• The Aspiring Medics

Aaron's Personal Statement (Oxford)

In this series of blogs, medical students and medicine offer holders share and explain their personal statement so that you can learn from our experiences and reflections. Aaron Johnston is an undergraduate medical student at the University of Oxford.

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".

An insatiable curiosity in the workings of the human body, a fascination in science and a desire to be challenged have driven my aspirations to study medicine. Acquiring knowledge that can be used to make positive contributions to people’s lives in an evolving, demanding environment motivates me. I can look forward to remaining challenged with opportunities to further my learning throughout my career.

With my introduction, I hoped to briefly summarise why I wanted to read Medicine and drop hints on experiences I would later elaborate on. As I was applying to Oxford, I wanted to make my passion for science and interest in medical research (e.g. “evolving” and “further my learning”) clear from the very beginning without neglecting all the other important attributes a doctor must possess (“positive contributions to people’s lives”). By acknowledging the “demanding environment”, I demonstrated that I’d reflected critically on my work experience by recognising the stresses faced by doctors.

My first placement at a GP Practice confirmed my ambitions; I discovered the diverse nature of a GP’s work, observing the variety of problems that patients present. A mental health clinic triggered an interest in the complex illnesses of the brain, which I explored further by reading “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat” by Oliver Sacks. The conditions of his patients were captivating. But equally as interesting was the process he used to make diagnoses by combining behavioural observations with physical examination and using his knowledge of neuroanatomy to formulate hypotheses and then testing them using abstract methods. This aided my realisation that the quality of treatment is invariably linked to our improving knowledge of disease, and it’s the curiosity of medical researchers that drive these improvements, a curiosity I feel I share.

In this second paragraph, I reflect on my first work experience at a GP Practice. Initially, I superficially acknowledge the diversity of a GP’s work and then reflect more deeply by linking my experiences with further reading I did to more deeply explore a topic. Finally, by mentioning improving knowledge and medical researchers and their curiosity, I link these undertakings to why I want to study medicine (at Oxford).

My time spent in a hospital radiology department introduced many medical imaging practices used in diagnosis and surgery. It was another example of how medicine is constantly advancing as new techniques are developed. On the wards, I also observed the challenges the NHS faces, with a tight budget, an ageing population and inadequate social care funding resulting in beds being occupied unnecessarily, at a huge cost. The need for effective interdepartmental collaboration was clear when a patient needed a second operation for a procedure that could have been included in the initial operation had communication been better. However, regardless of the setting, one quality remained integral with all healthcare professionals- compassion. Recently a touching conversation with a dementia patient where I had to remind her that her husband had died was a poignant example of the need for compassion in medicine; albeit challenging it was essential and typified the positive difference healthcare professionals can make daily.

Here, I reflect upon another placement and link in my volunteering in a care home. Again, I mention the evolving nature of medicine but also use this opportunity to reflect on the challenges the NHS was facing (and continues to face) at the time. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have been so flippant in describing bed occupation as “unnecessary” – it is necessary in the face of inadequate social care, I should’ve clarified this as the patients I refer to are patients that do require some level of support (just perhaps not in a hospital setting). I also reflect on negative experiences and how they could’ve been avoided, highlighting not only that effective communication is vital but also the consequences when it breaks down. Finally, I recognise the cruciality of empathy in healthcare and illustrate this with a relevant example from my experiences in a care home.

At A-Level, I have developed my time management skills and ability to reach precise conclusions quickly. Accuracy and logical thinking have been key in applying knowledge to an abstract situation, to jump from the known to the unknown, like Dr Sacks did using knowledge then intuition to diagnose his patients. In biology, an interest in the spread of communicable diseases led me to attend an event at Harrogate Hospital where the Infection Prevention and Control Team explained how their measures had reduced the spread of TB. I discovered treatment extends beyond clinical settings and that communities have a role to play to protect themselves.

In paragraph 4, I reflect on the skills I’d developed during my A-Levels and link it back to the book I’d mentioned earlier. Linking paragraphs like this adds cohesion to the statement and makes it a little more interesting to read than a simple account of your experiences/qualities. Then I describe how I’d pursued an interest first encountered in my A-Level programme, and in so doing demonstrate a genuine curiosity and passion for the subject.

Aside from my studies, I am a keen runner and footballer, regularly running local races, finishing my first half marathon as the youngest competitor. Running improves my resilience and offers opportunity for self-reflection. Likewise, in my school’s debating society and on live radio, discussing issues affecting my generation, I am required to think quickly in challenging situations. I also work in a scientific research group, conducting experiments including the synthesis and testing of paracetamol. As well as contributing towards my Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award, this developed my lab competency, demonstrating the need for precision and teamwork.

Before concluding, I briefly discuss my extra-curricular interests. I knew these would be less important at Oxford than other medical schools so included them later. When discussing extra-curriculars, I tried hard to relate them to qualities I’d developed that I considered important in Medicine such as teamwork, resilience, precision and self-reflection. It’s what you’ve learned from your experiences, not what you did, per se.

Earning a scholarship at my college was the result of years of dedication and something I am proud of; similarly winning the Snaith School’s Scientist of the Year Award reflects my commitment and aptitude for science. I now hope to apply this passion and drive to the medical field. I am confident I possess the intellect, compassion and curiosity to ultimately become a successful, pioneering doctor.

Finally, I conclude by reflecting on a couple of things I’d achieved at the time before relating this back to my desire to study Medicine and attempting to justify why I think I’d be a good fit for the course. I rewrote the conclusion many, many times.

Throughout my statement, I tried to place great emphasis on medical research and innovation because I thought this was important to Oxford Admissions Tutors. However, I had to be careful not to ignore all the other skills essential to becoming a successful doctor (e.g. compassion, teamwork, communication) or not to simply list them or mention them in passing within the strict 4000 character limit. I found crafting a statement that fulfilled the requirements for all my choices difficult (if not, impossible) and would recommend you don’t get too caught up in it. After all, medical schools are fully aware they are not the only place to which you’ve applied and in only 4000 characters it’s impossible to mention everything.

Aaron Johnston

University of Oxford Medical Student