Your personal statement for health profession school should address the fundamental questions of:
- Why do you want to be a physician/dentist/etc. and
- What experiences have helped you reach that conclusion.
The essay should be about your journey, your story and the process of discovery, exploration and choice for a career in medicine, dentistry or whatever your chosen health field might be.
As a general rule of thumb, you want to focus more on what you learned from your past experiences, what impact they had on you, etc. than on the details of the experiences themselves. In other words, you want to be more reflective than descriptive.
Assess & reflect
Good personal statements begin with sound self-assessment and awareness of your life story so far. Think back of all your life experiences and focus, in particular, on your time spent in the very communities and settings (hospitals, clinics, hospices, research labs, etc.) that you wish to eventually join as a practitioner. Try to answer the following questions to get you started on the reflecting process:
- Why do you want to become a physician/dentist...? Be as specific and sincere as you can.
- What experiences have confirmed your career choice?
- What have you learned from your past experiences in general?
- Describe your experiences in health care, especially those involving patient contact.
- Think back about one or two particular events with a patient or a professional that deeply affected you.
- Who have been the most influential people in your life and why?
- What’s your background, your values? (First generation college, mother/father health professional; spirituality, altruism…)
- Think about your uniqueness. What could you contribute to a diverse environment? (Hint: Think of your “diversity” as an asset: culture, age, major, unique experiences and perspectives).
- How would you describe yourself?
- How would your professors, employers, family members, friends describe you?
- What cocurricular activities have broadened your horizons?
- How have you demonstrated leadership?
- What skills are your learning in classes and research that are relevant to a career in medicine/dentistry....?
- What are you learning about yourself through your experiences inside and outside of the classroom?
- What kind of impact do you want to have on your community?
- In what ways have you already started this process?
- How have you challenged yourself?
- How have you demonstrated your service orientation, compassion, etc.?
- How have you come to understand the demands of your chosen profession?
- How well can you work with others?
- What’s your motivation for learning?
- Think of your proudest moment. Why was that accomplishment so particularly meaningful to you?
- What is it that you would like for a medical/dental... school to really know about you?
- Why should a medical/dental... school want to have you as a student?
Don’t wait until you have a final draft to start getting feedback from others. If you have invested too much time in your essay, you are likely to be overprotective and defensive of your work and, consequently, somewhat non-receptive to feedback.
Give yourself a realistic timeline for a first workable draft and schedule an appointment accordingly with the reviewer. This approach will force you to set an “artificial” deadline to have a first workable draft.
Work on contents first. You can fine tune length, grammar and punctuation later!
Preview and print your essay before submitting your application because what prints is what the schools will see and you will not have a chance to make any changes later. Notepad usually works well. If you try to cut and paste your essay into a central application template (such as AMCAS, AACOMAS, AADSAS, etc.) from other programs, you may encounter some difficulties with certain characters and with fitting the final lines of your essay.
Strive to have more than one person review your personal statement. For example:
- LSA Academic Advisors, 1255 Angell Hall. Call (734) 764-0332 for details.
- Faculty and advisors
- Friends and family
- Sweetland Center for Writing
Should you start with an outline or jump into free writing? It is really up to you since you can tackle this project in a number of ways:
- After the recommended reflection exercise, look for recurring ideas and/or more substantive concepts.
- Organize and prioritize your thoughts
- Think of examples to substantiate your statements
- Introduce, develop and close your essay appropriately.
- Allow at least 45-60 minutes to brainstorm--don't worry about space limitations
- After your first draft, look for common themes
- Prioritize information and try to address a specific topic in each paragraph
- Strive for continuity and organization of thoughts.
Whatever you do:
- Have a mental picture of your audience as you write and
- Don't second-guess or try to please your audience. Tell your story according to you.
At the drafting stage, don't start writing and then stop when you have about one page worth of information or have reached whatever word limit you were given. Yes, there will most likely be a limit to how much you can write, but usually the "good stuff" comes up later in the course of a draft, when you have been able to move away from the generalities and platitudes of why you want to go to medical/dental... school and can move to a deeper level of self-understanding and analysis as to why you want to become a physician/dentist.... As soon as you have a working draft, start seeking feedback from a variety of individuals.
Dive into your personal statement with gusto! Look at your personal statement as an opportunity rather than a drudgery.