms of retinal regeneration in fish, thus addressing vision loss. The excitement I felt in utilizing challenging lab techniques, working with animals, witnessing the culmination of my efforts through image analysis, and being a part of such life-altering research was unmatched. What once seemed like magic was now tangible; I was an artist helping craft the solutions to science’s unanswered questions. In the context of my multidisciplinary interests, my research reinforced the creative, humanitarian side of science, and that science was where I felt compelled to take action and build a career.
Art continued to deepen my passion for and understanding of medicine. The revolutionary approaches of my dance teachers modeled the importance of critique as it pertains to health. This was not a new concept to me; my high school art teachers had urged us to challenge institutional weaknesses. It was not until college, however, that I realized how this line of thinking intersects with medicine. Studying art history, I repeatedly encountered artists whose work tackled issues in health. Keith Haring confronted the AIDS crisis when society had turned on the gay population, and Marc Quinn confronted the disease of addiction in his self-portrait sculptures, made entirely of his own frozen blood. Art, I learned, is so often a response to disease, be it physical, mental, or sociological. These artists had been champions of health in light of its stigmas and politics; art thus fostered new intentions, instilling within me an ardent goal of social activism through medicine.
Art has contributed to my journey, and while it is not my ultimate goal, I hope to incorporate my artistically based insights into my work in science and medicine as a health and social justice advocate. I am driven to continue exploring these intersections, having compiled an entire portfolio on the connection between dance and science, researched disability in the arts, and pursued my personal interest in LGBTQ+ health advocacy by connecting with and shadowing a variety of gender care physicians. My intention to pursue medicine is personal, fulfilling, and pressing, and I take seriously the responsibility I will have as a physician to be a mogul for change in areas of healthcare that compromise the human experience. Further, my natural inclination towards science and involvement in academic research has instilled in me the confidence and skills necessary to be an effective medical practitioner. With this balanced mindset, I know I will contribute to a more ethical and well-rounded approach to healthcare.
Student Accepted to Johns Hopkins SOM, Washington University SOM, Hofstra Zucker SOM
As a notoriously picky nine-year-old with a penchant for grilled cheese, I was perplexed when I learned that my younger sister, Rachel, had been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I felt a sting of betrayal knowing my comfort food was the culprit for Rachel’s terrible stomach aches. Yearning to understand how my favorite food was poisoning my favorite person, I developed an insatiable desire to discover the “why” behind Celiac. As Rachel’s doctor explained her disease, I was both fascinated that a simple protein could cause so much damage and inspired by the doctor’s compassion. He described every detail in a way Rachel would understand, addressed her every concern, and held her hand when she was scared. I wanted to be just like Rachel’s doctor so that I too could use science to decipher medical mysteries while also reassuring my patients that I would be their advocate and help them heal.
My interest in medicine drove me to learn more about what it meant to be a doctor. As a freshman in high school, I arranged a shadow day with Dr. M, a cardiologist. He taught me about echoes, showed me a pacemaker implantation, and in the midst of a cardioversion, even beckoned me over to press the button that discharged the defibrillator. I could not contain my excitement recounting how much I had learned during my first day in a clinical setting. From there, my curiosity skyrocketed and I embarked on a relentless pursuit to explore the spectrum of the medical field. I was moved by the supportive atmosphere of the NICU, struck by the precision involved in ophthalmology, absorbed by the puzzle-like reconstruction of Mohs surgery, and awed by the agility of cardiothoracic surgery. Between high school and college, I shadowed over a dozen physicians, cementing my interest and furthering my passion for a future medical career.
My college classes allowed me to immerse myself further in the study of the human body. Following my fascination with cancer, I secured an internship working on a melanoma immunotherapy clinical trial at the National Institutes of Health. I savored the stimulation, grasping new experimental techniques and developing assays; but my work took on even greater meaning when I learned that my grandfather had been enrolled in an early-stage immunotherapy trial himself while battling mucosal melanoma. Although immunotherapy did not heal my grandfather, I was immensely proud to be advancing the science years later. Through long nights and evolving experiments, I gave the trial its final push through an FDA approval checkpoint; ultimately, my contributions will help more grandparents go into remission. The most fulfilling moments came every Monday when I accompanied the leading physician scientists on their rounds. As I met patients, listened to their stories, and celebrated their improvements, the pulsating blister on my thumbpad from endless pipetting became akin to a medal of honor. Reflecting on these encounters, I wanted to continue driving scientific innovation, but I also wanted a more active and personal impact in the patient’s experience.
My desire to connect with patients brought me to Alliance Medical Ministry, a clinic serving uninsured, disadvantaged communities in North Carolina. I stepped up to lead efforts to organize a community COVID-19 vaccination clinic, communicating personally with every eligible patient and arranging vaccine appointments for over a thousand people across the hardest hit areas of Raleigh. The experience became even more rewarding when I trained to administer vaccines, becoming a stable, anchoring presence from the beginning to the end of the process. One memorable patient, “Amy,” had not seen a doctor in years because of the associated financial burden. When she came to the clinic suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis, she was not even aware of her diabetes diagnosis. While I waited with her for transportation to the ER, she expressed her fears about contracting COVID at the hospital. However, she emphatically dismissed my suggestion about receiving a vaccine. I listened intently to all her concerns. Not only was she worried about the vaccine infecting her with the virus, but also her history of being denied healthcare due to her socioeconomic status had instilled fears that she would not be taken care of should she have an adverse reaction. I took her hand in mine and reassured her of the clinic’s mission to provide care regardless of ability to pay. I further explained everything I knew about how the vaccine worked, its safety and efficacy, and how my body reacted when I received my own injection. I could not help but beam behind my N95 when days later, Amy returned, sat in my chair and confidently rolled up her sleeve for me to give her the protective shot.
I have grown by exploring the multifaceted world of medicine through shadowing, pioneering research to advance patient care at the NIH, and cultivating trusting relationships with patients from the vaccine clinic. As a doctor, my desire to be an innovative thinker and problem solver will fuel my unrelenting quest for discovery throughout a lifetime of learning. Most importantly, I aspire to use my medical knowledge to improve lives and establish meaningful patient partnerships, just as Rachel’s doctor did with her.
Student Accepted to UCSF SOM, Harvard Medical School
Countless visits to specialists in hope of relief left me with a slew of inconclusive test results and uncertain diagnoses. “We cannot do anything else for you.” After twelve months of waging a war against my burning back, aching neck and tingling limbs, hearing these words at first felt like a death sentence, but I continued to advocate for myself with medical professionals. A year of combatting pain and dismissal led me to a group of compassionate and innovative physicians at the Stanford Pain Management Center (SPMC). Working alongside a diverse team including pain management specialists and my PCP, I began the long, non-linear process of uncovering the girl that had been buried in the devastating rubble of her body’s pain. From struggling with day-to-day activities like washing my hair and sitting in class to thriving as an avid weightlifter and zealous student over the span of a year, I realized I am passionate about preventing, managing and eliminating chronic illnesses through patient-centered incremental care and medical innovation.
A few days after my pain started, I was relieved to hear that I had most likely just strained some muscles, but after an empty bottle of muscle relaxers, the stings and aches had only intensified. I went on to see 15 specialists throughout California, including neurologists, physiatrists, and rheumatologists. Neurological exams. MRIs. Blood tests. All inconclusive. Time and time again, specialists dismissed my experience due to ambiguous test results and limited time. I spent months trying to convince doctors that I was losing my body; they thought I was losing my mind. Despite these letdowns, I did not stop fighting to regain control of my life. Armed with my medical records and a detailed journal of my symptoms, I continued scheduling appointments with the intention of finding a doctor who would dig deeper in the face of the unknown. Between visits, I researched my symptoms and searched for others with similar experiences. One story on Stanford Medicine’s blog, “Young Woman Overcomes Multiple Misdiagnoses and Gets Her Life Back”, particularly stood out to me and was the catalyst that led me to the SPMC. After bouncing from doctor to doctor, I had finally found a team of physicians who would take the profound toll of my pain on my physical and mental well-being seriously.
Throughout my year-long journey with my care team at the SPMC, I showed up for myself even when it felt like I would lose the war against my body. I confronted daily challenges with fortitude. When lifting my arms to tie my hair into a ponytail felt agonizing, YouTube tutorials trained me to become a braiding expert. Instead of lying in bed all day when my medication to relieve nerve pain left me struggling to stay awake, I explored innovative alternative therapies with my physicians; after I was fed up with the frustration of not knowing the source of my symptoms, I became a research subject in a clinical trial aimed at identifying and characterizing pain generators in patients suffering from “mysterious” chronic pain. At times, it felt like my efforts were only resulting in lost time. However, seeing how patient my care team was with me, offering long-term coordinated support and continually steering me towards a pain-free future, motivated me to grow stronger with every step of the process. Success was not an immediate victory, but rather a long journey of incremental steps that produced steady, life-saving progress over time. My journey brought me relief as well as clarity with regard to how I will care for my future patients. I will advocate for them even when complex conditions, inconclusive results and stereotypes discourage them from seeking continued care; work with them to continually adapt and improve an individualized plan tailored to their needs and goals, and engage in pioneering research and medical innovations that can directly benefit them.
Reflecting on the support system that enabled me to overcome the challenges of rehabilitation, I was inspired to help others navigate life with chronic pain in a more equitable and accessible way. Not everyone has the means to work indefinitely with a comprehensive care team, but most do have a smartphone. As a result, I partnered with a team of physicians and physical therapists at the University of California San Francisco to develop a free mobile application that guides individuals dealing with chronic pain through recovery. Based on my own journey, I was able to design the app with an understanding of the mental and physical toll that pain, fear, and loss of motivation take on patients struggling with chronic pain. Having features like an exercise bank with a real-time form checker and an AI-based chatbot to motivate users, address their concerns and connect them to specific health care resources, our application helped 65 of the 100 pilot users experience a significant reduction in pain and improvement in mental health in three months.
My journey has fostered my passion for patient-centered incremental medicine and medical innovation. From barely living to thriving, I have become a trailblazing warrior with the perseverance and resilience needed to pursue these passions and help both the patients I engage with and those around the world.
Student Accepted to University of Florida COM
Growing up as a Black woman, my family’s experiences with racial bias in medicine were central to my perception of doctors. From my grandmother’s forced electric shock therapy in the Jim Crow South that resulted in severe brain damage, to my father’s ignored appendicitis that led to a near-death infection after rupturing, every trip to the doctor came with apprehension. Will these strange men with sharp tools heal me or hurt me? This question repeated in my head as I prepared to undergo my first surgery to remove suspiciously inflamed lymph nodes at age 11. I woke up groggy from anesthesia with a negative cancer diagnosis but a blistering third degree burn. The surgeon had successfully removed the malignant masses but had left the cauterizing iron resting on my neck in the process. Today when I look in the mirror and see the scar, I am reminded of the troubling reality that myths such as black people having thicker skin and less sensitive nerve endings are still pervasive in the medical field. By challenging the systemic disparities in medicine that disadvantage minority populations, I vow to my inner child that I will be a different kind of doctor, a doctor who values the patient as much as the procedure.
My experiences with a variety of communities, minority and majority, stem from growing up in a military household that came with frequent relocations. I was exposed to a wide range of communities from an early age—rural Oregon to tropical Hawaii, industrious Japan to politicized D.C, sunny San Diego and finally to radical Berkeley where I began my pre-medical education. I chose to view medicine from an anthropological lens while at Cal and supplemented my coursework with community service. As co-coordinator of UC Berkeley’s chapter of Peer Health Exchange, my 9th grade students were, at first, mistrusting –even with my Angela Davis-esque afro, I was clearly not from Oakland and not quite old enough to be lecturing them. But it was the Good Samaritan Law lecture, during which students learned they would not face police penalty for calling 911 if a friend was in trouble, that I finally gained their trust. One student shared, “I always worried that I wouldn’t be able to call for help because I’m undocumented.” Later as a health advocate at UCSF, I encountered the same sentiment from families in the pediatric clinic who worried that accessing healthcare for a sick child might put their immigration or legal status at risk. I learned that to get to the root of barriers to access, trust is invaluable. Navigating marginalized spaces with cultural competency is an asset that I pride myself in.
