My personal statement for medical school (AKA personal comments essay)

Last week a friend who is applying to med schools this year asked to see my personal statement. After sharing, I was happy to hear that she found it useful and liked its straightforward style.

Of course, I don’t know the full impact of the statement on my application. (For more info on the personal statement, refer to the AAMC’s AMCAS Essays webpage.) Still, I thought that I would post it online in case you find it helpful:

Spoiler alert! Practicing medicine has not been my lifelong aspiration, nor can I regale you with the story of that revelatory moment when I just knew that being a doctor was my calling. After being introduced to the idea during my first college biology course, I mainly decided to pursue the career because I was excited by the challenge. After failing to apply myself through most of high school, I was ready to show myself that I was capable of achieving something I had never before considered. Since then, I have developed my understanding of the career; my decision to apply to medical school has been informed by many experiences and much reflection.

My first real exposure to medicine following that decision came during my sophomore year, when I sustained a traumatic knee injury while riding my bicycle to work. Although I was amazed by and grateful for the treatment that I received in the hospital, I was often afraid of interacting with the surgeons. On rounds, they always had plenty of clinical questions for me, but I felt like they did not understand that I was exhausted, terrified, and in pain. I would later joke that it seemed like, for most of the surgeons, I might as well still have been anesthetized. The experience shook me enough that after I returned to school I changed my major to pre-nursing in order to establish a strong bedside manner as a nurse before I eventually pursued medicine. Although after a year I returned to a direct premed track, I still held my experience as a patient close to heart. If selected, I am determined to provide the most compassionate care that I can for my future patients.

Recovery from my injury came with limitations, but it also opened doors. (Despite having to withdraw from my biology lab, I was able to make the dean’s list the semester of my injury with the support of my instructors.) Although I had to leave my position as a resident assistant, as a junior I began three years of community service as a Bonner Leader. My first placement was at a family homeless shelter, where for six weeks I tutored a high school student named Jake in algebra, meeting with him for two to three hours at a time, three days per week. The pace was challenging for us both, and at times I found myself struggling to explain the material in a way that Jake could understand. However, I learned how to listen and observe better so that I could deconstruct the information and explain it in such a way that was both more accessible and relevant to him. Since working with Jake, I have continued to enjoy tutoring, usually in the natural sciences. I see a strong parallel between that role and what physicians do as they draw upon their technical knowledge to learn from and teach their patients. A huge part of why I want to be a doctor comes from how much I enjoy sitting down with another person and working together to make his or her life a little better.

Although my experience with Jake was intensive, my time learning Spanish abroad was even more challenging. Intent on sharpening my language skills and hoping to learn more about disabilities firsthand, I spent ten weeks volunteering for a nonprofit that serves disabled people in Nicaragua following my graduation. During my time abroad, I also had the opportunity to spend a week observing in a rural hospital. The staff was welcoming, and I was grateful and excited to glimpse the physicians’ and medical students’ regular responsibilities. However, the scarcity of resources often frustrated me, and I felt naïve and disturbed witnessing the reality that the patients there did not receive the level of care I was accustomed to in the United States. What’s more, even though this environment was clearly different, I was still reminded of my own experiences as a patient. When accompanying providers on rounds, I observed that the physicians did not often treat patients with the same warmth that they showed one another. So I made an effort to connect with the patients we visited, especially with those from whom I took vital signs during the overnight shifts. I made sure to acknowledge them, ask them how they felt, and thank them for their input. Even though the connections were small, it was a huge relief and also very gratifying when a patient would smile back at me, ask a question, or tell me some of his or her story.

Along my premed journey, I have come to appreciate that a career in medicine presents many challenges. The work can be emotionally draining, intellectually taxing, physically exhausting, and socially isolating. Paperwork abounds, and physicians must adapt to ever-changing social, legal, and technical landscapes. Although I have overcome my share of challenges, as an applicant, I do not presume to know what it would be like to experience the trials of this career. However, I am ready to give my best effort because I believe that overcoming those trials are well worth the rewards: a unique blend of direct service, technical skills, intellectual stimulation, opportunities to educate, and the core ability to heal others and promote wellbeing. After reflecting upon my experiences, I am confident that I am good fit for medicine. As I submit my application, I am excited and humbled by this tremendous opportunity.


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