Hey everyone and welcome back to the blog! If you haven’t checked out the previous post on how to get started on your personal statement, I would suggest you check it out here! Choosing your personal statement theme can be one of the biggest challenges to getting started with your statement but with a little prep work, it can make this process easier. I hope that this post can help you narrow down your personal statement theme.
What are some categories of themes to think about?
One of the first steps is to understand some general themes that most students write about in their personal statement. While these are not the only themes that you can choose from, I hope that you can use these categories to start brainstorming what you want to write about.
Personal experience with healthcare
This one is likely the easiest to understand so we will start here. If you have had a personal experience with healthcare, it can serve as a great story to base your personal statement upon. This typically comes in the form of being on the other side of medicine as a patient and witnessing the struggles that patients face and understanding what it is like to have a really great physician taking care of you.
As most medical school applicants are in their 20s-30s, it is slightly less common for you to have been a patient in a significant capacity at this point (beyond seeing physicians for annual check-ups or minor injuries requiring medical attention). However, some applicants may have faced childhood, adolescent, or even young adult health issues that required them to see physicians regularly. Whether you remember the physician’s bedside manner when he/she took care of you or the way that they took the time to get to know you and your family, these can be strong themes to start your writing process.
One of the best examples of this theme in a personal statement was one applicant who wrote about a devastating knee injury they suffered while in high school. The applicant vividly described the incident, spoke about the way they were treated during the perioperative period and even that the orthopedic surgeon followed up with them and attended their high school graduation. This type of story can have a huge impact on a medical school applicant and can show you the compassion and caring nature that physicians should possess. This story can also have a drastic impact on your personal statement if you are able to reflect upon what that physician meant to you and motivated you to pursue medicine.
Familial experience with healthcare
This theme is the second easiest to understand and incorporate into your statement and I would also say that is slightly more common than the first theme. There are also many similarities with this theme and the previous one, it just involves a different patient.
As I mentioned before, at the point of applying to medical school, you may not have had a personal, significant experience with the healthcare system as a patient but perhaps a close family member has and you have been able to experience medicine through that family member. While this theme can be a bit harder to write about as you were not the patient directly, there are still some ways to approach it so that you can produce a powerful statement.
When thinking about what to write using this theme, I believe it is important to take a step back and think about what you witnessed in terms of the physician’s approach to not just the patient but the entire family as well. Did that physician take the time to introduce themselves to you? Did they spend a few extra minutes making sure that you had all your questions answered? Could you tell that they really cared about your loved one and making sure they made them comfortable throughout the interaction? These are just a few questions to think about when pondering whether or not you want to use this theme to build your personal statement around.
An example of this theme is when one applicant wrote about the experience with their father’s cardiovascular issues while they were an undergraduate student. From the moment they found out about their father being sick to their experience in the hospital and especially the way that the cardiologist was so great in explaining everything to them made this a powerful statement.
I saved this one for last as it can be the most vague theme to consider and there are multiple smaller themes that can fall into this category. If you start brainstorming ideas, stories, and experiences to put into your personal statement and you don’t really feel like you have a personal experience with the healthcare system nor do you have an experience being a family member in the healthcare setting, then you can start to think about this category.
Some examples of this theme include the following:
1. A non-traditional applicant who has worked in other industries and realized that you weren’t fulfilled and wanted to switch to medicine to help others.
2. You went on a study abroad trip where you volunteered in another country and saw the differences in healthcare delivery between the US and that other country which motivated you to help make changes in the US healthcare system.
How do I choose what to write about?
The first step in this process is to brainstorm some ideas, stories, or experiences from your past that have helped you get interested or reaffirmed your interest in pursuing a career in medicine. Once you have a list, you can start to shape the statement in terms of what story you want to use in the introduction, what you want your supporting evidence to be and how to connect them all. The later steps of this process do not need to be determined at this point as they will develop as you start writing.
It is important to pick a topic that you feel comfortable writing about and feel that you can write about for the 5,300 characters of the personal statement. It is also important to pick a topic that you can freely talk about in the interview setting as this will likely come up during the interview process when you are asked questions such as, “Why medicine?” or “Why do you want to be a physician?”.
What do you not want to write about?
A discussion of what to write your personal statement about would not be complete without briefly discussing some topics that do not go over well in personal statements and in my opinion, should be avoided.
Anything that makes you sound like you know better than already practicing physicians. While you have a story or two about how physicians have messed up in either your care or care of a family member, you should still refrain from making it sound like you know what that physician should have done in the situation. This comes off as condescending and will not be read favorably by the reviewers.
Controversial topics, especially expressing a strong opinion for or against the controversy at hand. While I believe it is important to have opinions in these areas, the personal statement is not a place to express them. For example, if you believe overturning Roe v. Wade was the biggest mistake in American history, I would not focus my personal statement on this as your reviewers may not share those insights and could score your application unfavorably. Instead, you could talk more about your passions for women’s rights and how you believe you can help maintain these rights in the future as a healthcare professional. You could then use part of the statement to talk about all the work you have done volunteering in a women’s clinic as an undergraduate and how this has further motivated you to become a physician. (I get it, you may not have this exact set of experiences to make this example work but you get the idea.)
Well, that wraps up what I have to say about picking your personal statement theme. I hope this has helped you, especially if you are starting the process of applying to medical school in 2023. If you have any questions about starting your personal statement or any other questions about applying to medical school, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!