Teacher Advice: BSMS Admissions Tutor on Personal Statements
Personal Statement advice for teachers, from Brighton and Sussex Medical School Admissions Tutor, Darren Beaney
The personal statement is a major part of any application to medicine and should be approached with a great deal of thought and planning. Here’s what teachers need to know in order to support any aspiring medics in their classroom.
How are personal statements used by medical schools?
Medical schools use the personal statement in different ways; as part of the process to select applicants to invite for an interview, as a part of the interview process – with questions focused on specific elements of the statement, or with the applicant given the opportunity to discuss their statement as a whole. There are also some medical schools that do not use the personal statement at all and will not look at students’ hard work.
How should students approach personal statements?
Whichever way or even if it is not going to be used by the school of their choice, aspiring medics should still approach the task of writing their statement in the same way. Early and passionately. Their statement gives them the chance to reflect on a number of things; why they want to study medicine and become a doctor, what they understand about medicine and the role of a doctor – their insights, skills and attributes – the things that they are good at.
What should students include in their personal statements?
Students will have their own reasons for wanting to study medicine and medical schools are interested in knowing what they are, but they don’t need too much information about this. As a teacher you should encourage students to reflect on their reasons and summarise them as their introduction.
They should then reflect on their insights into medicine. What do they know about the career, how medicine works in the UK and the role of the doctor in the NHS (it is also useful to know how other healthcare professionals work in the NHS and how they work with doctors). This understanding will often come from work experience or volunteering, and they need to discuss the things that they learnt from such placements and demonstrate the insights gained. Medical schools do not want to see a list of things that applicants did.
Don’t worry too much if your pupils have not had any work experience opportunities, especially in light of COVID-19, there are other ways that they can show they have the insights needed. There are a number of free virtual work experience platforms that they can register with; The Royal College of Physicians and Brighton and Sussex Medical School have both developed really good materials.
A personal statement should also include some information about the applicant, what they are good at and the things they do in their spare time. Medical schools want to know they have other interests and are rounded individuals. Discussing these things will also give them an opportunity to show off their own skills and attributes, especially if these mirror the skills and attributes that they have recognised in a doctor. It is important not to ignore this section, some medical schools will penalise if they do so.
When should students start writing their personal statements?
You should encourage students to start writing their personal statement as soon as they can, not leaving it to the last minute. It doesn’t matter how long it is in the first draft, firstly they should just write down everything that they think could go in it. They can then start the process of editing and trying to get down to the magic 4000-character limit. Get as many people to read it as possible and as teachers give them honest feedback.
If your students secure interviews definitely remind them to read over the final version of their personal statement to remind them of the things they wrote, it may come up in their interviews and will also give them the opportunity to remind themselves of their insights into medicine.
Wondering how to advise students on finding medical work experience, revising for their BMAT or UCAT, or want to know how to write a good UCAS reference? Our Teachers' Guide covers all aspects of guiding students through the medical school application process.