The personal statement is a piece of writing submitted through UCAS with a limit of 4000 characters and 47 lines. To those such as ourselves who predominantly study science subjects, writing this seems daunting. I hope to guide you through some tips I found from crafting mine. Please note that medical schools use and score personal statements in a variety of ways, so checking university websites for up-to-date details on what they look for is useful.
It can be difficult to first think of what is applicable for a personal statement, so I recommend bullet pointing everything that you believe is relevant. This means you can then expand these bullet points as paragraphs, then keeping what points are the strongest. Understanding the roles of a doctor through reading Tomorrow’s Doctors helps to consider relevant skills and attributes.
Here, stating an intrinsic motivation to study medicine and what you understand about medicine forms a powerful introduction. This may take a number of forms but try to be succinct. At one end of the spectrum are introductions that float around abstract concepts or introduce with an unintended non sequitur, so be wary. Stories can add to the personal element of motivation to study medicine but one about how you cut you finger aged 4 and fervently decided that medicine was the career for you may appear naïve. Describing how TV shows attracted you to medicine, even if other reasons are raised, will likely reduce the quality of your argument. I found my introduction the hardest to write, so as is mentioned later I wrote this after the main bulk of my statement.
Structuring the statement
These numbered points refer to a method of structuring the areas discussed later:
1. EXPLORATION and UNDERSTANDING
How did you find a voluntary opportunity, book or lecture you attended? Moreover, what did you understand from the above - for example, how did a book on ethics (A Very Short Introduction to Medical Ethics is a great starting point) teach you about different approaches to ethical scenarios.
The final stage of each paragraph is thinking about what you’ve learnt before and how this makes you suitable to medicine. Reflect upon your experience and what skills you have gained and how this will help you. This could be a skill very specifically related to medicine or more broadly in terms of organisation/ teamwork/… (massively important!). Listing your school accomplishments does not mean anything without a reason for what these have taught you along the way. Without such reflection, achievements may seem vain and listed just to impress the marker. Introspecting on your part time job and the skills it taught you will come across far better than writing about just what you saw on a medicine course in a developing country. When writing my statement, I wrote about a specific skill/trait in each paragraph, so the statement remained clear and concise.
Volunteering/ work/ work experience
This should form a large proportion of your personal statement, utilising the framework I have previously mentioned but don’t be afraid to stray from this so you statement flows! Consider any work experience (all will be relevant in some way or another) from how working as a secretary taught you organisation and how work experience in an hospital showed you how doctors communicate. Often differing experiences will teach you similar things and it’s a matter of boiling down these individual skills through reflection.
School and college
In comparison to other courses, this will form a smaller section of your statement. Think about how you’ve worked through A-levels, how your work ethic may be applicable to medicine and what stead this stands you in. In addition, briefly discussing areas of A levels (particularly biology) which you have enjoyed and possibly studied/researched further can show a vast array of skills.
Extracurricular reading/ activities
Are there any books you have read which inspired you? How then did you pursue this interest? How does this apply to a student-selected component at the university? How do interests like these translate to medicine or medical school? How does this relate to the future of the NHS and the workforce you will be entering?
Above are just a few of the questions one could self-reflect when attending a lecture day or reading a book. As before, reflection is key to showing insight, listing a book you have read doesn’t intrinsically show understanding of your future career so express how each book helped. Below are a few books I read before applying: (there are so many other relevant books so by no means is this a hard and fast list)
- When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi
- A Very Short Introduction to Medical Ethics - Tony Hope
- Do No Harm - Henry Marsh
- Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
I believe this should stick in the head of anyone reading your personal statement. Summarise in a couple of sentences what you have learnt, how this applies to medicine and how it will aid you in your studies/ future career. Often, this is one of the most difficult parts to write, equal to the introduction, so I would advise writing both at the end, after you have a coherent idea of the ebb and flow of your piece. The analogy that an introduction and conclusion form the bread of a sandwich is common, whereby the filling and main part of the statement is individual. I disagree and believe your introduction and conclusion can express true zeal for medicine, leaving a lasting impression.
All this may seem hard to achieve within 4000 characters but starting early to gain a foothold makes this easier. I often tried to write a paragraph a day and though at points my statement was 8000 characters this means you can consider all you have learnt. In summary, start early and reflect on every point you make. Finally, the statement should be personal to you and not written to a tight script devised by a teacher, parent or friend. Moreover, when listening to feedback from others, consider all you can get, but don’t be afraid to not include everything you receive since the statement should be truly reflective of only you.
Best of luck, Tom
Words: Thomas Thorne