by Giulia Bankov January 07, 2021 15 min read

What is a personal statement?

The personal statement is one of the most crucial parts of your medical school application in the UK that (together with your UCAT, BMAT or GAMSAT result and the remaining parts of your UCAS application) informs the process of whether you will be shortlisted to attend an interview. It is styled as a free form essay and its main purpose is to portray your interest and your suitability to attend medicine. It is essentially a more creative and individualised CV. Not only does it rely on stating facts in the form of extracurricular experiences and academic achievements, but you have the opportunity to reflect on those and share the lessons you have learned, and how these provide motivation to pursue a medical degree.

Why is it important to structure it properly?

Some medical schools in the UK receive upward of 3000 applications in just one medical school admission cycle, for around 200 spots. With such a high volume of prospective medical applicants to consider, personal statements are likely to be read very fast by assessors.

Even with great content and experiences, if your structure is not logical, organised and easy to follow - you will lose the examiner’s focus and attention too quickly for him or her to give you the credit you deserve. By providing a solid structure to your personal statement, you make sure that your thoughts flow well and you make it easy for the reader to follow.

Another reason to give importance to the structure of your personal statement is that your personal statement will be judged not only on its content but on its structure too. The structure of your written work provides a strong framework that shows you are a logical person who is able to express their ideas in a systematic manner. It also shows professionalism and thoughtfulness by using a formal structure instead of expressing your ideas and achievements in a bullet point format. Remember that each aspect of your performance will be under close observation during the application, so it is even more important to pay close attention to details.

personal-statement-structure-girl-writing

Benefits of a good structure

We have already mentioned 2 key benefits of a good structure above:

  • Firstly, the reader will be able to follow exactly what skills and qualities you are discussing and will be able to anticipate what will come next. This will help keep the examiner’s focus on the content you want to share
  • Second, a good structure in itself says a lot of good things about how you think, communicate and express yourself. Strong communication skills is a sought after skill in prospective medical school applicants so a good structure is the first time you can showcase that skill.

There is one other key reason to pay strong attention to the structure and it may be the most important one - so I felt it deserved its own section.

The UK personal statement is limited to 4,000 characters and 47 lines. That is an incredibly short space to be able to discuss why you want to be a doctor, demonstrate evidence of this deep-rooted desire as well as demonstrate evidence of the skills you have that will make you a good doctor. One of the most common questions we get asked by students preparing their Medicine personal statement is which activities should they include or omit. Medical schools say that you should include reflections in your personal statement, and not just a list of things you have done. But where do you find the space to do all this in 4,000 characters?

It is a challenge, for sure! But a much easier challenge to overcome if you have a good structure. When a personal statement is well structured, the reflections on something you have observed and something you have done can be combined in one paragraph, or the logical flow can allow you to save a lot of characters. As a rule of thumb, we can fit in 2 to 3 extra experiences or activities in a well structured personal statement when compared to a non-well structured one. Since you get judged only on what you got the space to write, if a good structure allows you to fit more in, it is definitely well worth it!

How do I write a strong personal statement?

When it comes to writing a strong personal statement, structure is a key element to consider. The content of your statement might be full of unique experiences and mature and thoughtful reflection - but if these are presented in a chaotic or illogical manner, they will not make the same lasting impression. This is why when you first start drafting a statement, you want to consider how you’d like to organise it and adhere to that structure from the very beginning of the process. In medicine, there is less room for the statement to take on the style of creative writing that might be a more preferred form for other degrees and portfolio applications. The most appropriate structure format you want to follow for your personal statement is Introduction - Main body - Conclusion.

Introduction

In the introduction, you want to explain the reason why you decided to study your chosen degree, pinpoint to any particular event that sparked your interest, an experience or a medical epiphany if you will, and how you further supported that initial passion with any medical experiences that further informed your understanding of the profession.

Main Body

In the main body of your statement, you want to discuss several attributes or values that you feel make a good doctor, which you have shown throughout your experiences and which you can back up by specific examples. The most important aspect of these examples is to reflect at the end of each one, instead of simply providing factual information. The evidence of you possessing these qualities (and consequently, being suitable for medicine) lies in you being able to carefully consider the implications such experiences had on your development. You should explain why you think they are important qualities to have as a doctor and how they have helped you become a desirable candidate.

Another essential part of the body is to discuss what you have learned about the profession through your experiences, and just like when you discuss your own attributes, the most essential part is to reflect on those.

Conclusion

The last part of your statement structurally will be your conclusion. We spend a bit more time discussing the conclusion further below, but here’s the important thing you need to know. The conclusion doesn’t say anything new or introduce any new ideas: it simply serves as a recap of all that’s already been mentioned. It reiterates why you want to study the course and what makes you suitable for it. In that sense, the majority of your salient points will have been discussed in the main body, whereas the introduction and conclusion are simply there to serve as signposting tools and help remind the reader of the important points that are about to be or have already been raised.

personal-statement-structure-themsag

What should be included in a personal statement?

As mentioned briefly above, when you apply to university you need to submit a personal statement that aims to outline your passion and suitability for your chosen course. Therefore, the two most important things that need to be included in the statement are:

  • Evidence for your desire to pursue medicine.
  • Evidence for possessing the qualities that will make you a great doctor.

For a Medicine personal statement, the two elements above still apply but a third element that is also very important to include is:

  • Your realistic understanding of the profession

There is no right or wrong answer on what qualities or skills you will decide to discuss in your statement, but there are two rules of thumb you should follow when drafting some ideas.

  1. Limit it to three or four core qualities or group of qualities with evidence for each
  2. Make sure you provide a specific example of a time you displayed that quality and why you think this made you a suitable candidate for medicine or why do you feel having this quality will help you as a doctor.

For example, if you choose to talk about the value of good communication skills, make sure you outline a time you showed or witnessed good communication skills, what happened as a result and what you learned from this when you reflected on your experience afterwards.

It may be tricky at first to decide on only three or four qualities, but consider your own unique experiences and what skills you feel they taught you best. In that sense, the combination of skills that will be most powerful to relate your suitability for medicine will be unique for everyone, as everyone will have had different experiences. The most suitable candidates will not be those that tick a particular set of skill boxes, but rather those that provided the most thoughtful and mature reflection on said experiences, thus showing good insight into the realities of medicine.

How do I introduce myself in a personal statement?

We have spoken about the structure of the personal statement requiring a framework of Introduction - Main body - Conclusion, so you might be rightfully wondering “How do I introduce myself in a personal statement?” The truth is, when talking about a personal statement structure, we do not mean an introduction in the traditional sense. The readers will know that you are a medical school applicant and may even know your name, so it would be unnecessary to start out with a personal introduction. However, that would be just about everything they will know about you. If you have a ton of clinical exposure, it is your job to make sure you include that in your statement, if you have a previous degree, you should address that yourself. Because of the character limit to your personal statement, which we will address more shortly, you should remember that you don’t want to waste any characters on unnecessary or irrelevant information. So forget about including a convoluted introduction and dive straight in - Why do you want to pursue this field of study and why should they pick you?

How do I introduce my curricular activities?

Students often fall into the trap of wanting to structure their personal statement around different experiences. They feel like it is important to group them into curriculars and extracurriculars to distinguish between their involvements in various parts of academic and social life. However, what medical schools care most about is that you are a suitable candidate… that you would be able to provide excellent care in the long term based on desirable qualities that you have exhibited throughout your life and in your experiences. As such, it doesn’t matter as much whether you showed empathy during a class project or whilst playing varsity volleyball, but that you did display such a crucial quality and you are able to reflect on it in a meaningful way. So whilst the short answer is, all relevant curricular activities can and are addressed in the main body, don’t think of the main body as a list of curricular activities to show off. Rather think what each of them taught you and focus your structure around these skills.

How do I talk about my hobbies in my personal statement?

The answer to this question would be very similar to the one above. While it is important that all candidates are well-rounded individuals who engage in hobbies and are able to maintain a good work-life balance, the nature of your hobbies is less important than the lessons they have taught you. Similarly, therefore, one way to talk about your hobbies is to emphasise the skills they have taught you. It is perfectly okay if you learned teamwork best from playing hockey than from school group projects, so you shouldn’t shy away from using your extracurriculars as evidence for important skills. But make sure you understand why teamwork is important for your career goals in medicine and how playing hockey taught you this skill. To make your example even more salient and convincing, make sure you can point to a particular time while you played hockey when you showed an example of teamwork and what the result of this was.

Medical schools are also looking for students who will be able to cope with the demands of Medicine, so mentioning your hobbies as a way to delve into a passion, relax and maintain a good work-life balance is also great. Do not feel that you have to find a skill you developed with that hobby and make it all about the skill. You can take a different angle and tell the medical school why you choose to pursue that hobby, how you feel when you play and how it helps your balance. The reflection, in that case, can be about your understanding of the realities of Medicine and how your extracurricular activities will help you cope as a doctor.

personal-statement-structure-writing

How do I end a personal statement?

We have already discussed a basic structure that is favoured in the writing of a personal statement and so you might remember that the last paragraph we advise you to finish on is the conclusion. A conclusion is a natural way to wrap up your thoughts and remind the reader of all the important points you have raised throughout the main body of your statement. The conclusion is the last thing the reader will see and as such, will be the freshest thing in their mind when scoring you and deciding whether you will receive an invitation offer. As such, you want it to essentially work as a summary that draws the reader’s attention back to all the major points and skills that make you suitable for a career in medicine.

One thing to be wary of, however, is to not introduce any new ideas in your conclusion. Even though you still use this paragraph to summarise all your major points, they will have all been discussed in more detail in the main body. Introducing new points in your conclusion will confuse the structure you have set in your statement but also will not allow you to reflect on them, which is the most important aspect of the statement. So don’t fall into the trap of adding on new qualities in the conclusion and instead signpost back to previously mentioned points from the introduction and the main body.

If someone only reads your conclusion, they should know the answer to why you want to be a doctor and why you will be a good doctor. If they read the whole personal statement, then they also have evidence that supports those claims and a feel for your understanding of the profession.

What should I avoid in a personal statement?

There are several mistakes students make when they first start drafting their personal statements. Given that this is the only opportunity you have to showcase all the key skills you have acquired, it is natural that there is a certain temptation to pack the statement with as many examples of practical work experience and as many qualities those have developed in you. However, doing this has the very real potential of oversaturating your statement and not leaving any lasting impressions in your examiner.

Another reason why you don’t want to do this is the fact that the more factual content you include, the less character limit you allow for your reflections, which are the most important part of your statement. A perfect candidate would include three or four paragraphs in their main body of the statement, in which they can discuss the most important lessons they learned from their experience and how these informed their decision to study medicine or how they developed skills that will make them good doctors. So avoid adding too much factual content to your statement and instead bring it down to only the most salient points, allowing yourself enough room for thoughtful reflection.

Language and grammar are an important part of a well structured personal statement and are aspects you should pay close attention to in your drafts. Many students rely on a grammar check running over their texts and alerting them about errors and suggesting better sentence formats. However, at the end of the day, these programmes rely on an algorithm that is not completely foolproof. As such, nothing will be better than actual frequent proofreading in catching inappropriate or incorrect grammar and language. Even better, once you feel you have a good grasp of the statement and are moving towards your final draft, give your work to a teacher, a colleague or a friend to read through and give you feedback. A fresh pair of eyes may detect small details that you have accidentally ignored and can really help polish your statement into an excellent final draft. So don’t over-rely on spell-checking software and ensure you are alert and aware when writing your statement and proofread regularly!

The medical school application process is undoubtedly a very stressful time for everyone and with additional school, work or extracurricular responsibilities, the whole task becomes a huge ordeal that becomes very hard to juggle. Under all this pressure, do not be tempted to leave such a big and important aspect of your application until the last minute. Remember that the personal statement is a key part of your application and many medical schools put a heavy emphasis on it during the shortlisting stage of the process. As such you need to put in the appropriate amount of time going over several drafts and allow yourself enough time to make changes accordingly and proofread for character limit and grammatical errors. A good way to plan for this is to research all key dates and deadlines with regards to the UCAS application and put them all down in a diary or a personal statement worksheet. Plan accordingly what aspects of the application you want to have completed by what date, giving yourself enough room for unexpected events in the meantime. This will help keep you accountable but also will spread out the workload to prevent stress buildup and burnout.

What size font should I use in a personal statement?

You’ve already considered the structure you want your personal statement to have and the important content that should be included in it. However, there are other important factors to consider as well, and that is the layout. Often we worry about layout in order to make our document more physically appealing and draw the attention of the reader to it, but particularly in the case of the UCAS personal statement, there are layout prerequisites we need to in fact follow. One such requirement that you might have considered already is the size of the font you should use, which according to general advice is no more than 12 and no less than 11.

How long should my sentences and paragraphs be?

The official guidelines on the UCAS personal statement say that it should not be longer than 4,000 characters, which equates to 47 lines. It is very important that you follow this rule, which has not been suggested as a recommended length, but is in fact an absolute cutoff. You will likely have started creating drafts of your statement much before the final deadline, which will mean that you will have used a desktop software like Words or Pages to save your statement on, which you will then copy and paste the block of text from over to the UCAS application page. As an absolute cutoff, however, this means that the UCAS software will cut your pasted text at the 4,000th character and the rest of your statement will not be visible to the reader.

We have discussed at lengths why structure is important, but if this happens, not only your structure will be affected, the remaining content of your personal statement will also be gone forever. This is why it is of utmost importance that you regularly monitor your word and character count in whichever word processor you use. It is likely that once you start approaching what will look like your final draft, you will be considerably over the limit, as that draft will contain all points you want to make and will be the most extensive version of the portrayal of your skills and knowledge.

You want to reach this stage no later than at least several days (ideally 3 to 4 weeks) before the deadline, at which point you need to start summarising your points in a more succinct and clear version. You might have a ton of relevant work experience and fantastic reflection on it but if you don’t allow yourself the time to shorten your statement in a logical way and leave this task until the last moment, the final result may not be as impressive as originally intended. So the take-home message here as with the rest of your personal statement preparation is to start planning it early and even pencil in deadlines for yourself guiding you at which stage you wish to have which task completed. This will take a great load of pressure off your chest and will help you create the best version of your statement possible.

We hope you found these personal statement tips useful and are clearer on how to approach starting to draft your statement. For more help with your personal statement, make sure you check out our live online personal statement course, where you will review Medical Schools’ marking schemes for personal statements l and learn to write a personal statement that is stronger than most. The personal statement has to be unique to you so copying any previously successful ones is a bad idea. However, in our live online personal statement course, we analyse previously successful medicine personal statements and learn the methodology by which they were written so you can apply this approach to you. We also work with you to pick the right skills and insights you should develop in your personal statement.

Once you have written your first draft of a personal statement, you can send us your personal statement for a personal statement review by two of our expert editors receiving plenty of feedback on structure, content and language. The review is the most comprehensive and detailed one offered in the UK and includes line by line feedback, comments and track changes directly on the document, examples to rephrase and reflect, feedback on structure and marking against the marking schemes of 4 medical schools of your choice to ensure you reach the standard expected of successful applicants.

Giulia Bankov
Giulia Bankov

Giulia is a graduate medical student at the University of Glasgow. She previously studied Neuroscience at King's College London and completed her Cognitive Neurobiology and Clinical Neurophysiology at the University of Amsterdam.


Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in Personal Statements

how-to-write-a-gradaute-entry-medicine-personal-statement
How to write a graduate entry medicine personal statement

by Jasen Soopramanien September 22, 2021 5 min read

An admission into medicine is a journey by any account. Trust me, we’ve all been there. Yet, as a graduate entrant, the journey has been even longer. You’ve taken the scenic route. An extra stop or two along the way. But now you’ve decided to prolong your education for another few years and you’re applying to study medicine!

Here, we are going to outline 6 key tips that will help to make your personal statement for graduate entry medicine stand out!

Read More
10-medicine-personal-statement-mistakes-to-avoid
10 medicine personal statement mistakes to avoid

by Hannah Pierce September 12, 2019 7 min read

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. 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.
Read More
how-to-include-work-experience-in-personal-statement
How to include work experience in personal statement?

by Ella Quintela September 02, 2019 6 min read

Work experience has become such an integral part of the university application that you probably wouldn’t even consider applying without it. But once you’re done, got it under your belt and moved on, how do you showcase this in your personal statement in order to get you one step closer to your career goal? Here at theMSAG, we have a clear structure and formula of how to include your work experience in your writing to highlight the skills gained in the best way possible.
Read More

Subscribe