How do you write a great personal statement for medical school or residency?
If I asked you to write a personal statement right now, would you be stressed out?
Most of you would probably say yes because you probably don’t think you’re a good writer, don’t know what to write about and you don’t know how to make a great personal statement.
But today I’m going to give you tips on how to get an admission board, your interviewers, and anyone that reads your personal statement to say …
“That was amazing!”
In this post, I want to help you write a perfect personal statement without much effort for medical school and/or residency.
We’ll be giving you a step-by-step method on how to write your personal statements quickly, efficiently, and stress-free.
Oh and of course have a final product where people are raving about how amazing it is.
Some of these methods are going to be a little bit unconventional, but that’s what makes it so effective.
Let’s get started.
Step #1: Read The Prompt Aloud
So step number one on writing a personal statement for medical school is to read the prompt and take 5-10 minutes on answering the question out loud.
Out loud? Why?
So it seems a little bit weird, but hear me out.
Let’s say you’re applying for medical school and the question is…
Spend 5 to 10 minutes saying all of your reasons.
Why not just 30 seconds or a minute?
Well, short time slots lead to superficial answers.
You’ll likely initially answer – “Because I want to help people”.
Unfortunately, that’s not a good enough answer.
More importantly– it doesn’s distinguish you from the thousands of other applicants.
The 5-10 minutes will help you get beyond the superficial answers and reach your deep core reasons. This is where the money is and thus why this is the first step of writing a great personal statement for medical school or residency.
Step #2: Use The Sticky Note Method
Now I want you to use what I like to call my sticky note method.
This is my secret method on how I was able to write my personal statement for medical school so quickly!
Basically, as you’re talking, you’re going to have some ideas that were okay. But then you’re going to have some which will have you thinking…
“Wow, that sounded amazing! That needs to go in the essay.”
So use sticky notes to keep track of these light bulb thoughts.
Keep track of the thoughts/experiences and also any big lessons or takeaways from each of them.
My Example Applying To Residency:
So I’m gonna give you an example. When I was applying to residency, I was asked why I going into the field that I chose, which is internal medicine.
I used the sticky note method and was able to identify 4-5 patient and life experiences that were perfect for the essay.
I reflected back to the biggest lesson I gained from each of those experiences on a separate sticky note.
With each additional experience, I could already begin to see the essay that was possible.
Benefit To The Sticky Note Method:
Some of you may have used outlines while writing your personal statements.
This is a fine method and works well.
But it’s harder to move experiences around and create a different structure to the essay once you create your initial outline. We often get stuck in the format of the first outline that’s written.
With the sticky note method, each experience is fluid and you can arrange them however you’d like in your essay. You also can easily remove or add experiences as your essay begins to take shape.
Step #3: Create Your Final Conclusion
Now come up with a final conclusion or answer.
This is your 2-4 sentence response to the prompt. Think of it as your final sales pitch to the reader.
If the prompt is about why you want to go into medical school, these 2-4 lines will be a summary of your answer.
The reason we’re doing this now is to understand what our final goal is. Too often students will try to put together a conclusion after the rest of their writing is done. But they often end up sounding way too generic.
But if you write an amazing conclusion first – you can use your experiences to lead your reader into it. This will help prevent losing the reader at the very end.
Step #4: Organize Your Experiences
So now we have experiences which may answer the prompt and a final conclusion.
The next step is to decide which experiences we plan to use.
Look at your sticky notes and decide which experiences have the best shot of answering the prompt and leading the reader to your final conclusion.
Not sure which to pick?
I prefer to lean towards the unique experiences that other students may not have. For instance, I had a very unique patient experience that I wrote about in my residency personal statement. I knew that no other student could have that experience or take away.
Regardless of which experiences you pick, begin to also think which experiences you don’t plan on using.
These are your experiences which are really superficial (ie. Community service you only did once, an experience where you’re exaggerating the takeaway, etc.).
Now we’re starting to get somewhere.
Remember this – the good essays have good experiences and are interesting. The great essays have good experiences leading to a great conclusion.
The reader can feel like they’re in your shoes and they’re not left disappointed at the end.
Step #5: Create Your Transitions
I’ve read and written some crappy essays. Most of the time it wasn’t my writing which led to my demise.
It was the fact that I had no flow.
I shuffled frantically between one thought to another – without any connection or flow.
This is a common flaw in most personal statements in medical school. We have great experiences to talk about, but we forget to guide our reader from one to the other.
This is why the next step is to create flow sticky notes.
In the previous step, we decided which experience we’re going to be using. We may even have begun to craft an order in which we’ll discuss them.
Now it’s time to work on how we’ll transition from experience #1 to experience #2.
If you can plan this – you’ll be doing what 90% of students fail to do!
