You’ve taken the MCAT, completed all of the pre-requisites, and maybe even chosen your list of medical schools. Now, it’s finally time to get serious about writing your medical school essay!
In this article, we’ll outline what the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) advises you to include and explore a good and a bad example of each area to set your medical school personal statement on the right track.
This Article Will Discuss The Following:
Motivation refers to a student’s ongoing preparation for the health profession and can include the initial inspiration.
Bad example of motivation in a medical school essay: “Crash! At the fragile age of seven, I still remember tumbling in what seemed like an endless fall to the wood chips below. “It’s broken” is the next thing I remember. From that day on, I knew I wanted to become a physician.”
Good example of motivation in medical school essay: “Growing up in rural Appalachia, I only knew two doctors, Dr. Schmidt, who had famously saved the life of the mayor in 1996 at the grand opening of our town hall and Dr. Carey, who still made house calls, often in snowy conditions on snowshoes.”
Explanation of difference: As a reader, you likely instantly recognize the differences just in the first few sentences. The bad example is focused on the individual and a very routine happening in their lives.
A medical school will not be gaining a new perspective from a student that broke their arm. In a good example, the applicant immediately draws the reader in and shares the unique perspective of growing up in rural Appalachia.
Note that these two essays could have come from exactly the same student. In the first version, they chose to write about an event that happened to them. In the second much-improved version, the applicant chose to think beyond themselves and imagine medicine in a community context.
While the bad example is very weak, it does focus on a specific anecdotal event that sparked the student’s initial interest, which will develop throughout the essay.
Unfortunately, breaking an arm is not a unique event for a seven-year-old. Regardless of your specific motivation, you are advised to tie it to a specific event or circumstance unique to you.
Fit is determined through self-assessment of relevant values and personal qualities as they relate to the profession. ---AAMC
Bad example in medical school essay: “My interest in science began as a young child from that arm break. To my delight, I have always excelled in sciences. In fact, as a college student, I was the only student out of 350 to earn an A in my organic chemistry course.”
Good example of fit in medical school essay: “As I stood up from the chair, I realized I hadn’t sat up in almost 10 hours. Being a rural town, Shawtown had exactly one car mechanic, and he also happened to be my 10th-grade chemistry teacher, Mr. Smith. That day was the third time Mr. Smith had collapsed during recess this week. Everyone was growing concerned.”
Explanation of the difference between the two examples of fit: In the first essay, the focus is again on the student and their academic achievements in the classroom. While this is an important piece of your medical school application, the essay is not the place to cover it.
Your college transcript and MCAT grades will speak for themselves. The first example also does not address the relevant values and personal qualities related to the profession of medicine.
In the second, stronger example of fit, you can begin to see how the relevant quality of concern for others, patience, and commitment will be developed throughout this essay.
Capacity is demonstrated through holistically aligning with the competencies expected in the profession. -AAMC
Bad example of capacity in medical school essay: “As the clock slowly approached 2:00 am, my friends and I knew we had just a few minutes left to gather our books and begin our short walk back to our off-campus apartments. By sophomore year, Sam, Joe, and I had vowed to dedicate ourselves to obtaining the highest possible MCAT score and perfect grades. We coined the phrase “we owe it to our future patients,” and we meant it.”
Good example of capacity in a personal statement: "Damn it! I exclaimed, re-running the experiment for the 42nd time that week and the 200th time that month. As a sophomore research intern in professor Dupont’s materials science and engineering course, I had just landed my first research experience and was beginning to think I was way out of my league with scientific inquiry."
Explanation of the difference between the two examples of capacity: While perseverance and commitment are admirable qualities in medicine, perseverance in preparing for an exam does not present you in the strongest possible light for your medical school applications.
The second example also displays perseverance in scientific inquiry and a creative solution. Moreover, the second example describes a specific example of how this experiment had the potential to assist those suffering from dementia (again, note both examples – of the MCAT and the research - could be written by the same student).
The MCAT example would be a “dead-end story,” meaning not only is the initial idea inadequate, but there is little substance to build upon throughout the remainder of the essay for fit.
Vision relates to the impact you wish to make in the field. ---AAMC
Bad example of vision in the personal statement: "As I look ahead to medical school, I wish to be that grounding force that parents turn to when there is a medical emergency, recalling just how much comfort I received from the doctor who treated me so kindly with my broken arm."
Good example of vision in a personal statement: "One of my primary motivations for attending medical school is to improve parent, child and physician relationships. In my volunteer work at Dallas Children’s medical center, we often noticed…"
Explanation of differences for Vision: The bad example is focused only on the applicant, and uses very broad, non-specific language to describe his vision. The stronger example is more developed and complex.
It will go on to provide a recent example of the student’s vision based on recent, real experiences with a patient population that is broader than the individual.
Medical School Personal Statement
While the above examples have been exaggerated, it is a helpful exercise to remember the four points of motivation, fit, capacity, and vision for your medical school personal statement.
It is important to remember that as a physician, you are in service of a broader community. Hence, your personal statement should be less your individual experiences and more about how your individual experiences have helped shape your view of the medical profession.
Lastly, you should work carefully to develop a strong personal narrative that is able to provide examples around motivation, fit, capacity, and vision.