It’s a crucial aspect of the application process, but the medicine personal statement is often tricky to get right. Being asked to neatly condense the reasoning behind your medical application and convince the admissions officers of your suitability is no easy feat. But just remember that the personal statement is well within your control. Unlike your exam results which are at the mercy of a test paper! It’s a reasonable request for a university to make in order to further differentiate their applicants, and it’s your chance to shine!
The key to an outstanding personal statement is in the word ‘personal’. You have to sound like you and no-one else. Avoid clichéd phrases (even though the feeling might be genuine) as they come across as formulaic and look like you haven’t tried hard enough to think for yourself. Try your best to cut down on vague, filler-type sentences and keep the statement personal to your own journey and medical aspirations! This will keep your reader more engaged and make your application more memorable.
A great way to start off your statement could be to make a mind map.
This way you can clearly visualise your motivations for studying medicine. Incorporate any work experience (medical or volunteering etc.) which has reinforced your aspirations, as well as any additional activities that show what your values are. From here you can start to form a clearer structure for your statement. It should address the five key points outlined below…
1) Work Experience/shadowing
You should have made at least one visit with a healthcare professional in a clinical setting. In your statement reflect on what you experienced and how it supports your suitability for Medicine. Try and be as specific as you can. It’s important to remember that admissions officers are not looking for the applicant with the most amazing, hands-on work experience, but rather one who has learned something. A thoughtful reflection on how a simple conversation with a nurse furthered your resolution to study medicine would be more impressive than an applicant who observed an 8-hour long heart surgery, and took nothing away from it.
For example, you could comment on the comradery of the junior doctors and nurses, how they support each other during hectic days on the ward. You could then mention how you’ve developed similar qualities, such as empathy and teamwork, in your own life. You could also reflect upon how you would respond to a situation differently in the future – reflection in this context is vital as a doctor. Or you might like to remark on a larger issue which you observed (such as lack of beds) showing your awareness of the strains on the NHS, or the corresponding healthcare provider in your country. However, it’s worth mentioning that regardless of where you’re from, as an applicant to the UK you are expected to be familiar with the history, structure and principles of the NHS.
2) Showing inquiry and interest outside of the syllabus (wider reading)
Reading books, signing up to medical journals, listening to podcasts and watching medical documentaries demonstrate that your enthusiasm extends beyond the IB.
This motivation is what will propel you through a demanding 5/6 years at medical school. Alluding to this in your personal statement will show the admissions officers that you have a genuine interest in medicine. Anything you mention in your personal statement is open for query at interview. So don’t mention a book you haven’t read unless you want to be embarrassed! As an IB student, your science IA or EE could also be worth mentioning, as conducting your own research is something that places you apart from the pack. The same thoughtful writing style applies when talking about any wider reading. Explain and reflect upon what you’ve learnt, don’t just list books!
3) Volunteering/Community Awareness
As a doctor working in the NHS, you will be expected to have a respectful and supportive attitude towards the vulnerable. A great way to show evidence of this is through working with disadvantaged/disabled children and adults. Whether it’s volunteering at a care home or working with the local community, showing a genuine desire to support those around you is essential. Time with elderly patients (or very sick patients in a hospice) might not have the immediate appeal of playing with younger kids, but in today’s NHS, empathy for those nearing the end of life is highly-rated.
4) Extra-curricular Activities (and how they link to skills required in medicine)
The last (and smallest) section of your personal statement should show your reader that you have other interests outside of medicine. This is important. As a future doctor you’re going to need an outlet outside of the hospital to help you de-stress. This could be a sport you enjoy playing, a club you lead at school, a choir – the list is endless! If you can, try and link an activity with a trait useful to a doctor. For example, if you’re an avid chess player, you could talk about the problem-solving and pattern-recognition skills that you’ve developed.
5) Writing Tone
Aside from maintaining a reflective outlook throughout your medicine personal statement, using command terms and keeping your tone active is a great way to come across as driven. Try to avoid overly lengthy, tricky sentences. Although you might think they make you sound smart, they actually weaken your statement. Using complicated language makes it difficult for your reader to follow, detracting from what you’re actually trying to say. Having said this, make sure to maintain a formal quality and avoid colloquial phrases.
Universities have different preferences for the type of personal statement they receive. Some prefer academic/scientific content (Oxbridge) whereas others prefer more emphasis on clinical exposure, showing how committed you are to the practicalities of a career in medicine. Make sure to check what your university is looking for on their admissions website. Some universities even provide a list.
Finally, don’t be afraid to do lots of re-drafting! Whether it’s your parents, a friend or a teacher, asking for opinions and continuous tweaking of your statement is necessary. It took me at least 10 drafts before I settled on my final copy!
To summarise, here are my 6 top tips for medicine personal statement writing:
1) Clearly state your motivation for pursuing medicine.
2) Always reflect upon work experience/volunteering/wider reading etc.
3) Compare qualities that you’ve developed with those of a successful doctor.
4) Keep your writing formal, short and relevant (using action words) and avoid overly elaborate language.
5) Do your best to steer clear from clichés.
6) Redraft, redraft, redraft!
That’s all for today, but check out our next blog for more information about applying for Medicine in the UK. Next week I’ll be talking about smashing the interviews for med school! Do remember that if you’re looking for support throughout the university application process, whether that be personal statement help or interview guidance, our tutors can provide tailored advice. Click here for more information!
Today’s blog post was written by Erin Lynch, one of our tutors who scored 45 points in her IB Diploma. Erin is a prospective medical student at Cambridge University, but she also received offers from Exeter, Edinburgh and UEA.