How do you reflect in your medical school personal statement?

by Dibah Jiva September 17, 2017 4 min read

"There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge – observation of nature, reflection and experimentation. Observation collects facts, reflection combines them, and experimentation verifies the result of that combination." - Denis Diderot

Reflection is the most important part of your Medical School Personal Statement. It doesn’t get simpler than that. But what is reflection and how do you implement it in your personal statement? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘self-reflection’ is defined as “the meditation or serious thought about one’s character, actions, and motives”. In reality, the ability to think back to your own actions and analyse them is quite hard, but it is something you will come across throughout your career in medicine, so it’s a quality well-worth developing.


“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”: The first time most people would have come across any kind of self-reflection, albeit a deluded reflection. Reflection does not work if you are not honest, so it is important to view things as objectively as possible.

Why reflection is so important

  • Effective reflection shows a high level of maturity and insight that Medical schools are looking for. Not only does it show off your analytical mind, but also demonstrates that you know what it takes to become a good doctor. At this stage of your burgeoning medical careers, the most important step is to link in the General Medical Council’s good practice guidelines. Qualities such as leadership, teamwork and organisation are good examples. Showing that you have observed and thought about demonstrations of these qualities whilst on work experience will greatly boost the quality of your personal statement.
  • The second key component of reflection is that it shows that you are constantly willing to improve yourself. This is true in any occupation, but especially in medicine, where you will constantly be expected to review your own performances and better yourself as a doctor. However, reflection does not need to start and end with the good experiences. Reflection upon your own or someone else’s mistakes can be even more powerful. At this stage, learning and improving are the key aspects that Medical schools want to see.

Further to this, try and reflect upon the hardest parts of the medical job that you have observed during work experience. Examples include the stressful nature of the job or the long hours and then think about how you dealt with it. A* material.

How do we reflect on past experiences?

So, how do you integrate your thoughts into your work seamlessly? How do you reflect on your experiences whether it is a shadowing experience, a work situation, a school project or whatever else? It is easy to get drawn into the mistake of simply listing what work experiences you have done and then stating that you are a really good leader.

The best way to do this is by following a very simple structure:

Step 1: Provide a brief description of your work experience. This does not have to be too detailed but should contain the key details, such as who you shadowed, for how long and in which department. Try to include a specific incident which demonstrates a certain quality or trait in a doctor such as a multi-disciplinary team meeting.

Step 2: Reflect on that experience and what you have learned. What was the quality of a doctor shown in this case? This can even be a negative trait that you have reflected upon and shown how it was detrimental.

Step 3: Show how you have incorporated this skill into your own practice and how you aim to bring this to medical school. Maybe you could include an example or an incident that required you to portray this particular trait.

There are many methods on how to successfully reflect that you help you perform the exercise described above. Two of the most famous models were proposed by authors Kolb and Gibbs. The Gibbs cycle reproduced below is slightly more developed and therefore tends to be referenced more. This gives a pretty comprehensive overview of how to reflect on an experience and it is fairly similar to what is expected in a Medical School Personal Statement.

Key tips for reflection

Keep a diary during your work placements

  • It can often be hard to remember everything from your various placements; therefore it may be a good idea to make notes at the end of the day
  • Focus particularly on certain events in the day and how different professionals interacted with each other

Have a look at the GMC’s Good Practice Guidelines

  • This will help you to focus your reflection and know what to look out for

Avoid vague statements

  • Be specific in what you say. This is why talking about particular past incidents/events can often help, as it helps you to focus on the facts and not speculate on what you would do in a particular situation.

    The importance of this skill cannot be stressed enough! Reflection could simply be described as the ability to analyse your own and others’ actions, but in your Medical School Personal Statement it is a golden opportunity to show off your ability to improve yourself, develop your analytical skills and prove that you have the capability and desire to become a successful doctor. You will come across reflection at nearly every stage of your professional development, so you might as well get to grips with it now!

    “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences and failing to achieve anything useful” -Margaret J. Wheatley​

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