Postgraduate Medical School Personal Statement

Graduate Entry Case Study 2

Tom left a successful financial career in London to study Medicine at Graduate Entry level. Find out more about what motivated him and how he navigated the increasingly popular application process for Graduate Entry Medicine.

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Why Medicine?

There was no eureka moment for me.

I hadn’t chosen the “right” A-Levels for medicine, and so it didn’t cross my mind as a career at school. However, as my other career progressed and I found moments to reflect, I had a nagging feeling that maybe medicine really was something I wanted to do.

When I had a chance to sit down and consider my long-term future in depth, I decided to see how practical starting again and studying to be a doctor would be.

Now that I’ve secured a place on a graduate entry course, I’m really looking forward to the whole journey. I can’t wait to start learning new things to put into practice, to be part of the medical community, and to find out what type of doctor I am most suited to be.

What steps did you take next?

I discovered that there were courses open to someone with my background (non-science A-levels and degree, non-medical career).

I attended medicine open days for both graduate entry and undergraduate courses. I spoke to doctor friends, some of whom had been on graduate entry programmes.

I also asked myself a series of questions about the career. For instance, could I perform “hands on” medical care without being squeamish? I set about answering them by doing certain types of work experience and writing a “medical CV” to set out my experience and present myself as an aspiring medic.

I found that I had developed many skills in my other career that were transferable to medicine, such as teamwork, communication and responsibility. I also worked out how a medical career would work practically, given my personal and financial circumstances.

Having answered the questions for myself, I felt confident in my choice of medicine. I also think it helped me to be myself and explain my choice at interview.

What work experience did you do?

I decided to apply to study medicine on a graduate entry programme in my mid-thirties, with a non-medical background and no science at A-level or as a degree.

I wanted to use work experience for two purposes. Firstly, to answer my own questions about pursuing medicine as a career, and, secondly, to stand out from the crowd at interview.

I researched what might be the best experience by listening to admissions tutors at open days, reading prospectuses and admissions policies, as well as talking to doctor friends. Having identified what I felt I needed to do, I looked up appropriate organisations on the internet and called several until I found suitable placements.

How were the Graduate Entry interviews?

Interviewers seemed most interested in my time at a care home, where I spent over 100 hours. It involved hands on healthcare during 7 to 12 hour shifts several times per week as a junior member of the caring team.

The hands on work allows you to reflect on what it might be like to work long hours in a hospital ward as a junior doctor. I was also outside my comfort zone, doing a job I had never done and as the junior member of a team having previously managed others.

However, despite not having direct caring experience, you can show how your skills developed in other places can be applied in a care setting, for example teamwork, learning new skills and communication.

What advice would you give to other Graduate Entry applicants?

My advice would be to research and think carefully what type of work experience you need to answer your questions and make you stand out.

During and after the experience, take time to reflect on what you have found out and how it shows you (and your interviewer) that you are cut out to be a doctor.

Learn More:

“I have no idea what to write.”
“I want to stand out.”
“I want to be different.”
“I want to have a theme.”

These are all comments I hear from medical school applicants as they start thinking about what topics to include in their medical school personal statement. I find that applicants often feel pressured to be unique and to write something the medical school admissions officer has never read before. But if you follow a few basic guidelines, you will create a personal statement that is all yours and achieves the ultimate goal of telling your story. Remember, your personal statement should be personal!

In writing your personal statement you must answer a few fundamental questions:

What have you done that supports your interest in becoming a doctor?

I always advise applicants to practice “evidence based admissions.” The reader of your essay wants to see the “evidence” that you have done what is necessary to understand the practice of medicine. This includes clinical exposure, research, and community service, among other activities.

Why do you want to be a doctor?

This may seem pretty basic – and it is – but admissions officers need to know WHY you want to practice medicine. Many applicants make the mistake of simply listing what they have done without offering insights about those experiences that answer the question, “Why medicine?” Your reasons for wanting to be a doctor may overlap with those of other applicants. This is okay because the experiences in which you participated, the stories you can tell about those experiences, and the wisdom you gained are completely distinct—because they are only yours. Medical school admissions committees want to know that you have explored your interest deeply and that you can reflect on the significance of these experiences. But writing only that you “want to help people” does not support a sincere desire to become a physician; you must indicate why medicine in particular—rather than social work, teaching, or another “helping” profession—is your goal.

How have your experiences influenced you?

It is important to show how your experiences are linked and how they have influenced you. How did your experiences motivate you? How did they affect what else you did in your life? How did your experiences shape your future goals? Medical school admissions committees like to see a sensible progression of involvements. While not every activity needs to be logically “connected” with another, the evolution of your interests and how your experiences have nurtured your future goals and ambitions show that you are motivated and committed.

Also keep in mind some common myths about personal statements that I hear quite often:

  • My personal statement must have a theme. 
    • Not true. The vast majority of personal statements do not have themes. In fact, most are somewhat autobiographical and are just as interesting as those statements that are woven around a “theme.” It is only the very talented writer who can creatively write a personal statement around a theme, and this approach often backfires since the applicant fails to answer the three questions above.
  • My personal statement must be no longer than one page.
    • Not true. This advice is antiquated and dates back to the days of the written application when admissions committees flipped through pages. If your personal statement is interesting and compelling, it is fine to use the entire allotted space. The application systems have incorporated limits for exactly this reason! Many students, depending on their unique circumstances, can actually undermine their success by limiting their personal statement to a page. That said, never max out a space just for the sake of doing so. Quality writing and perspectives are preferable to quantity.
  • My personal statement should not describe patient encounters or my personal medical experiences.
    • Not true. Again, the actual topics on which you focus in your personal statement are less important than the understanding you gained from those experiences. I have successful clients who have written extremely powerful and compelling personal statements that included information about clinical encounters – both personal and professional. Write about whichever experiences were the most important on your path to medicine. It’s always best, however, to avoid spending too much space on childhood and high school activities. Focus instead on those that are more current.

Want more interviews? Be sure to read this important article about AMCAS activity entries.

  • In my personal statement I need to sell myself.
    • Not exactly true. You never want to boast in your personal statement. Let your experiences, insights, and observations speak for themselves. You want your reader to draw the conclusion – on his or her own – that you have the qualities and characteristics the medical school seeks. Never tell what qualities and characteristics you possess; let readers draw these conclusions on their own based on what you write.

Finally, when writing your medical school personal statement be sure it:

  • Shows insight and introspection
    • The best medical school personal statements tell a great deal about what you have learned through your experiences and the insights you have gained.
  • Flows well
    • You want to tell your story by highlighting those experiences that have been the most influential on your path to medical school and to give a clear sense of chronology. You want your statement always to be logical and never to confuse your reader.
  • Is interesting and engaging
    • The best personal statements engage the reader. This doesn’t mean you must use big words or be a literary prize winner. Write in your own language and voice, but really think about your journey to medical school and the most intriguing experiences you have had.
  • Gives the reader a mental image of who are
    • You want the reader to be able to envision you as a caregiver and a medical professional. You want to convey that you would be a compassionate provider at the bedside – someone who could cope well with crisis and adversity.
  • Illustrates your passion for medicine
    • Your reader must be convinced that you are excited about and committed to a career in medicine!

Above all, your personal statement should be about you. Explain to your reader what you have done and why you want to be a doctor with insight, compassion, and understanding.

Read some medical school personal statement examples in The MedEdits Guide to Medical School Admissions.

Jessica Freedman MD

JESSICA FREEDMAN, M.D., is president of MedEdits Medical Admissions and author of the MedEdits Guide to Medical Admissions and The Medical School Interview. Follow Dr. Freedman and MedEdits on Facebook and Twitter.

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