What to Write About In the Personal Statement and More Q&A

Session 322

The personal statement is such an important part of the application, yet many students don’t respect it enough. Today, I’m taking your questions about it.

Please also do check out all our other podcasts on MedEd Media Network. Listen to the podcast and learn more about our Personal Statement Course.

[01:20] Reapplying

Q: What’s the tactic in terms of reapplying? Should you be going back from the beginning to why you want to medicine or should you go back to what you did between application cycles?

  1. The personal statement doesn’t change between the first time you apply and the time you reapply. The goal is to explain why you want to be a doctor and typically, that motivation doesn’t change. So

This is the same as the “seed” analogy where while the seed does not change, how you water those can. You can just tweak your stories in the examples you’re giving to still paint a similar picture but with different pieces of a puzzle.

'The goal of the personal statement is the same. The goal is to explain why you want to be a doctor.'Click To Tweet

[04:00] Do You Need Timeline for Your Experiences

Q: “I’m currently applying to postbac program and I’m writing my personal statement for that. A majority of my “why medicine?” came from time in community college which was 3 years ago. My goal throughout my time at the college, was mostly to reaffirm my goals of becoming a physician. My question is how much space would you recommend me to include my experience so I can have something a little more recent and I just graduated last quarter?”

A: The timeline doesn’t matter for the personal statement. When you’re writing it, there shouldn’t be a timeline for your experiences. You have to figure out based on the experiences that you had, which are the ones that you want to write about that are going to show the reader why you want to be a doctor. It’s what are the experiences that have led you to want to become a physician and not your experiences in general. So it’s all about what was that seed to make you want to check out this health care thing.

'The personal statement is about the most impactful experiences you've had on your journey.'Click To Tweet

[08:10] Low GPA Due to Depression

Q: I had depression for a couple of years and it got really severe so my studies and grades got really low. I’m taking summer classes to raise the GPA. But I wonder if I should mention that year with the low GPA in my personal statement and explain what’s going on?

A: If that semester looks very different from the rest, it’s enough of a red flag to briefly mention it. In The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement I talked about how just briefly touch on the red flag. Don’t make your whole essay around it. As to mentioning depression, I don’t think that is any of the admission committee’s business. Again just briefly talk about it and if you’re lucky to get an interview then they can ask you about it more in-depth.

Depression is a very personal thing for a lot of people. So I advise you not to mention it but if you’re tied to depression and the journey you’ve been through with depression and it’s something you identify with and it’s one of the core reasons why you want to be a physician, then maybe you want to talk about it. But you just have to know the risks involved with bringing it up.

'If you need to talk about it, go ahead. Just make sure you understand the repercussions.'Click To Tweet

[12:00] What Experiences to Put in Your Personal Statement

Q: “When you share experiences that you’ve already had like in the parts of the MCAT where you’re asked for experience and research. I just a hard time understanding how to elaborate on that without repeating and when we can do that and when we can’t.”

A: There are going to be experiences in your personal statement that are going to be in your extracurricular list. For instance, you’re volunteering in the emergency department. You’re going to write a description of it on your extracurricular list and market it as your most meaningful. But in your personal statement, you’re not going to describe and just say you did it. Instead, you’re going to tell a story about your experience from that extracurricular that further confirmed that you wanted to be a physician. Be as specific as possible with only one example, if possible. So write down what was the seed that was planted that made you explore health care followed by one or two stories about a patient encounter and experience you’ve had that reaffirmed this was the right path for you.

Additionally, mentioning any family hardships is okay. It’s common that several people go into medicine because of experiences either with their own or their family member’s health. That was their first exposure to health care and to a physician impacting their life. So it’s not cliche, it’s common.

Hence, you have to tell your story. Where students go wrong is they avoid to talk about it and then their personal statement doesn’t make sense since you can’t connect the dots as to why they’re doing this. Or their whole personal statement ends up being about grandma and how she was sick — nothing about the student and the journey the student has been.

So let’s say your seed is your experience of having a family member or you going through a health condition and seeing how the medical practitioners were providing care to patients. Be careful with the seed like that as it’s not immediately when you knew you wanted to be a doctor. It was when you decided that you want to explore health care. Then from shadowing, being in urgent care, and wherever else, that’s the confirmation of being a physician.

[17:52] Summing Up Your Personal Statement

Q: When summing up your personal statement, what is the point that you want to end on?

A: A great conclusion would be to answer the question: What do you hope to accomplish with the education that the school is going to give you? What kind of physician do you hope to be? What kind of impact on the world would you like to make?

[18:30] Too Personal?

Q: How do you know whether your story is too personal? How do you know it’s related to your pursuit towards the medical profession versus like your resume? Because you don’t want to come off that way.

A: Really, it’s just a story of your journey. And that should be whatever that seed was that was planted that made you interested in healthcare and what are the experiences after that which confirmed it’s really what you want to do. To figure out if it’s right, you just have to write.

In my book, I provided a worksheet that you can give to other people and ask them to rate your essay. But people may not understand what a good personal statement should be so you have to be strategic with who you’re asking feedback from such as your premed advisor or a mentor. Physicians and medical students aren’t really the best people because just because they got into medical school doesn’t mean they understand what a good personal statement should consist of. And plenty of people got into medical school with not very good personal statements, but they got in because their stats made up for it.


Q: We hear a lot about how medical school admissions want to see that their prospective students know what they’re getting into. But also, we don’t want to come off like we sound like we already know what it’s like to be a doctor. And I’m trying to figure out

[22:54] Understanding What Being a Physician is Like

Q: “We hear a lot about how medical school admissions want to see that their prospective students know what they’re getting into. But also, we don’t want to come off like we sound like we already know what it’s like to be a doctor. And I’m trying to figure out a way to convey passion about going into medicine and then coming off like I do understand what I’m getting myself into but also, at the same time, not trying to sound like I know what it’s like.”

A: Showing them that you know what you’re getting into can be done through your experiences. So as an admissions committee member looking at your application. So it’s better them seeing that than you having to say that you understand what the medical world is like. Just you being seen that you’ve shadowed or scribed or whatever it is you’ve done, it’s enough proof that you’ve experienced those. And now, they just need to hear your reflection and why those experiences further solidified in your mind that this is what you want.

[26:46] Thrilling Experiences in the ER

Q: “Majority of my experiences are here in the ER. I’m a little bit concerned that my personal statement is sort of coming off like I’ve only seen the exciting stuff, and not having as much understanding of the importance of primary care.”

A: It’s not an issue. You can only do so much. Just tell the stories and talk about the impact on the patients, not that your experiences are so exciting.

'Focus on the impact to the patient and the care for the patient, and not just the exciting and thrilling scene of the emergency room.'Click To Tweet

[28:47] Personal Statement Course

Check out our Personal Statement Course and get four different modules (plus one bonus module). The first model covers how to find your seed. The second module covers reviewing outlines and what to avoid, as well as reflections in watering the seed. Module 3 is about red flags and the conclusion. Module 4 is editing your personal statement, getting feedback, and finishing it. The bonus module has a ton of personal statements that we’ve reviewed. We’re also adding to the module all the time since we have bi-weekly office hours, every other Monday 3pm Eastern. They’re recorded on Zoom and uploaded into the course. This is your opportunity to send your personal statement and get feedback.

Additionally, you get access to our secret Facebook group where you can interact with other students in the course and get feedback from students and from me.


MedEd Media Network

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement

Personal Statement Course

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