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What is a personal statement?

The personal statement is a valuable chance to show universities why you deserve a place on their course. Aside from academic achievements, there are many attributes which make an ideal medical school applicant. The personal statement allows you to showcase these attributes, and to demonstrate to universities your motivation behind applying to medicine and the steps you have taken to achieve this.

Understandably, a lot of applicants worry about writing their personal statement. In this article we will go through what a good personal statement should include, how to structure a personal statement and common mistakes to avoid when you begin to write your personal statement.

How long should my personal statement be?

The maximum length of a personal statement is 4000 characters (around 1 A4 page). It's important to not go over this, as it will be cut off when you upload it to UCAS. It's equally important to not go too under as it might be interpreted as you not having enough experience or motivation to study medicine! Ideally, you should fill the 4000 characters -it does sound like a lot, but once you begin writing your statement you will realise it's much less thank you think - if anything, you might struggle to cut down on your words! It's important that everything you write about is relevant to why you want to study medicine, and the skills that you have to achieve this. Having a structure before you start writing your personal statement will help keep everything relevant and will help avoid waffling (we're all guilty of this!). Read on to understand more about how you should structure your personal statement.

How should I structure my personal statement?

Before you start writing up your personal statement, we recommend that you write a few headings to structure your writing. We have included these headings below – feel free to change them based on what suits you better!

Paragraph 1 – Your reason behind wanting to study medicine.

What motivates you? Why do you want to go into medicine? To avoid clichés, try to make this paragraph as personal as you can. Many people fall into the trap of writing "I have always known Medicine is for me". This cliché won't stand out to those reading your personal statement. To avoid this, try and use a personal experience or an event which inspired you to study medicine.

Paragraph 2 – What you have done to see if medicine is right for you

This paragraph is usually about work experience or voluntary work. It's important that you don't just list what you have done, but instead, relate it back to medicine and reflecting on these experiences. Reflection is a huge part of life as a medical student and a doctor, so including this in your personal statement is bound to impress those reading it! A good tool for reflection is using the STARR technique.

  • S ituation – Describe the situation or problem you experienced
  • T ask – Describe a task you had to do in the situation, and why this was important
  • A ction – Any obstacles you overcame in the situation, and the actions you took.
  • R esult – The outcome of the situation
  • R eflection – What you did this time, and what you would do to tackle the problem next time

This paragraph is also a good chance to demonstrate to admission tutors that you understand and appreciate that medicine is a difficult career. If you have any medical work experience, it would be good to highlight some of the difficulties you saw and what you learnt from these (use the STARR technique as above!).

Some prospective medical students also read books on Medicine as a way of gauging whether or not medicine as a career is suited to them. Examples of books you can write about include "This is going to hurt" by Adam Kay, or "When breath becomes air" by Paul Kalinithi. These books are well worth reading as it can be a topic to bring up or speak about during the interview as well.

Paragraph 3 – Transferable skills, jobs and other voluntary work

Paragraph three is similar to the previous paragraph. Further expand on more examples of work experience or voluntary work. If you are a postgraduate student, or have had experience in working, this paragraph is perfect to showcase your transferable skills and how they will help you in your career in medicine. Write about these in the same way you wrote about your work experience, by reflecting and relating it back to your future career in Medicine.

Paragraph 4 – Extracurricular activities

Hobbies are an excellent way of showing medical schools that there is more to you as an individual than your academic side! A common mistake in personal statements is that students neglect this section, and instead just focus on work experience and voluntary work. Whilst these are essential to your personal statement, it's equally important to show that you are a well-rounded individual. Reflecting on your hobbies can demonstrate that you are able to maintain a work-life balance (something which is essential to be able to do as a medical student/doctor!). Make sure to relate your hobbies back to medicine to gain some extra points – for example, being part of a sports team can be related back to being a good team player, leader, and communicator – all of which are essential to being part of a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

Paragraph 5 -Conclusion

The final paragraph should essentially summarise everything you have spoken about in previous paragraphs. This would include your motivation behind medicine, your appreciation of the difficulties that come with a career in medicine and why you are a suitable candidate.

Keywords to include:

Keep the following keywords in mind when you're writing your personal statement and incorporate them into your writing by backing them up with examples!

  • Teamwork
  • Motivation
  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Resilient
  • Communication
  • Reflection

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Cliché reasons (e.g., I've always wanted to study medicine) – you want to stand out!
  • Just listing out work experience and voluntary work, but not reflecting and relating back to medicine.
  • Including A-Levels, UCAT or BMAT scores – universities will receive these separately.
  • Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors
  • Do not name universities individually, as all of the universities you apply to will receive the same personal statement!
  • Writing about things you can't expand on – Depending on the university, it is likely that they will have your personal statement in the interview and that they will question you on it. Make sure you can expand on everything you have written!

How can I get help with writing my personal statement?

The best way to get support with your personal statement is by applying to FutureDoc's Elite Programme – we also have a course specific to personal statements!

Written by Mahsa Kabuli