Let’s Talk Personal Statements

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Session 172

This premed needs help with her personal statement. Let’s see how we can help her and others working on their PS!

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[00:30] Question of the Day

“One of my most meaningful experiences was an activity that I did for why I wanted to become a doctor. I don’t know how I’m going to list it in the Activities section, and then how to differentiate it and the personal statement.

I’m a CNA, a certified nursing assistant. I was going to have that in my activity section. But I was unsure what to write because I spent a majority of my personal statement talking about what I did as a CNA, and how it made me a better caretaker.”

[01:17] Personal Statement vs. Activity Section

What to talk about their personal statement and activities is a common dilemma among students. Particularly, they don’t know whether what they have marked as the most meaningful should also be on their personal statement.

Your personal statement and your activity section are two separate entities on an application. The former is about why you want to be a doctor. You talk about the journey that led you here today. Whereas the activity section is about what you’ve done with your time as a human being.

Therefore, you can have the same experience being a CNA in your personal statement focused on why you want to be a doctor. Then in your activity section, you can focus on the activity and how it has impacted you.

[02:53] The Goal of the Personal Statement

The goal of the personal statement is not to show that you’re an awesome caretaker. It’s not to show that you have the skills necessary to be a doctor. You don’t talk about how your experiences have given you the knowledge and skills necessary to be a doctor.

'The goal of the personal statement is – why do you want to be a doctor, not prove that you have the skills necessary to be a doctor.'Click To Tweet

It’s About the Interaction, Not the Patient

Where a lot of students go wrong when they write about clinical experiences in a personal statement is they write all about the patient. But if you write about your interaction with the patient, you’re writing about you interacting with the patient.

Show the reader that interaction and the impact that interacting with the patient had on you and vice versa. Then you can make that connection to why you want to be a doctor. And it’s about you!

It’s Not About What Makes You a Good Doctor

The goal of the personal statement is not to highlight all the qualities that you think are necessary to be a doctor.

A lot of students make a list of all the qualities they think are important to be a doctor, and then make sure they highlight all of those qualities in a personal statement. 

Again, the personal statement is – Why do you want to be a doctor? Not what kind of doctor you want to be. Then reserve those big picture, future-looking thoughts of how you want to impact the world as a doctor in the conclusion part.

[10:56] Scribing is Shadowing on Steroids

'In one section of my personal statement, I wrote about being a scribe in the ER, and I wrote about how that doctor-patient interaction impacted me.”Click To Tweet

Scribing is shadowing on steroids and shadowing experiences don’t work well for a personal statement. All you’re doing is describing what you saw and your reflections. Hence, it’s not as impactful.

And so, when you just talk about watching that patient-physician interaction, all you’re doing is highlighting traits/skills that you saw the doctor was employing. You’re only saying how you want to be like that doctor, or you think you have the skills necessary to be like that doctor.

Stop selling to the medical schools about what your skills are and what you’ve learned to become a good doctor.

[16:12] Talking About Negative Patient Interactions

I strongly advise against talking about negative interactions in general. Stay away from negative statements because negativity is not fun to read.

'You don't have to be negative to write about why you want to do something. You can avoid the negative aspect and still focus on the positive that came out of the negative.'Click To Tweet

Lessons learned are focused on a list that you have created of the skills and traits you think are necessary to be a doctor. Throw that list away. It’s not important. 

Reflection, and doing a deep reflection, on the other hand, is who you are as a person, not compared to some list that you’ve created. It’s who you are as a person, and how something has motivated you or impacted you, in your own words. It’s not on some arbitrary list.


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The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Application Process

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview

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