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. Owain received offers to read Undergraduate Medicine at Sheffield and Birmingham 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".
My best advice regarding personal statements is to ensure you have lots to talk about. Year 12 is the perfect opportunity to get involved in things to use as ammunition when writing. You want to have so many things to talk about that you can’t fit them all in your 4000-character statement! In addition, ensure you know what you’re talking about. Don’t mention a book you didn’t read properly or a condition you don’t know a bit about because interviewers (especially at Oxbridge) are likely to ask you about things you’ve mentioned in your personal statement.
In terms of the actual writing, I have three recommendations: use as many people around you as possible such as family members, teachers and people you know doing medicine to proofread your work and give advice; save all your drafts so you can easily go back if you don’t like something you’ve changed (I ended up with 11 drafts); and start big with way too many characters and examples so you can slim down later, leaving only the best. I started with a very short introduction:
“The appeal of medicine lies in its coupling of my scientific curiosity with a motivation to make a difference to patients’ lives.”
This sets the scene with a very short explanation of why I want to study medicine. It also serves as a signpost to the structure of the rest of my statement. I then launched into the main ‘stuff I’ve done’ section which does three things: it shows that I have gained insight into medicine to see whether it is for me; it shows that I am dedicated to medicine; and it shows how I have improved my skills. I started by talking about my weekly volunteering for two reasons: not everyone does it, so it made me stand out; and I found it by far the most insightful experience.
“In building relationships with nursing home residents […] I have developed my communication skills to overcome the barriers of dementia. From Eunice who told me “it’s not fun being old,” Bobby who told me “I used to be a teacher and now I’m nothing” and Stuart who requires two teachers to help him to his chair but excels in the word games, I have gained an insight into the importance of compassion and empathy in the doctor-patient relationship.”
I made sure to include specific examples but also to explain what my experiences taught me; it is worthless simply reeling off everything you’ve done, and it won’t get you anywhere. Notice the medicine buzzwords I have built my sentences around: communication, compassion, empathy, doctor-patient relationship etc. Although I didn’t do this as such, one way to go about writing your personal statement is to write down a number of ‘medicine buzzwords’ and then use examples and experiences to build sentences around them. I used this section as an opportunity to slip in some of the things I have done at school:
“My tailored communication to residents of varying personalities and degrees of memory, hearing and sight loss is a skill that I have honed through mentoring students in my school’s educational support department and spearheading a medical society to help younger students’ applications.”
I went on to do a similar thing for my hospital and GP placements:
“Talking with a surgical team whose list was cancelled during a week’s hospital placement allowed me to understand the strains on the NHS’ ability to maximise patient wellbeing despite resource shortages. As proof of the constant learning in medicine, I attended a morbidity and mortality meeting; doctors, students and nurses discussed the case of a patient who was undergoing treatment to remove an intestinal blockage caused by a laparotomy, highlighting the importance of informed consent. I was surprised to not witness a hospital referral during a week with a GP. When faced with an impressive diversity of patients and pathologies from discussing end-of-life drugs, to visiting a COPD sufferer at home and investigating hypotension with a deaf patient, I saw the doctors acting as gatekeepers to secondary care.”
Notice how each sentence consists of a very specific example of something I saw followed or preceded by what I learnt from it. You will have many examples to pick from after your work experience, but make sure you pick the ones that best showcase your insight and commitment.
For the second half of my ‘stuff I’ve done’ section, I spoke about some ‘sciencey’ things I had got involved in. I used this as part of my ‘story’ of why I want to do medicine, as well as to show how I used my initiative to go beyond my A-level curricula:
“After hearing from a histopathologist at a lecture, I was intrigued by her role. Wishing to explore further, I organised a placement. I was able to grasp first-hand the link we had mentioned in biology between communicable and non-communicable diseases during the doctor’s diagnosis of nasopharyngeal cancer from a patient with Epstein-Barr virus. On a research day in a biochemistry lab, I investigated cell shape: I was amazed at how starving the actin cytoskeleton […] could limit angiogenesis and thus tumour growth. Although we had studied microtubules in biology, it was the cell component’s clinical relevance which excited me. I learnt more about the use of cell lines reading ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’; I was fascinated by the invaluable good that came from the use of the HeLa line but unsettled by the lack of consent in obtaining them.”
Notice how I tell the reader that I endeavoured to organise the placement myself. I like to think this would have got me a couple of brownie points for resilience and initiative rather than having placements handed to me on a silver platter! It is also worth pointing out again that before my Oxford interview I ensured I had read up a bit about the things I had mentioned such as Epstein-Barr virus, the actin cytoskeleton and the HeLa line. However, remember also that they by no means expect you to have spent hours upon hours ‘revising’ each topic; you would just be expected to have a basic understanding of anything you mention.
I went on to a short commentary of some of the extra-curricular activities I am involved in, and most importantly how those experiences will help me with medicine. Again, they don’t care that you are captain of the football team or the Head Boy/Girl, they only want to her about things that you can link back to why you would be good at medicine. This is also a good opportunity for some subtle flexes:
“The many extracurricular activities I enjoy help me to manage stress. I maintain my fitness training at my swimming club and as a level one swimming teacher I use my strengths in patience and communication to challenge yet encourage swimmers of all abilities. Leading and navigating my Gold DofE team has developed resilience, skills in problem-solving and teamwork, and earning the roles of Deputy Head Student and Vice Chairman of the Sixth Form Committee pays tribute to my excellent communication, public speaking, organisation and leadership skills.”
“As a determined and motivated student, I am excited to pursue my scientific understanding of medicine and embark on a career which will suit my skills and interests.”
I finished with a very short conclusion which similarly to the introduction will not get me any credit, but I feel sums me up nicely and leaves a good lasting impression on the reader: