Should I Talk About Serving Specific Communities in My PS?

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ADG 119: Should I Talk About Serving Specific Communities in My PS?

Session 119

In today’s podcast, I talk about telling your story and the difference between “why do you want to be a physician” vs “what you want to do as a physician.”

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

By the way, the episodes in this podcast are recordings of our Facebook Live that we do at 3pm Eastern on most weekdays. Check out our Facebook page and like the page to be notified. Also, listen to our other podcasts on MedEd Media. If you have any questions, call me at 617-410-6747.

[0:23] Question of the Day

“My question mostly has to do with how I’m telling my story, what my motivations are behind being a physician and how the readers seeing my application would see it. 

I came to the United States when I was 13 years old. My first experience with medicine was when I had surgery back in high school. Since then, I became interested in the medical field. In college, I got most of my medical experience working at a free clinic as an interpreter. At the free clinic, about 90-95% of the patient population is Hispanic

A lot of my motivation to keep pursuing medicine has come from working with Hispanic patients and I’ve grown a passion to advocate for them. I think that as a physician, I can have a bigger impact than just be an interpreter. 

So my question is, do you think it will look bad that my motivations to be a physician mostly come from only wanting to help the Hispanic community? Because that’s what I focus on in my personal statement. I’m afraid that the people reading my application would see me only wanting to serve the Hispanic community and not interested in treating other patients. 

I look forward to treating patients from all kinds of backgrounds. I’m just wondering if 90% of my personal statement is focused on helping the Hispanic community, how would the readers see the applications? Is that a valid reason to become a physician?”

A: There’s a difference between, “Why do you want to be a physician?” versus “What do you want to do as a physician?” Why you want to be a physician is mostly focused around helping the Hispanic community from your time at the free clinic. But what you want to do as a physician, while it may include helping that same community, that part of the story doesn’t necessarily belong in your personal statement. The personal statement is why you want to be a physician and not what you hope to do as a physician.

You can probably separate the two and potentially water down that side of it. You’re going to tell the stories that you’re going to tell. And most of those stories are going to revolve around treating the Hispanic community’s underserved population. That’s great. But if you’ve read my book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement, I talked about the seed.

“What is the seed? What initially got you interested in wanting to explore medicine?”Click To Tweet

In your case, it’s your surgery. What watered that seed? For you, it’s working at this free clinic, helping the underserved patient population.

You say what happened and then you personalize it. Separate why you love helping the underserved community from why this experience solidified why you want to be a doctor. Because in that reflection, you don’t have to specifically focus on the underserved Hispanic population.

[4:56] Why I Want to be a Physician

Q: “When I was writing my personal statement, one of the stories that I was writing was my experience with a patient who didn’t speak English. When the physician left the examination room, the patient stopped me and started telling me things that she didn’t feel comfortable telling the physician. Of course, I then told the physician everything and the physician addressed her questions. 

My reflection from that story was that, as a physician, I wanted to be a representation of her and all the other Hispanics. I felt that by representing her as a physician, I would be able to make a bigger impact. Would that fit into why I want to be a physician?”

Yes, that fits into why you want to be a physician because you want to represent your patients and that’s definitely an important thing.

A: Again, how to separate from just focusing on one community, is the understanding of what patients feel like when they think they’re not being represented. You having that understanding will help all of your patients, not just the ones that you specifically represent.

You can understand what it’s like for a Mandarin Chinese-speaking patient to not be able to communicate in their native tongue to a white physician who doesn’t speak Mandarin.

Because you have that empathy, that’s going to help you help all your patients in the future who aren’t white and English speaking. So again, instead of focusing on this one narrow culture, race, ethnicity, etc., focus on you. And being part of a minority and an underrepresented community will help you help everyone because you have that understanding.

[8:21] Why I Chose to be a Physician over Being a PA or NP

Q: “When I was writing my personal statement, I received feedback saying that I wasn’t clear why I would choose to be a physician over let’s say, being a PA or a nurse practitioner.”

A: Being a PA, being an NP, being a physician, are all very, very similar. I don’t think you need to waste space doing that in your personal statement. As a PA or an NP going down those routes, you can do a lot of similar things.

“Because the stories that you tell are going to be you interacting with patients, and you reflecting on why that makes you want to be a physician.”Click To Tweet

Do a good job telling your story reflecting and focusing on what made you want to be a physician. If it comes up in an interview, that’s your opportunity to discuss the nuances. In a personal statement, you don’t need to go there.

[10:40] Reasons for Wanting to Become a Physician

Q: “If it does come up in an interview because I shadowed PAs and physicians and I decided towards going into medical school. Because I thought that the physician had a broader scope of practice and I saw that their patient population was more complex, do you personally think that those are valid reasons for wanting to become a physician as opposed to any of the other professionals?”

A: It doesn’t really matter what I consider valid. Most students don’t go out and shadow PA’s. It’s good that you have that experience to be able to say why you don’t want to be a PA and why you want to be a physician.

“You need to speak to your truth and what you saw as differences and what you internalized.”Click To Tweet

[11:48] Including the Experience of Shadowing a PA

Q: “Would it be worth including that experience of shadowing a PA and my extracurricular activities?”

A: I wouldn’t list it as a separate shadowing thing. For shadowing, you can definitely list all the physicians that you’ve shadowed. You can mention that you’ve shadowed a PA and include those hours but I wouldn’t put them separately.

[12:17] Including Shadowing in My Personal Statement

Q: “You’ve said in the past that shadowing is a very passive experience. I’m just observing what the provider does. I did have a pretty cool experience shadowing at a hospital. It was a Code Blue and I was talking about that experience in my personal statement. Do you think shadowing experience is good enough to include?”

A: Shadowing experiences in your personal statement is pretty weak for the specific reason that it’s a passive experience. Usually, when students have a shadowing experience in the personal statement, the story is basically what they saw. What’s the difference between that and watching a story on TV?

“Shadowing experiences are one of the weaker experiences that you can tell in your personal statement.”Click To Tweet

All you’re doing when you shadow is observing everything that’s happening. It’s not an emotional, connecting experience for you to say that you impacted this person’s life and you interacted with them. Some students will fight back and say that that was really impactful for them. And if that’s your story, tell it. But that’s just one man’s point of view.


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The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement