The Personal Statement: Content

Medical School Application Series: The Personal Statement

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By Aneka Khilnani, MS
2nd Year Medical Student at The George Washington University & 2019 Alumna of MS in Physiology at Georgetown University


The medical school personal statement offers a crucial opportunity to show medical schools who you are beyond your MCAT and GPA score. With a greater emphasis on a holistic review of applicants a well-done medical school personal statement continues to be a key component of a successful application. This is your opportunity to express who you are as an individual, the major influences and background that have shaped your interests and values, what inspires you to pursue medicine, and what kind of physician you envision yourself becoming. 

For me personally, this was possibly the most stressful part of the application process. If you are anything like the majority of medical school applicants, you may have begun to write your personal statement, however, you may not feel confident in the content you are presenting to the medical school admissions committees. As someone who was invited to interview at nearly two dozen medical school interviews across the country while earning my Masters in Physiology at Georgetown University, and currently interviews applications at The George Washington University MD Program, I wanted to share my top five tips for crafting the content of your personal statement. 

Within your allotted 5,300 characters, it can be daunting to decide what will best showcase why you would be a phenomenal doctor. Thinking strategically about your “big picture” while showcasing your pre-professional competencies that medical schools are focused on prior to diving into the writing process will help ensure you are successfully answering the question of why medicine. Consider what you would like a medical school admission committee to take away from your personal statement. 

Tip #1: Review the AAMCs 15 Core Competencies

Prior to beginning the writing process I visited the American Association of Medical College’s (AAMC) website where they shared the 15 core competencies they say, “Successful medical school applicants are able to demonstrate skills, knowledge, and abilities in these areas.” Consider extracurricular activities, experiences, and education that could demonstrate a number of these core competencies. For example, to demonstrate social skills, oral communication, and service orientation I discussed a specific interaction I had as a volunteer at a camp for kids with Type 1 Diabetes. 

Tip #2: Demonstrate Resilience 

While I am very early in my medical career, as a second year medical student I am keenly aware that throughout my career, the inherent unpredictability and challenge of the profession demands that doctors remain adaptable and persistent in the face of adversity. Even the strongest medical students will encounter difficult spaces in which stepping back is more appealing than leaning into the work. In 2018, the attrition rate at U.S. MD schools was 3.3% (AAMC Data Snapshot, 2018), and medical schools strive to pick candidates who will be able to take on the rigors of medical school as evidenced by adaptability and emotional maturity. It is important to remember that medical school is a marathon, not a race and over and over at this early stage my fellow trainees and I have endured failure. And while failure is certainly part of the learning process, it also comes with a steep emotional burden. Without resilience, we would be unable to shoulder that burden and would be prevented from becoming effective practitioners. Not only in the personal statement, reflect on your struggles not as a source of mistakes, but rather as stories about your ability to learn and grow from unexpected circumstances.

Tip #3: Reflection

This may seem fairly basic, and it is, but admissions officers need to know why you want to practice medicine. Many applicants make the mistake of simply listening to various leadership roles or challenging research they have conducted without offering insights about those experiences that answer the question, “Why medicine?” Many pre-medical students have participated in similar volunteer experiences or clinical activities, the key here being, the stories you can tell about those experiences, and the wisdom you gained are completely distinct, because they are only your personal story to tell. Admissions committees want to know that you have explored your interest deeply and that you can reflect on the significance of these clinical experiences and volunteer work. 

Tip #4: Being specific about the Medical Degree

Many professions are able to help people in some way, shape, or form. In order to persuade the a medical school admissions reviewer that medicine is your calling it becomes important to step away from the more simplest desire to help people. Instead, discuss why having your M.D. will allow you to help society in a way that you would not be able to do in another profession. Writing only that you “want to help people” does not support a sincere desire to become a physician; you must indicate why the medical profession in particular, rather than social work, teaching or another “helping” profession is your calling.

Tip #5: Brainstorm

If you are having trouble getting started, like I did, on separate flashcards write down, on each card, experiences in your life and development that you would like to include. On the opposite side write down which AAMC core competencies this can demonstrate to medical school admission officers. Next, play around with the order of the cards by placing a card with a transitional idea between the cards. This will help create a solid foundation and framework to combat writer’s block. 

Throughout the process you will hear conflicting advice about application essays. Regardless of the advice you receive and follow, be sure to do these three things to feel confident: 

  1. Be true to yourself. Everyone will have an opinion regarding what should and should not write. Follow your own instincts. Thus far, you have completed rigorous science courses, have or are soon to complete a college degree, and have taken the MCAT. You are more than capable of writing this personal essay. Your personal statement should be a reflection of you, and only you. 
  2. Take your time, slow down, and start early. Composing thoughtful and meaningful work takes more than one afternoon and you don’t want your writing and ideas to be sloppy and underdeveloped. 
  3. Ensure your personal statement is written from the heart. Being authentic and upfront about who you are is the best way to be a memorable applicant. 

Best of luck!