Medical School Personal Statement Examples and Analysis

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A strong medical school personal statement can take many forms, but the most impressive ones share several features. A winning statement obviously needs to be well written with perfect grammar and an engaging style. Also, a standout personal statement needs to be personal. The AMCAS application used by nearly all United States medical schools provides a simple prompt: "Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school." The personal statement clearly needs to be about your motivation. How did you become interested in medicine? What experiences have affirmed that interest? How does medical school fit into your career goals?

The structure and precise content of the statement, however, can vary greatly. Below are two sample statements to illustrate some possibilities. Each is followed by an analysis of the statement's strengths and weaknesses.

Medical School Personal Statement Example #1

The walk across campus was excruciating. During my first year of college, I had gotten strep throat for the second time in a month. When antibiotics didn’t seem to be working, my doctor found that strep had led to mono. Worst of all, I had developed hiccups. Yes, hiccups. But these weren’t just any hiccups. Every time my diaphragm spasmed, I had such a stab of severe pain in my shoulder that I nearly blacked out. Needless to say, this was strange. The fatigue and sore throat made sense, but torturous knife-in-the-shoulder hiccups? I immediately headed for the urgent care facility at my university’s medical center. The walk seemed like miles, and every hiccup brought a stifled scream and a stop to my progress.

I grew up in rural New York, so I had never been to a teaching hospital before. All of my childhood doctors, in fact, had moved to my area to get their medical school loans repaid by agreeing to practice in an underserved community. I had four different doctors growing up, all of them perfectly competent, but all of them overworked and eager to do their time so they could move on to a “better” job.

I’m not sure what I expected when I set foot in the university’s medical center, but I had certainly never been in a massive medical complex that employs over 1,000 physicians. What mattered to me, of course, was my doctor and how she would fix my demonic death hiccups. At the time, I was thinking an epidural followed by a shoulder amputation would be a good solution. When Dr. Bennett arrived in my examining room, she immediately sent me to x-ray and told me to bring the films back to her. I thought it was odd that the patient would do this ferrying, and I found it even more strange when she put the images up on the illuminator and viewed them for the first time with me by her side.

This was the moment when I realized that Dr. Bennett was much more than a physician. She was a teacher, and at that moment, she was not teaching her medical students, but me. She showed me the outlines of the organs in my abdomen, and pointed to my spleen that was enlarged from mono. The spleen, she explained, was pushing on a nerve to my shoulder. Each hiccup dramatically increased that pressure, thus causing the shoulder pain. Apparently I wouldn’t need my shoulder amputated after all, and Dr. Bennett’s explanation was so wonderfully simple and comforting. Sometime during my visit to the hospital my hiccups had stopped, and as I walked back across campus, I couldn’t help marveling at how strange the human body is, but also what a pleasure it is to have a doctor who took the time to teach me about my own physiology.

As my interest in medicine grew and I added biology and chemistry minors to my communication studies major, I started looking for shadowing opportunities. Over winter break of my junior year, a dermatologist from a nearby town agreed to let me shadow him full time for a week. He was a family acquaintance who, unlike my childhood doctors, had been working out of the same office for over 30 years. Until that January, however, I really had no idea what his job was actually like. My first impression was one of disbelief. He began seeing patients at 6 a.m. for 5-minute consultations during which he would look at a single area of concern for the patient—a rash, a suspicious mole, an open sore. Around 7:00 a.m., regularly scheduled appointments began, and even here, he rarely spent more than 10 minutes with a patient. His workday was over by midafternoon in time to get in some skiing (golf in warmer months), but he would still see upwards of 50 patients in a day.

One would think with that kind of volume, the patient experience would be impersonal and rushed. But Dr. Lowry knew his patients. He greeted them by name, asked about their kids and grandkids, and laughed at his own bad jokes. He was deceptively quick and efficient, but he made patients comfortable. And when he discussed their medical issues, he pulled out a remarkably battered and dog-eared copy of Fitzpatrick’s Clinical Dermatology to show color photos of their condition and explain what next steps, if any, were needed. Whether a patient had a benign seborrheic keratosis or melanoma that had gone untreated for far too long, he compassionately and clearly explained the situation. He was, in short, an excellent teacher.

I love biology and medicine. I also love writing and teaching, and I plan to use all of these skills in my future medical career. I’ve been a lab TA for Human Anatomy and Physiology, and I wrote articles for the university newspaper on flu prevention and a recent outbreak of whooping cough. My experiences with Dr. Bennett and Dr. Lowry have made clear to me that the best doctors are also excellent teachers and communicators. Dr. Lowry taught me not just about dermatology, but the realities of rural medicine. He is the only dermatologist in a 40-mile radius. He is such a valuable and integral part of the community, yet he will be retiring soon. It isn’t clear who will replace him, but perhaps it will be me.

Analysis of Personal Statement Example #1

With its focus on rural medicine and the importance of good communication in health professions, the statement's topic is promising. Here's a discussion of what works well and what could use a little improvement.

Strengths

There is much in this personal statement that the admissions committee will find appealing. Most obviously, the applicant has an interesting background as a communication studies major, and the statement successfully shows how important good communication is to being a good physician. Medical school applicants certainly don't need to major in the sciences, and they need not be apologetic or defensive when they have a major in the humanities or social sciences. This applicant clearly has taken the required biology and chemistry classes, and the additional skills in writing, speaking, and teaching will be an added bonus. Indeed, the statement's emphasis on doctors as teachers is compelling and speaks well to the applicant's understanding of effective patient treatment.