I carried this foundation into my research and clinical work on HIV, a disease that disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities and is often left untreated by the stigmas surrounding medicine for these communities. As an HIV PreP Navigator at the Oasis clinic, I was on rotation when a thirteen-year-old girl was referred to the clinic after testing positive for HIV. We analyzed her T cell count and viral load, and discovered she fit the AIDs criteria. In the following weeks, we worked on medication adherence, and as the girl’s CD4 count rose, so did her spirits and mine. Medicine is more than just a diagnosis and prescription—it is active compassionate treatment. It is holding steady when the entire ground seems to shake with the magnitude of an illness. It is being able to look a patient in the eye and truly see them despite the myriad of differences.
The disparities and differences in patient circumstances has been emphasized by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recognizing this disproportionate effect of the virus on minority communities, I worked at a COVID-19 testing facility in one of the most underserved and impoverished communities in the Los Angeles’ area. Assuring patients of the safety of Covid testing measures was a big part of the job. “Have you done it?” They would ask. “What about Tuskegee?” Being Black, I felt the burden of responsibility that came with these questions. How could I have such faith in medicine knowing the traumatic past? My response was simple, “I believe in the science. I can explain PCR testing to you if you like.” By eradicating some of the mystery surrounding these lab techniques, people felt more comfortable. The opportunity to serve as a trusted community leader by directly interacting with patients and working on a team with doctors, EMTs, and nurses amid an international crisis reaffirmed my journey into medicine.
Zora Neale Hurston once wrote, “mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at de sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.” As an aspiring physician, these words have served as a motivating mantra. To “get off the ground” for me means to become the first medical doctor in a lineage of sharecroppers and farmers. Medicine has been my “sun” for as long as I can remember; its promise to bring light has kept me jumping at every opportunity. Like my grandmother, my father, and so many others, I have experienced disparity in medicine. The scars that mar our bodies are my constant reminder that there is much work to be done. I see medicine as the ability to directly enact that change, one patient at a time.
Student Accepted to Touro CoOM, Nova Southeastern CoOM/KPCOM
I fight the heavy sleepiness that comes over me, but before I know it, I am out like a light. Forty-five minutes later, I wake up with a sore throat, watery eyes, and an intensely cold, painful feeling plaguing my entire right leg. Earlier, my parents and I arrived at the Beckman Laser Institute for another treatment of my port-wine stain birthmark. Despite my pleas to not undergo these procedures, my parents still took me twice a year. As I was rolled into the cold, sterile operating room on a gurney, I felt like I was experiencing everything from outside of myself. Despite my doctor’s and nurses’ best efforts to comfort me, I felt my heart racing. Feelings of apprehension and fear of the unknown flooded my senses at the sight of beeping machines and tubes that seemed to go everywhere. As the anesthesiologist began to administer the “sleepy juice,” I felt sad, realizing that my birthmark was a permanent resident on my leg and that I would have to receive this treatment for the rest of my life.
As an adult, I am grateful my parents continued to take me to the laser institute. Starting treatment so early aided in the lightening of my birthmark, which did wonders to improve my self-confidence. However, I suffered daily, feeling like I constantly had to hide something about myself. I kept my secret from everyone except my parents. Despite there being several medical doctors in my family, I knew that any sign of illness or disease would be held against me socially amongst other Egyptians. My secrecy was made even more difficult by the advice of my doctor to avoid certain physical activities, as they could worsen the underlying pathology of the veins in my legs. On his advice, I only wore long pants and would not run with other children during recess and gym class. This all added to the isolation I felt growing up, not knowing anyone with a similar condition to mine. Even as a child, no amount of explaining or encouragement could make me understand the benefit of those painful laser treatments.
What eventually changed my perspective was the team of compassionate doctors and nurses who have been caring for me since I began this journey. I was particularly touched when one of my doctors shared with me that she had also undergone a procedure that she would be performing on me. In that moment, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. Not only was she a specialist in the field, but her empathy for what I would soon go through became a source of instant comfort and ease for me. I knew that what she said was heartfelt, and not simply an attempt to convince me to undergo a procedure. I realized then that one of the reasons I had felt so afraid was because I had been alone in what I was going through.
A few years later, I attended a conference held by the Vascular Birthmark Foundation, where a variety of specialists convened to discuss port-wine stain birthmarks and other related conditions. Once we arrived at the hotel where the conference would take place, I met a woman who had a facial port-wine stain birthmark. As we began sharing stories about our experiences with our condition, we connected over how difficult it had been to receive treatment. We both knew what it felt like to be told that the birthmark was simply a cosmetic issue, and that any form of treatment we received would have no corrective purpose, if it was even considered treatment in the first place. There was a certain sense of freedom that I felt in finally being able to talk about my illness with someone I could trust to understand. Thinking back to the doctor who connected with me over a procedure she had also experienced as a patient, I felt truly called in that moment to pursue my goal of becoming a vascular physician. My goal would be to become a source of comfort and familiarity for patients who struggle as I have, to give them the same relief that I experienced from finally being understood.
Despite the pains I went through, I now realize that the experiences I have had as a patient can help me better understand what it means to be a physician. By being an excellent listener and openly sharing my experiences with receiving treatment, I can foster an honest and safe physician-patient relationship. I believe this approach will not only comfort my patients, but also help them make informed decisions about their treatment. My commitment to this approach has also led me to choose a DO path for my medical career. Having researched the holistic treatment approach that a DO delivers, I realized that being treated by a DO would have done wonders for my self-confidence and overall health as a young patient. The aspects of my port wine stain that were always left untreated were the emotional and social side effects of my condition. As a DO in the dermatology or interventional radiology specialty, I hope to gain the tools to provide empathetic and comprehensive care to my patients that reassures them that they are not alone in their journey to better health.
Free writing is helpful to some people. Instead of focusing on how good you want your essay to be, just start writing. Even if it’s a stream of consciousness, or your beginning ideas, get it on paper. It’s best to start long and condense. You can always cut/paste, reorganize, and fine-tune later.
Dr. Butty reminds students that, “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.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day! Don’t try to write a perfect personal statement in one sitting. Even for people who can write off the cuff, this is typically a time when procrastination doesn’t pay. Applying to medical school is stressful enough without pulling an all-nighter trying to write something as important as your personal statement.
Dr. Katzen, MedSchoolCoach Master Advisor and previous admissions committee member at GWU, recommends starting on the personal statement in December/January for students planning to apply in May/June. This gives you plenty of time to have others review it or to get professional personal statement editing services. It also gives you time to write multiple drafts and be 100% satisfied with your final essay.
Revising will usually take longer than putting together the first draft. Don’t settle for your first draft. Go through your work critically. Be prepared to replace repetitive words, be more concise, and fine-tune your transitions. Once you revise, at least twice, get feedback from your recommenders so that they know what you are submitting.
On the topic of multiple drafts, be sure to allocate enough time to take breaks between drafts and really reflect on your essay.
In fact, some advisors (and medical school students) recommend perfecting a first draft, then setting it aside and completely starting from scratch on a new draft. Maybe your first draft focused on volunteer or research experience, and your second draft showcases your creative writing more. Is one better than the other? Or is there a way to merge them to create a third and perfect draft?
Ask others to read your essay, but be selective of who you ask. Close friends and family may be brutally honest and discourage you, or they may say what you want to hear and avoid any criticism altogether. If you want to involve those closest to you during the process, it’s better to ask them something like, “Why do you think I would make a good doctor?” Ask them this early in the process so that you can see how their perspective and recollection of your life experiences might tie into your personal narrative.
If you want others to read your personal statement, it’s usually better to ask someone more impartial — like a professor, work or research colleague, or a medical school student who’s already been through the application process.
You should proofread your personal statement until it’s grammatically perfect. There is zero room for errors on your personal statement. Spelling and punctuation errors, typos, and grammatical issues WILL reflect poorly on you.
We recommend using a text only editor for the final draft of your essay so that there are no formatting issues when you paste it into the AMCAS editor. But during the writing process, it is absolutely ok to use a more dynamic word processor – like Word or Google Docs – that will alert you to errors while writing.
Bonus points if you utilize a writing assistant software that can give you feedback on more in-depth issues related to tone and syntax. To go a step further, a professional writing advisor can help you identify repetitive ideas, be more concise, fine-tune your transitions, and help you avoid common mistakes.
