Brainstorming for your Medical School Personal Statement

Writing a personal statement is hard, and getting started is often the hardest bit. Wanting to jump straight in and get a couple of paragraphs written down for the final cut can be all too tempting. However, masterpieces take time. Why should your masterpiece be any different? Let me give you a short guide on how to face this task with confidence and get your medical school personal statement to stand above the rest.

1. Make your personal statement about yourself

It’s in the title! The key is to make your statement personal to yourself. You don’t want to fall into the trap of purely listing your achievements and experiences, as this will make it sound more like a CV. Brainstorming is a good way of getting all your ideas in one place. It is also an easy way to start thinking about your personal statement and what you want it to say about you.

Nobody is born knowing they are going to be a doctor. Somewhere along the way a decision, or series of decisions, was made that this is the vocation for you. Whether this was from a young age, later schooling years or even as an adult in another job. Whether it was a personal experience with a doctor, a family member or friend that inspired you, or involvement with charitable work, these are the experiences that will make your statement personal to you. After making the decision to pursue medicine many candidates will seek additional opportunities, such as volunteer work and shadowing professionals, to further develop their understanding of medicine and what a career will entail. These experiences are equally as important and together these will form the bulk of your medical school personal statement.

2.Start early and put ideas to paper

It’s easier to get started early. The best thing to do is to keep a notepad with you at all times in which you list ideas and experiences as you did them and whilst fresh in your mind. For example, after coming home from shadowing an FY1 in geriatric medicine, I jotted down that evening about the conversation I saw between doctor, patient and patient’s family about end of life care and how that made me feel. The next week I was volunteering in a hospice, I came home and wrote down how I saw symptomatic (pain relief, anti-sickness etc) and comfort care as a priority for end of life patients. By the time I came round to actually writing my personal statement, I had all these experiences (some of which I had already forgotten about!) and learning points already at my disposal. This made it easier for me to get started and filled me with confidence that I had enough material to write a good statement.

I would advise writing everything down, as little as the experience or encounter may seem at the time. Not all of your points will make the cut. But, once you have everything in one place it will make your job of picking and choosing the examples that work well together and reflect your personality and portray what shaped your decision to become a doctor.

Give yourself plenty of time before UCAS deadline to write your statement. I’m talking months. This will give you plenty of time to brainstorm and start putting ideas to paper, re-read, re-write, and repeat as many times necessary. Initially, do not worry about character limits and approach each writing session as a draft. As you become happier with the work you are producing you can start making cuts and changes, until you are left with a personal statement you are proud of.

Remember - these are YOUR notes. If it is easier for you to write down bullet points and a few key words that will help jog your memory that is sufficient. The well-articulated, grammatically correct sentences will come when you get round to writing your first draft. Do not worry if you have not been doing this up to now. You still have plenty of time to get started!

3. Think about extra-curricular activities

Don’t forget about any extra-curricular activities! Admissions tutors love to hear about these and it shows you’re a well-rounded individual. There are many skills and qualities you gain from these kind of activities and it is important to reflect on these in your personal statement. Activities may include: academic publications and achievements, sports and sporting achievements, Duke of Edinburgh award, musical talents or peer mentoring.

4. Expand your experiences and think about qualities of a doctor

Each experience that you decide to mention in your medical school personal statement or develop during your interview should demonstrate that you learnt something from it, that it helped you develop as a person and will serve you as a future medical student and doctor. Don’t hesitate to include your thought processes, your feelings and emotions to illustrate your point and make it powerful. (Read more on How to make your stories powerful).

Something also to think of when brainstorming and your list is in production: qualities of a doctor. Whether this is a quality you have seen through any of your experiences, or a quality you believe you have (and can prove through your statement). For example, volunteering at meal time at a local care home can show kindness and empathy. Another example, as an active member of your school athletics team: teamwork, leadership or time management skills. Getting used to thinking in this way and showing off your skills is what will set your medical school statement apart from the rest and make it personal. This will also be useful for your interviews where you will need to become confident in reflecting and selling yourself.

The MSAG offers brilliant personal statement services run by tutors who have gone through the medical school application process themselves. For those of you who have not yet started writing, the personal statement tutoring service will help you brainstorm, plan and structure your first medical school personal statement.  For those who have already written a first draft, the personal statement review service will give you detailed feedback line by line, as well as compare your statement to the marking scheme of your chosen medical school.