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Personal statement advice: medicine dos and don'ts

Applying to medicine is incredibly competitive. So what must you include in your personal statement to stand out? What will waste precious space which you can leave out?

Don't know what experience you need to have? Go back and read our guide to the medicine experience you need.

What are the essential ingredients of the statement itself? One admissions tutor put it this way: 'Your desire, enthusiasm and passion to be a doctor is the key factor.'

As we advised in '10 things not to put in your personal statement', try not to actually use the word ‘passion’, but convey your passion in what you write. 

To find out what individual medical schools look for, check out their websites! As one admissions tutor said: 'We tell you what we want on our webpage, but many applicants don’t look.'

How medical schools use your personal statement 

Different medical schools use the personal statement in different ways. Some use it as part of the screening process to decide whether or not you will get an interview – they may even score it against their selection criteria.

Others don’t use it until the interview stage. One or two just consult it prior to offers being made. 

However, especially now that many medical schools use multiple mini-interviews, a personal statement that’s superficial or exaggerated will fall apart very quickly if you’re asked to expand on it by your interviewer (and you probably will be).

Explain your motivation

This should be your opening theme, or even permeate the entire statement. By ‘motivation’ we mean your rationale for why you want to study medicine and become a doctor.

This motivation should be based on your reflections on your own experiences so far and insights into what this will entail; the commitment and core qualities needed; an appreciation of the lows (not just the highs); and the skills you’ve demonstrated yourself. 

Be specific and keep to the point

A frequent criticism of personal statements is that they are too bland, not specific enough or focus too much on irrelevant detail.

Make sure you reflect on what you’ve learned from your experience about the role of the doctor or the provision of care, rather than the techniques you saw. Describe something you spotted or a situation you learned from, whether on a ward, in a care home or in some other setting.

Examples might be how a doctor, care assistant or GP receptionist talked to a distressed patient; how conflicting demands were juggled by good organisation or teamwork; or how you got a lady with dementia to tell you about her life. 

Alternatively, it could be something you observed from a patient’s perspective, like how they responded to being talked to in a particular way.

Don’t be afraid to refer to specific situations; it can be more meaningful than just generalising. 

Evidence your skills, behaviours or qualities 

Include evidence of some of the relevant skills, behaviours or qualities that you’ve observed and demonstrated yourself. These may include:
  • good communication and interpersonal skills
  • teamwork
  • leadership
  • a sense of responsibility
  • empathy 
  • good time management
  • resilience 
  • creative or critical thinking
  • maintaining a good work/life balance 
And remember, it’s no good just saying you’ve observed or possess such qualities – you’ve got to evidence them! 

Alongside all this, show that you have a range of personal interests or achievements, that aren't necessarily medicine-related. Medical schools like you to bring things like this to the table to show you have a well-balanced lifestyle. However, don’t waste three whole lines on grade 8 flute or playing badminton unless it reveals something that’s fundamental to your motivation.  

Show the real you

The medical school admissions tutor above also said he looks for people with humility who are curious and passionate about learning; always want to go a stage further; have an enquiring mind about science; and are interested in ethical dilemmas. That's because medicine is full of these.

He adds that 'we don’t want people who just think it’s about making people better’; but those genuinely interested in public health and health prevention, and who are not afraid to talk about death...

'But I’ve only got 47 lines...'

You have to be selective about what you include and what you leave out. Select the evidence that you think is most essential. Write concisely; don’t over-elaborate, don’t use complicated language; and don’t use ten words when five will do. 

Make your conclusion punchy, personal and short. Avoid being cheesy in it and use it to add something, rather than regurgitating something you’ve already said. 

Talk to your referee. Some medical schools will read your personal statement and academic reference as one continuous document; so talk to your referee about you can make these work together. 

Ensure your statement is coherent, well-structured, reflective and free of errors.

The fifth choice

As you can only select up to four medical schools on UCAS, it’s fine to use your fifth choice for another course if you wish. But your statement needs to be 100% focused on medicine; so the fifth choice should be chosen carefully with that in mind.

NHS Constitution

For all degree courses that involve training within an NHS setting, there is likely to be some emphasis on values based selection, and how applicants' own values and behaviours align with the six core values of the NHS Constitution. Familiarise yourself with this while writing your personal statement.

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