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Medical School Personal Statement: Five Essential Elements

As a premedical advisor for the past 25 years and as a medical school admission consultant, I have read thousands of personal statements. At Johns Hopkins and Goucher, where I directed the post-baccalaureate premedical programs, I read countless essays written by applicants and made admissions decisions based in part on the strength of the essay. When my students reached the medical school application phase I helped them refine and focus their essay into a cogent, convincing piece of prose. I know what’s important to include in the personal statement and am an expert in helping applicants sharpen their message.

The personal statement is a vital and central component of the medical school application. Think of the personal statement as an opportunity to tell your story and convince the medical schools that they need to meet you. The personal statement should be engaging and compelling, while being simple and straightforward enough that admissions committees can read them quickly. Admissions committees have thousands of other applications to read; do what you can to make yours shine!

There are five essential elements of an outstanding personal statement. Once you have a draft of your essay, review it to make sure you have included the following:

  1. Motivation: Have you conveyed your motivation and reasons for wanting to be a physician clearly and logically? If not, tweak your draft. It should be abundantly clear to the reader why you’ve chosen this path.
  2. Evidence:  Have you showed, with concrete evidence, that you’ve tested your interest in the medical profession through a variety of experiences in the field?  Medical school admissions committees will want proof that you’ve gotten your hands dirty and know the realities of patient care and the challenges of the profession.
  3. Altruism: Have you shown through past experiences that you care about others? Experiences in the community—volunteering at a soup kitchen, in a homeless shelter, or a food bank—are highly prized by medical school admissions committees. These experiences indicate that you care about others enough to put your empathy into real action. If you’ve done these things consider including them in your statement to build evidence as to your caring nature.
  4. Clarity: Have you used relatively simple words and syntax to get across your main points? Readers spend approximately one to two minutes reading your essay. Make your essay logical and clear, yet compelling. Don’t make the reader struggle to get your meaning; readers will lose interest and move to the next file to read if your essay is confusing. This should be a statement of your interest in medicine, not a philosophical treatise.
  5. Smooth Transitions: Applicants often have complicated stories to tell. Sometimes their path to medicine is not altogether straightforward, as in the case of nontraditional students. No matter your story, your statement should have logical and smooth transitions from paragraph to paragraph, which when combined create a convincing whole. Check your statement’s transitions to make sure they are seamless, thereby creating a perfect whole.

In the end, what your statement should do is make the reader want to meet you in person and have a conversation. Once you have written your statement ask yourself the final question: have you convinced the reader to invite you for an interview?

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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