5 Books to Read Before Writing Your Personal Statement
In your personal statement, demonstration of wider reading around medicine is something few students think about, and yet it can make a real difference to your application. Stuck on what to read? Here are three books I read when I applied to strengthen my knowledge of medicine.
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1. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks
This book was mentioned in numerous application talks I attended when applying. It is written by the neurologist Oliver Sacks, and describes some of the most weird and wonderful conditions that exist in the medical profession.
Admittedly, the extensive use of medical terminology makes this book difficult to read in the initial stages, but I found it an inexhaustible source of discussion when asked about it at interview.
I stated the name of the book in my personal statement and discussed about how exciting it was that every individual was unique in their presentation and type of illness. I would like to mention at this point that if you do explicitly mention a book in your personal statement, you WILL be asked about it. This doesn’t mean that you need to have memorised every page of the book, but be prepared to provide an example of one or two extracts of the book, and how they helped you decide on a career in medicine.
This was my favourite to discuss in this article, as it focuses on what happens to your body when it is pushed to the very limits of what it is capable of.
This book was useful when writing my personal statement as it helped me appreciate the extent to which the body has developed mechanisms to cope in the world around us, and again I explicitly mentioned this in my personal statement as an example of my desire and enthusiasm to undertake a career in medicine.
This is another book focused on neurology, but this time through the eyes of a decorated neurosurgeon, Mr Henry Marsh. This book is unusual in that the author is honest about the realities and challenges of medicine; something I think that most doctors shy away from.
He admits to some of his worst mistakes, and showed to me how even the best doctors can’t get everything right 100% of the time. With regards to my personal statement, I didn’t mention this book in my final draft, but I found that I was able to gain a greater understanding of empathy and the importance of communication from the stories published in here, which I found to be very useful at interview stage.
4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
Recently adapted into a film, this title may be familiar to some of you. This story follows the life of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman who’s cells were unsuspectingly taken and used to create a successful human cell line. Ultimately, Lacks’ cells positively contributed to major breakthroughs in areas such as cancer research and gene mapping.
This book will provide insight into some serious questions that still need to be raised in regards to medical ethics, something you may want to demonstrate awareness of in your personal statement. Medical ethics also plays a key part in the interview stage, so this book may help you in this aspect of the admissions process too.
5. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer – Siddhartha Mukherjee
This is a detailed and very comprehensive book written by cancer physician and researcher, Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Mukherjee discusses the early history of cancer care, transitioning into modern oncology later on in the book. It is a read that will help demystify cancer, and will leave aspiring medics inspired by Mukherjee’s accounts of his patient interactions. This is another recommendation that will help with understanding the need for empathy as a medical professional, a key attribute that aspiring medics should possess and discuss in their personal statements.
Regardless of which books you choose to read, remember that this is just one component of a wide range of achievements and experiences that you need to include to make that personal statement perfect. Good luck!
Words: Ben Fox
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