Writing your Medicine personal statement can be tricky, especially when you’re applying for medicine. It’s a fine balance between hitting all the points required, but making it unique to your own personality and experiences.
With university admissions tutors reading thousands of personal statements every year, here are eight common mistakes to avoid to give a good impression and do your hard work justice.
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1. “I want to be a doctor because I want to help people.”
Opening with this seemingly heroic reason is a very easy trap to fall into. While mentioning your hope to help people and serve the community is completely valid, and should definitely be mentioned at some point in your personal statement, it will be considered a weak opening.
Realistically, many jobs help people: nurses, policeman, fireman – you name it – and this is something your interviewers will eventually challenge you on. Instead, I would recommend starting by mentioning a specific aspect of medicine which you are interested in and linking it to something personal and specific to you.
Many candidates are often tempted to give extremely elaborate, flowery statements praising medicine. However, people reading your personal statements are probably doctors or researchers who have dedicated their life to medicine – they appreciate just how great it is.
Instead, they are much more interested in you as a person and would likely skip over these parts. Therefore with such a strict limit on word count, it is better to avoid these descriptions as they are often too general, and do not give them any idea on your personality and why you, specifically, want to study medicine.
It’s great to mention a book that you’ve read in your personal statement, it shows your inquisitive nature and interest in studying this subject. Unfortunately, many candidates make the mistake of using up a big paragraph purely to describe what the book was about.
This is something you should definitely avoid as university admissions are much more interested in what you’ve gained from the book and your opinions on it.
For example, if it was a fictional novel addressing an ethical issue such as abortion, you could discuss whether the pros and cons of issue were portrayed well, and if you agreed with the character’s choices of action.
If it was a non-fiction book, you could mention which aspects you found most interesting, and how you extended your knowledge by perhaps doing extra research on that particular topic.
4. Name dropping famous hospitals and world-class surgeons
Work experience forms an integral part of many personal statements. Some candidates may think that mentioning famous hospitals and doctors leaves a better impression, but this is not true.
People reading your application are frankly not interested in whether you had a placement at an award-winning trauma centre or a district hospital, or whether you shadowed a pioneering heart transplant surgeon or your local GP.
What they value is what you’ve learnt from the experience. Was it the doctor delivering bad news sensitively to a patient that impressed you? Was it the long hours that made you aware of the realities of the profession? Was it the son’s smile of relief after seeing his mother wheeled out from a successful surgery that inspired you?
These are situations that you would be able to witness in any hospital, shadowing any doctor, and are reflections that university admissions are definitely much more interested in.
You know the ones we mean: empathy, teamwork, leadership, communication skills… Are we suggesting you don’t use this words? Not at all! It’s great that you are showing you know the core requirements needed to be a great doctor. The mistakes are: a) using them without backing them up, or b) not using them at all. We advocate a method called ‘signpost and substantiate’. Use these buzzwords words (signposting you know about them) but ALWAYS back up this use with personal examples (substantiating them).
‘Writing an EPQ on stigma associated with HIV presented me with lots of challenges.’
‘I rose to the challenges presented by writing an EPQ on HIV stigma, by seeking out research papers and arranging meetings with experts.’
The second is better, right? That’s purely because it is very active – it’s all about what you did. The first example is passive – things happened to you. Go through your personal statement and ensure everything is active.
…that seem to go on for a very long time and when you get to the end of the sentence it’s actually not very clear because the sentence, it turns out, is actually so long that the person reading it has forgotten the beginning of it by the time they get to the end and then they have to go back and reread it and that’s not great because….
Hopefully this one is self-explanatory! If sentences are getting long and meandering, break them into two, or even three. This will really help improve clarity.
Now that the university has read about all your great achievements, leadership qualities, work experience, it is important to end strong. By applying to that particular university, it is clear that you wish to be admitted.
Therefore, while it may seem polite and courteous to end by saying “I hope that I will be admitted to your university”, or “thank you for your consideration”, these sentences are too general and would not do justice to all the impressive aspects of your application you’ve mentioned in your personal statement.
Words: Michele Chan
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