Personal statement checklist

by Dibah Jiva October 09, 2017 6 min read

Congratulations, you’ve made it! You’ve finished that final sentence of your Medical School Personal Statement!

Before you start to celebrate freedom from the keyboard, however, make sure you take a look at this checklist for your medical school personal statement before submission (The first point is especially great!).

Take a break

This is my personal favourite point in the checklist. If you have just finished writing your statement then, before your final review, you need to take a break. Have a cup of tea, get some fresh air, go out and do something fun! When you come back, you will be able to look at your work with fresh-eyes and review it much more effectively. Now to the real work...

Is it interesting?

Let’s imagine the future. Many years from now, after a very successful medical school application, you find yourself on the admissions team for the University of your dreams. It’s October, the leaves are falling off the trees, Starbucks is serving pumpkin spiced lattes and you have tens of personal statements in front of you to read.

Now read your introduction again. Is it interesting and attention-grabbing? Will it stand out from all the others in the pile? Or are you more interested in whether or not Starbucks will still serve pumpkin spiced lattes in 20 years?

If you’re not convinced by the literary brilliance of your introduction, you can make it more interesting by adding something personal. This is a great opportunity to give a personal reason for why you want to study medicine or perhaps something you saw on work experience that inspired you.

Is there a beginning, middle and end?

Structure is key! Now that you’ve got an excellent beginning, check you also a have a middle and a clear end.

The middle is, obviously, the bulk of your statement, we’ll focus more on this in a moment. For now, take a look at your last paragraph. Does it end with a bang? Your conclusion should be short and sweet; it should very briefly summarise why you are excellent and should be awarded this place at medical school. Remember not to bring any new concepts into a conclusion; if you haven’t yet mentioned that you are captain of the rowing team, this isn’t the place.

The conclusion is often a good place to reflect on how difficult you know a career in medicine will be, but that you are up for the challenge.

Have you shown your passion for medicine?

This may sound obvious, but I recall reading one particular personal statement and thinking, ‘does this student really want to study medicine? Sounds like they don’t really want to leave their current job’. Make sure you have given a reason for wanting to study medicine and show an understanding that you are applying for a career, not just a university course… Medicine is for life, not just for uni!

Use positive and enthusiastic words when describing your work experience. If you are a graduate student changing career paths, don’t go on about how excellent your previous job was - you wouldn’t talk about your ex-girlfriend like that on a first date!

Do you have a realistic understanding of medicine?

As well as explaining how wonderful being a doctor would be, you also need to show an understanding that a career in medicine is tough. The first hurdle is right now and, unfortunately, many great applicants won’t get a place at medical school this year. Make sure the tone of your statement doesn’t sound too entitled and try to avoid common phrases such as “the path I have chosen” which make it sound like you are guaranteed a place if you choose it.

You may have noticed some very realistic, un-glamorous parts to medicine on your work experience. No doubt you will have also heard about the junior doctor strikes on the news. These can make excellent reflections but remember to keep the overall tone positive and follow up with that you still want to be a doctor even though you know it’s tough.

Avoid mentioning anything political or choosing sides about things like the junior doctor contract dispute. You don’t know the views of the person marking your statement and this could be a very easy and unnecessary way to get on their wrong side.

Have you reflected on your work experience?

“I spent a week shadowing a surgeon in my local hospital. I watched with great enthusiasm as the team performed an appendisectomy, laparoscopic cholecystectomy, and a small bowel resection.”… yeah OK, fine. But what did you learn? This point is really important.

Being able to list surgical procedures or medical conditions that you have seen doesn’t prove anything, anyone can Google them. For each experience, ensure you have reflected on what you learnedabout being a doctor or yourself. For example, think about what skills the surgeon showed that make him good at his job. He probably demonstrated excellent teamwork and communication skills with the theatre team. Did you see him have empathy for the patient? He certainly would have had great practical skills and be able to work calmly under pressure. 

Have you proved that you have the skills?

By reflecting on your work experience, you have hopefully created a comprehensive list of the skills required to be an excellent doctor and shown a good understanding of medicine.

This is the money point. First, make a list of these skills. Now, read through your statement again. Can you fit yourself to the list from what you have written? Make sure you have given specific examples to evidence that you already have these skills required to be a great doctor. We’re not talking about skills like already being able to do brain surgery, there will hopefully be time for that later. You need to show the basics: communication skills, teamwork etc. that are more difficult to learn.

Remember, your personal statement is your chance to sell yourself to a university and tell them why you are so excellent. Make sure you use it!

Is it all true?

Hopefully, you don’t need it but, just in case, here is a little reminder to please not lie or embellish any truths in your personal statement! You will get found out, and you will be in big trouble.

The General Medical Council says that doctors should be ‘honest and open and act with integrity’ as part of the duties of a doctor they list in their guidance ‘Good Medical Practice’. If you haven’t read it yet, this document is essential reading before the interview.

Is your spell checker on?

Make sure if you are applying to a UK medical school you are on English (UK) to have British spellings rather than American.

Got acronyms or abbreviations?

Although it’s tempting to use acronyms and abbreviations to save characters, they should be avoided as may have different meanings to different people.

When I was at university, for example, I volunteered for a charity that signed students up to the bone marrow register. They decided to change the name of our recruitment ‘clinics’ to ‘donor recruitment events’, or ‘DRE’s for short. Unfortunately, in medicine, this acronym can also mean ‘digital rectal examination’, the process of examining someone’s back passage with a finger. Needless to say, the abbreviation was quickly dropped!

Has someone proofread it?

The reason I asked you to take a break before you started your review was that you need fresh-eyes to review your work, or you will miss mistakes. An even fresher pair of eyes is someone who hasn’t read your personal statement before. Ask friends, family, a colleague or teacher, whoever you can find, to have a read through and give you feedback. Make sure you let them know you want honest feedback, no being nice because they’re your friend.

Alternately, you can send us your medical school personal statement to review

After one final check, go for it! Click upload!

It’s time to celebrate the sweet taste of personal statement freedom and wait for the interview offers to start rolling in. Remember we can help with that too… Keep checking in for more free blogs coming soon about medical school interview technique or book onto one of our courses. We offer Interview Medical School Courses, MMI circuits, and Interview Medical School one-to-one preparations. Find more information here

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