Best of all, the advisors like the ones at MedSchoolCoach have experience serving on medical school admissions committees. They’ve read thousands of personal statements and know exactly how to help you shine.
David Flick, MD and Associate Director of Advising at MedSchoolCoach offers some technical writing tips for the residency personal statement. While this is a longer and even more challenging essay than you’ll hopefully be writing in the coming years, the advice applies to the medical school personal statement as well!
Dynamic Writing – Dynamic writing refers to the rhythm of your writing. There needs to be a mix of long and short sentences as well as variety of sentence structure. Read your essay out loud. If you have to catch your breath in the middle of a sentence, it’s too long. If there is a repetitive rhythm it’s usually because too many short sentences are strung together.
Language & Vocabulary – It’s important to consider both the reader as well as your reputation when making language and vocabulary choices. While it’s safe to assume members of an admissions committee are intelligent, this is not the time for smarty-pants vocabulary that will distract the reader from the message. At the same time, it’s important to make word choices that elevate your writing by making sentences more descriptive.
For example, Dr. Flick says to avoid using “really” and “very” as adverbs. There is almost always a better word choice.
“Really great” can be fantastic/wonderful/amazing
“Very important” can be significant/critical/momentous
In the sentence, “I really enjoyed the research experience” the word “really” can be truly/positively/certainly
He also recommends that you avoid using contractions, as they are for informal and conversational writing, not application writing.
Punctuation – Dr. Flick argues that simple sentence punctuation is usually best. When you start modifying sentence structure with quotations, semicolons, and ellipses, it can be a distraction for readers. Even if you know how to use punctuation correctly, there’s no guarantee the reader does. They may get hung up on the placement of a semicolon and lose the meaning of the sentence.
Syntax – Syntax refers to the order and arrangement of words and phrases in a sentence. Common syntax issues are related to run-on sentences, subject-verb agreement, matching tenses, and passive voice. Writers with a solid grasp on syntax are able to craft clear, direct sentences.
This resource has some great examples of syntax errors in sentences, why they’re incorrect, and how to fix them.
Now let’s take a look at some real personal statements from both traditional and non-traditional medical school applicants.
The following example is from a medical student who made their submission an AMCAS-style personal statement. It serves as a great example for an effective personal statement and we thought it was a good read overall!
Because many medical school applicants today are non-traditional students, we wanted to provide a successful non-traditional student personal statement example.
Remember, the time to start working on your personal statement is December/January before the May/June you plan to apply to medical school. Whether you simply need a fresh set of eyes on your essay, or you need guidance throughout the entire medical school application process, MedSchoolCoach is here to help.
We’ve helped thousands of students get accepted into medical school with expert guidance from our Physician Advisors and Writing Advisors. Our Advisors have years of experience serving on admissions committees and more than 500,000 hours of advising under their belts. They’ll work with you one-on-one, get to know the real you, and help you create a compelling and authentic essay that wows.
More than 90% of students who work with MedSchoolCoach on their personal statement receive at least one interview invitation. Are you ready for yours?
Do you want to learn even more about personal statements? Dive into these great resources!
Preparing Your Personal Statement For Medical Programs
Hosted by MedSchoolCoach Director of Writing & College Advising, Jennifer Speegle
Creating the First Draft of Your Medical School Personal Statement
Hosted by MedSchoolCoach advising and writing advisors, Ziggy Yoediono MD and James Fleming
Where to Begin When Writing Your Personal Statement
Hosted by MedSchoolCoach Associate Director of Writing and College Advising, Jennifer Speegle, Associate Director of Advising, Ziggy Yoediono MD, and Writing Advisor, Carrie Coaplen Ph. D
The Medical School Personal Statement – What Makes a Great Intro and Why It’s Important
Hosted by Director of Advising, Dr. Renee Marinelli, MD, Master Advisor, Dr. Ziggy Yoediono, MD, and Founder of MedSchoolCoach, Dr. Sahil Mehta, MD
Episode 2 – The Personal Statement
Episode 42 – Writing Your Personal Statement
Episode 76 – How to Tackle the Medical School Personal Statement
In this Weekly Weigh-In, med school students discuss their own process for writing their personal statements!
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