The readers of this statement are also likely to admire the applicant's understanding of the challenges rural communities face when it comes to health care, and the end of the statement makes clear that the applicant is interested in helping address this challenge by working in a rural area. Finally, the author comes across as a thoughtful and at times humorous person. The "demonic death hiccups" are likely to draw a smile, and the understanding of Dr. Lowry's contributions to the community reveals the author's ability to analyze and understand some of the challenges of rural medical practices.

Weaknesses

On the whole, this is a strong personal statement. As with any piece of writing, however, it is not without some shortcomings. By telling two stories—the experiences with Dr. Bennett and Dr. Lowry—there is little room left to explain the applicant's motivation for studying medicine. The statement never gets very specific about what the applicant wants to study in medical school. The final paragraph suggests it could be dermatology, but that certainly doesn't seem definitive and there's no indication of a passion for dermatology. Many MD students, of course, don't know what their specialty will be when they begin medical school, but a good statement should address why the applicant is driven to study medicine. This statement tells a couple of good stories, but the discussion of motivation is a little thin.

Medical School Personal Statement Example #2

My paternal grandfather died of rectal cancer when I was 10 and my grandmother died of colon cancer two years later. Indeed, numerous family members on my father’s side of the family have died of colorectal cancer, and these are not beautiful and peaceful deaths. No dosage of opioids seemed to alleviate the pain caused by tumors that had spread to my grandfather’s spine, and the numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation were their own form of torture. My father gets frequent colonoscopies in an effort to avoid the same fate, and I will soon be doing the same. The family curse isn’t likely to skip a generation.

Five years ago, my favorite uncle on my mother’s side of the family was diagnosed with triple hit lymphoma. Doctors gave him, at best, a few months to live. He was an avid reader and researcher who learned everything he could about his disease. Walking with a cane because of tumors in his leg, he attended a medical conference, inserted himself into a conversation with a top cancer researcher, and managed to get enrolled in a clinical trial for CAR T-cell therapy. Because of his inquisitiveness and assertiveness, he is still alive today with no signs of cancer. This type of happy outcome, however, is more the exception than the rule, and in an ideal world, a cancer patient should not have to reject his doctor's diagnosis to seek his own cure.

My interest in oncology certainly stems from my family history and the ticking time bomb within my own genes, as well as my general fascination with understanding how living things work. The field also appeals to my love of challenges and puzzles. My early childhood was one big blur of giant jigsaw puzzles, scouring the countryside with a magnifying glass, and bringing home every newt, salamander, and snake I could find. Today, those interests manifest themselves in my fondness for mathematics, cellular biology, and anatomy.

In contemporary medicine, there is perhaps no greater living puzzle than cancer. Ken Burns’ film Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies really brings home how little we understand the disease. At the same time, it’s encouraging that this 2015 film is already out-of-date as new and promising treatments continue to emerge. Indeed, it’s an exciting time for the field as researchers make some of the most significant advancements in cancer treatment in decades. That said, some cancers remain remarkably elusive, and so much more progress is needed. My volunteer work at the university’s Cancer Center has made this need clear. So many patients I’ve met are suffering through chemotherapy not with a hope of beating cancer, but with the modest hope of living just a little longer. They often aren’t wrong to have such modest expectations.

My interest in oncology isn’t limited to treating patients—I also want to be a researcher. During the past year and a half, I’ve been a research assistant in Dr. Chiang’s laboratory. I’ve gained extensive experience conducting literature reviews, handling rodents, measuring tumors, genotyping, and creating genetic samples using polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Some of my fellow lab assistants find the work tedious and repetitive, but I view each piece of data as part of the bigger puzzle. Progress may be slow and even halting at times, but it is still progress, and I find it exciting.

I’m applying to your joint MD/PhD program because I firmly believe that research will make me a better doctor, and working directly with patients will make me a better researcher. My ultimate goal is to become a cancer research professor at an R1 university’s medical school where I will treat patients, educate the next generation of doctors and researchers, and make headway in defeating this terrible disease.

Analysis of Personal Statement Example #2

With its laser-sharp focus on oncology, this statement stands in sharp contrast to the first example. Here's what works well and what doesn't.

Strengths

Unlike the first writer, this applicant does an excellent job revealing the motivation behind attending medical school. The opening paragraphs bring to life the damage cancer has done to the applicant's family, and the statement as a whole convincingly shows that oncology is an area of interest for both personal and intellectual reasons. The applicant's volunteer work and research experiences all center on cancer, and the reader has no doubt about the applicant's passion for the field. The applicant also has remarkably clear and specific career goals. On the whole, the reader gets the sense that this applicant will be an ambitious, focused, motivated, and passionate medical student.

Weaknesses

Like the first example, this personal statement is generally quite strong. If it has one significant weakness, it is on the patient care side of medicine. In the first example, the applicant's admiration for and understanding of good patient care stands at the forefront. In this second statement, we don't have much evidence of the applicant's actual interest in working directly with patients. This shortcoming could be addressed by going into more detail about the volunteer work at the university Cancer Center, but as is, the statement seems to present more interest in research than patient care. Given the interest in research, the applicant's interest in an MD/PhD program makes sense, but the MD side of that equation could use more attention in the statement.