10 medicine personal statement mistakes to avoid
Personal statements · September 16, 2019 Dr Hannah Pierce
Dr Hannah Pierce is a O&G Trainee. She studied at Keele Medical School where she was also an interviewer. She taught at Keele medical school as a clinical fellow and she co-wrote theMSAG's Interview Guidebook
Updated by Miss Giulia Bankov
So, you’ve done the work experience and voluntary work, where you were able to demonstrate all your well-rounded skills. Now you’re faced with having to show off all your talents as well as your passion for medicine to an admissions office in the form of your UCAS personal statement. It can be quite daunting and you might not have a lot of prior experience trying to convince professionals that you are the best suited candidate they want. So how do you know what to do and what not to? Fear not, as we are here to discuss the top 10 mistakes students make when approaching their personal statements and how to avoid them. Let’s jump right in!
1. Pick a catchy opening line… but don’t overdo it
“I have a dream…”
“We shall fight them on the beaches…”
“We choose to go to the moon…”
I got your attention, didn’t I? All great speeches of the last hundred years captured people’s attention by a bold and engaging statement, and your personal statement shouldn’t be any different! The university admissions tutors have hundreds of statements to read through every day, so you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd. Avoid boring sentences (“I’ve wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember”), and avoid cliches (“I have always been interested in medicine”). Ironically, also make sure you avoid quotes - it’s just been done too many times before. In conclusion, make it short, catchy, but be original.
2. Don’t think about the character count straight away
UCAS allows you 4,000 characters, including spaces (or roughly 500 words), for your personal statement, so often students feel like they have to start by keeping their personal statement within this limit. We would highly recommend NOT to do this. First focus on content. Getting the right content is crucial to produce a high quality personal statement. Most of you will struggle to cut your writing down to this word count, which is why the real skill becomes choosing your content. This is what we can help with in our personal statement tutoring sessions. We help you to determine wWhat is truly important to you,? What will show the reader that you understand the role of the doctor ? And what will show them that you have what it takes. You can’t do any of these tasks if the content isn’t good to begin with.
3. Forget about plagiarism
I really hope this one is obvious! The medical profession does not take well to plagiarism or lying, not in your personal statement, not ever. You are trying to enter one of the most trusted professions, so it will not be taken lightly if you are seen to be untrustworthy. Same goes for gross exaggeration - if you made one cake in primary school, do not call yourself a keen baker and if you kick a ball around a field every so often, selling yourself as a world renowned footballer is not a good idea. These are the sort of things the admissions team will ask about in your interview and they will easily be able to tell if you weren’t being completely truthful.
4. Don’t just list without reflecting on your experiences
A really common mistakes people make is to list down everything they’ve done without expanding any further on their experiences. For example, “For my work experience, I shadowed a colorectal surgeon and was able to observe him lead the ward round, attend clinics and watch several operations including a right hemi-colectomy and an anterior resection.” While that is great personal experience, it doesn’t tell the reader anything about you as an individual.
Ask yourself, what did you learn from this experience? What skills did you see the professionals using? What did you learn and how have you since incorporated these same skills in your life? The whole point of these experiences is to show what you gained and why it made you the ideal applicant. It’s better to include half of your experiences and actually practice reflection over those, than having all of them in a list, which doesn’t add anything to a good personal statement.
5. Show passion in your personal statement
Actually using the word passion in your statement is a bit cliche so please try to avoid making overused declarations, such as “I have always been passionate about medicine”. That said, you need to find a way to convey how much you want that place at medical school. Part of this comes from sharing your commitment to the cause through discussing your volunteering, work experience and personal achievements. However, the rest comes from the way you talk about medicine and how you portray your desire to study it.
This isn’t something that I can tell you how to do, you just need to dig deep and find a way to express how you feel. What you could do though, is to ask your proofreader to check that they get a sense of your passion for the subject when they read through it.
6. Avoid a generic structure
Structure is important for easing the reader through your personal statement. We’ve already covered how to start your statement, so now let’s get to the meaty bit, namely, how to structure your paragraphs. You will see several places online suggesting that you follow this format:
- Work experience
- Voluntary work
This approach is boring and has been done my thousands of students before you. Try where possible away from the descriptive generic approach above and move towards a skills-based personal statement. Consider each paragraph as an opportunity to discuss a skill or trait that doctors have, which you are trying to develop yourself. I find the following to be a good place to start:
- Talk about your volunteering or work experience, but focus on one or two particular skills or attributes that you saw being demonstrated
- Mention why you feel this was important in the situation or why it is important for doctors to have this skill
- Discuss a situation you have been in or a position you hold that has required you to demonstrate this sort of action in your own life, as well as how this would help you to be a good doctor in the future
Obviously you don’t have to stick to this religiously but you get the general idea. It’s all about developing your experiences to show the reader that you understand the role of a doctor and have at least some of the skills required to become a good one.
7. Proofread again and again and again
Thigs are diffiult to read if there are lots of speling or gramar mistakes nad it just looks kinda slopy too.
While very obvious, it’s surprising how many people forget to proofread their personal statements. Make sure you proofread your final draft for any spelling or grammatical errors! You can always use spell check to help but make sure you have it set to English UK if applying to the UK. Try reading your personal statement out loud, as that will help you pinpoint any spelling and grammar errors more easily. Also make sure you ask a family member or a friend to proofread for you too, because after a while it does get hard to spot your own mistakes.
8. Punctuation is key
Have you ever read a sentence where the writer just goes on and on about something and you get to the stage where you’ve lost the point of the sentence but they are still rabbiting on with little sign of ever stopping which is especially difficult when they don’t even put in any commas so you run out of breath before you can finally reach the end.
You get the point. Try to avoid really long sentences. It just makes your personal statement difficult to read. But too short sentences are not great either. Also avoid brackets on every line as again, it makes it hard to write and looks like you didn’t put enough effort incorporating the content from the brackets inside the text.
9. Not showing an insight
Being a doctor isn’t always easy. I still think it’s one of the best jobs in the world but it doesn’t mean I don’t want to hit my head against a brick wall on some days. It’s therefore useful to show that you understand some of the challenges you might face, be it managing your time, dealing with problematic patients or difficult ethical scenarios.
You will most likely have seen examples of some of these in your work experience or dealt with similar situations in your personal life, so it might be worth including these in your personal statement. Presenting medicine as the perfect and ideal job without mentioning the downsides is a common mistake we don’t want you to make.
10. Finishing with a strong conclusion
You’ve made it so far! You’ve just got those pesky few lines of a conclusion to write which, in my opinion, are some of the hardest parts to do well. My advice is to keep it short and sweet and try to neatly summarise the skills and qualities you have talked about in your other paragraphs. One common mistake people make is trying to add new information into their conclusion. Remember, your personal statement is your story and every good story has an ending, so don’t let your statement finish without one.
We hope this was a helpful list and you feel a little more enthusiastic about writing your personal statement, now that you know what to do and how to approach it. Don’t forget that theMSAG can help with detailed feedback and review of your personal statement, as well as one-to-one personal statement tutoring. Good luck with your application and if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact us at hello@theMSAGmsag.com.