In this series, medical students and medicine offer holders share and explain their personal statement so that you can learn from our experiences and reflections. Emilia is an undergraduate medical student studying at Cardiff University
Disclaimer: Please do NOT be tempted to use our personal statements as a model/foundation/plan. UCAS is very strict about plagiarism, more information can be found here.
Please remember that there is no such thing as a model personal statement. By definition, it is supposed to be unique and there is no "golden formula".
When it was finally time to begin writing my personal statement, I had no idea about where to start or how to structure it. All I knew is that I wanted to include all the activities I’d taken part in in order to show I was prepared for a life in medical school as well as show the personal qualities I had gained from doing them.
Therefore, I began by writing a list of everything I had done over the years. Then, I found a list of qualities that a doctor should have on the Medical Schools Council website which I have pasted below:
· Motivation to study medicine and genuine interest in the medical profession
· Insight into your own strengths and weaknesses
· Personal organisation
· Academic ability
· Problem solving
· Dealing with uncertainty
· Managing risk and deal effectively with problems
· Ability to treat people with respect
· Resilience and the ability to deal with difficult situations
· Empathy and the ability to care for others
Then I simply began pairing up some of the skills on the list with the activities I had taken part in – this was the foundation of my personal statement.
Many times have I heard the phrase ‘you don’t realise how lucky you are to be healthy’. Once I began volunteering at a disabled children’s play scheme (CHIPS), I saw the reality of this statement. These children will never be able to have the life experiences that many of us take for granted. Over a year, I understood each child’s unique healthcare needs, improving my ability to care for them. I developed communication skills with a different group of people with whom I was able to empathize and having this insight triggered a personal interest to seek a career in medicine.
As you can see in the introduction to my personal statement, I paired my volunteering for a disabled children’s play scheme with empathy. Please note that simply writing the word ‘empathy’ will not be enough. You need to show that you know what it means. So, looking back at my personal statement, I have written, ‘These children will never be able to have the life experiences that many of us take for granted’. This shows that I can understand what it means to have a disability and how it can affect the lives of these children.
Moving on to how to write an introductory paragraph, the main thing to consider is making it unique. You want your personal statement to stand out from other candidates. The most important thing to consider is the opening sentence. You don’t want it to sound too cliché – for example, in 2015, the most common opening for a medical personal statement was ‘From a young age, I have (always) been [interested in/fascinated by]…’ which was used by 1779 people! It will probably be the most difficult part of your personal statement, but please spend some time on how you can open your personal statement to make it sound different to others.
I continued practising the skills I had learnt at CHIPS by becoming a personal assistant for a disabled girl. My work with Susannah encourages me to use my initiative to seek what she needs and I have also learnt about the challenging life of families with disabled children.
Looking at the middle bulk of my personal statement, I wrote all about my major experiences and what I learnt from them. However, remember that you only have 47 lines of text – everything must straight to the point. Resist the urge to use lots of adjectives! This is difficult – you may have spent ages carrying out a certain activity and only be allowed to write a few sentences about it, but if you explain the skills you learnt concisely, this will be appreciated more by admissions tutors than waffle. Take a look at my second paragraph – I had a job looking after a 21-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome and autism for 2 years, but I wrote about it in 2 sentences to allow space for my other experiences. This was especially frustrating because looking after Susannah was an amazing experience and I wanted to write all about what looking after her required (for example, the difficulties I faced when I had to sit through a tantrum or when she wet herself, which was regular), however I just portrayed that looking after her showed I had initiative (or, ‘problem solving skills’). I certainly had to use my initiative when I had to figure out how to stop her tantrums!
For a week at a GP Surgery, I explored patient life. Having been given the task to write the patient newsletter, I had to make the information relevant by critically analysing sources of information and write in a style that could be understood by all patients - a skill I was already developing by tutoring younger students. Furthermore, I joined the Patient Forum Group; issues within the surgery as well as in the NHS were discussed, helping me to learn more about the career ahead of me.
Being in a hospital for a week enabled me to learn about the spectrum of healthcare specialists and I witnessed the value of good team work in MDT meetings. Producing YouTube videos on diverse and enjoyable medical topics such as telomeres with a fellow student allowed me to develop this skill and further my learning. I also witnessed the need for problem solving skills to identify concealed mental illnesses in patients, as I observed a doctor using the Geriatric Depression Scale. With mental illnesses becoming more common, it is important for doctors to have ways to recognise and diagnose them, and mentoring younger students has enabled me to develop this ability.
Another skill I used in my personal statement was identifying the skills portrayed by doctors I shadowed and showing that I was already practising those skills. It also showed that I knew these particular skills were important as I’d already seen healthcare professionals using them. Take a look at the above paragraph where there are 2 examples of this – the first is where I witnessed good team work in the MDT meetings. For those who don’t know, MDT meetings are special meetings where doctors, nurses, physiotherapists etc discuss each patient in a ward, and make a group decision on the next step. I then immediately wrote about how I was using team working skills to create medical themed YouTube videos. Furthermore, I wrote about how I witnessed a junior doctor using problem solving skills on a geriatric patient, followed by how I used problem solving skills on my mentee. Very different situations and settings, but again, the same skills were used.
Work experience for a week at GSK increased my intellectual curiosity as I learnt about the life cycle of drugs, allowing me to appreciate what happens before medicine can be prescribed. Shadowing a pathologist allowed me to explore disease microscopically and I was taught a range of lab skills.
By volunteering at an elderly care home, I advanced my non-verbal communication skills while residents told sensitive stories of the past. It revealed the importance of having a compassionate nature, as it helped me to bond with the residents. I observed that the workers need to be patient and collected, especially with the residents with dementia, as they take longer to comprehend information.
Selflessness is a key trait to have in healthcare as the patient always comes first. To raise money to fight cancer, I cut 11 inches of my hair and took part in a Race for Life; knowing it would benefit many people helped me to persevere in my training. I also help lead an Amnesty International youth group, enabling me to practise my organisational skills. I’ve increased my ethical awareness by spreading the word of human rights with my team. Additionally, dedication to ballet and drama from a young age has encouraged time management as I have balanced my work life with my hobbies. A key skill that I have matured from my hobbies is resilience; failing to accomplish a particular step or being nervous is frustrating but it’s vital to stay motivated and complete the task to the best of your abilities.
I used my second to last paragraph to portray activities I was taking part in in my spare time and how these also showed that I was suited to medicine. It’s very important that you include your hobbies in your personal statement – they want to see that you’re not totally academic because everyone needs a good work life balance! For example, I took part in the Amnesty International youth group because I enjoyed doing it, but even though it is completely unrelated to medicine, I still used it to show that I was organised. Also, writing about my favourite hobbies ballet and drama showed I had resilience. This is an important skill as a doctor as there will be tough times – a lack of perseverance could be life threatening to the patients.
This resembles the challenge of being a doctor; I understand that, likewise, there are many tough times for which I will need to be prepared. Undoubtedly, however, my commitment to medicine has been confirmed through the many experiences I have had, allowing me to further my understanding of the medical world and develop the required skills. I am equipped and motivated to continue my journey into a medical degree.
Finally, the final paragraph. This must be a summary of your whole personal statement and what it shows about you as a person – don’t include anything new here! As I described with the introductory paragraph, don’t make it cringey or cliché. Be confident and show that you are ready for medical school.