Thus dedicate an entire sticky note to how you plan on transitioning.
A common example is using a lesson to jump between experiences.
For example, maybe experience #1 taught you something profound. Perhaps experience #2 built upon that lesson. That’s a great transition opportunity.
Other examples are chronological. Maybe experience #1 took place during your childhood and experience #2 took place during your first year of college. That’s an easy transition to make.
Just remember that it will still take practice. If you feel uncomfortable with the transition – it’s likely not effective.
Think about how you would transition between the two experiences if you were giving a speech. What would be your transition sentence?
If you can’t come up with a good one- perhaps consider moving your experiences around.
Step #6: Create An Amazing Hook
So the personal statement is now starting to have a structure. We have our experiences, we have the final conclusion, and now we also have started to transition between experiences.
So really the last part that we need to do is creating a hook.
The hook is obviously how we’re going to start our essay, but you want to do it in a very intriguing way.
So if you are applying to medical school, what’s the common answer you think most people say in their essays on why they want to go to med school.
They’ll say, oh, I want to help people or some variation.
Readers read about this kind of prompt all the time. So for them, it’s so boring and you don’t want to be boring.
You want to be memorable. You want to be great.
And so to do that, there’s a couple of things that you could do to draw your reader into your essay.
I for one love stories because you can really put the reader in your shoes and make them feel like they’re going through your experience.
If you go down the storyline – be descriptive. Imagine what your first-person experience was. Now try as best as you can to help the reader “picture” that moment.
Again if you struggle with this portion, imagine sharing this experience with a peer.
You’ll likely say something along the lines of “Imagine if…”
Whatever you’d say next would be a great addition to your essay
And as a bonus tip, try to tell your hook from a very interesting time perspective. So don’t try to tell the story from the very beginning because that’s very cliche.
Maybe start from the middle or start with the conclusion. Intrigue the reader with these simple changes.
Step #7: Elaborate Your Experiences
So now we’re wrapping up the creation of our personal statement. And right now I would say the essay is close to great, but not quite there.
We want to add that little pizazz that is really going to attract the reader.
So now go through your different experiences and spent two to four minutes talking loud what your takeaways were.
You may think – I’ve already done that. I have a big takeaway.
Yes. Essentially what you have is your conclusion for that particular essay or experience. But what about the other sentences? You don’t want them to be wasted.
Most of the crappy essays I’ve read had great experiences but – aside from their big takeaway – the rest of the paragraph was filled with fluff sentences.
So take 2-4 minutes to find more epiphanies about that experience. What did you learn? What were your beliefs before and after? How did you feel? How has your future outlook changed?
For example, I was recently reading an essay from one of my mentees who was applying to medical school.
In her essay, she mentioned working at a medical summer camp which really inspired her. The patients really motivated her to pursue medicine.
This is a nice conclusion – but frankly – it’s not good enough. Other students also have experiences which motivate them.
What makes this experience different?
As we dug and continued to ask “why” she began to identify specific instances at the camp that really motivated her. Slowly we were going from a generic paragraph about a summer camp to one which involved experiences with specific patients.
Our essay improve drastically!
So take this extra time with each of your essays.
Step #8: Strategic Writing
So now it’s time to write – but we’re going to do it strategically.
First, write your draft based on the outline and structure you’ve created using the sticky notes.
Next, I want you to become a drill sergeant and be critical of every single sentence.
You need to ask one question – does this sentence sell my final conclusion?
If the sentence doesn’t pertain to your final conclusion, then it could be anyone’s essay. Thus take it out.
Don’t be content will filler statements. If anyone could have said it then it’s not a personal statement. Each thought and transition must be unique to you!
Step #9: Polishing and Reviewing
So let’s end by talking about how to make our essay free of mistakes.
First, let’s address the spelling and grammar. You obviously want to check these after you finish your draft.
A great tool that I love and recommend is Grammarly. It’s a free plugin that works with your browser and desktop apps such as Microsoft Word. I use it with every form of writing I do (emails, blog posts, essays, etc.)
Check out Grammarly here.
Finally, send your medical school personal statement to several peers and mentors who you trust and whose opinion you value.
Ask them specifically, “where could I improve?”
Obviously, people are going to focus on the grammars and things of that sort. But you want to ask them, “Did I sell you?
If they’re hesitating you probably are more superficial than you thought. So keep working on it at creating more epiphanies for each of your experiences.
After doing all of this, I promise you guys that you’re going to have an amazing personal statement for medical school or residency!
I hope you found this post to be helpful! If it was, then make sure to share this blog post with anyone you think it would help.
Also, check out the following blog posts which you’ll also like:
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Thank you so much for reading!
Until next time my friends…