All about personal statements

RO Central Team - Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Posted 1 year ago
Read below the Early Applicant Support Ambassador, Emily's top tips on writing an excellent personal statement - some great advice regardless of where you are at in writing your personal statement! 


Hi everyone!

I recently found my own personal statement and despite it getting me more than one offer for medicine, I still definitely cringed when I read it back six years later! I thought it would be fun to take you through it, using extracts to point out what to do (and what not to do), reflect on what turned out to be true and not true about studying medicine, and probably have a laugh at my expense along the way. Hopefully, it will be useful not just for those applying to medicine but also for any of you drafting your personal statement at the moment.

5 Do’s and Don’ts for personal statement writing 

Be confident, sell yourself… but not don’t overstate your abilities and come across as arrogant.

Many candidates worry about striking the right balance here. In general, you are fine as long as you can back up your statements. My opening sentence was “It has been evident to me for a long time that medicine is my future.” Looking back, this is just about acceptable: even if I didn’t get onto a medicine course and become a doctor, I could still get into the field by way of other careers. Also, I said that it is evident to me, which is less absolute and more subjective - I could be wrong!

You need to push your achievements and good qualities, but think about how your statements will come across. Here are some (made up, but only slightly exaggerated) statements that are not likely to impress an admissions tutor:

  • ‘Currently, as a sixth former, I possess absolutely all of the qualities necessary to be a fantastic doctor’ (without justifying any of them)
  • ‘I already have the knowledge to single-handedly run a whole diabetes clinic, from one day’s work experience’ (unlikely)
  • ‘I am passionate about research and am going be the one to find a cure for cancer in the future’ (statistically, you probably aren’t)
Mention your A levels, but don’t waste your words.
Admissions tutors can see on your application which A levels you took. For medicine, A levels are not the most interesting bit – everyone has to meet the same grade and subject requirements. I simply stated that “My love of science is reflected in my A levels”, then went on to talk about what I love in science and how it relates to medicine. In addition, I said that “Studying philosophy and ethics has honed my reasoning and analytical skills”, then went on to talk about the extra reading I’d done around medical ethics.


Do sound like yourself: don’t use excessively long words so that your meaning gets lost

Fortunately, I can’t find an example of this in my own personal statement! The point is, although this is a formal piece of writing, it’s your personal statement, so you should sound like yourself. A good tip is to write in a similar way to how you’d talk to your headteacher: formally, but without too much flowery language. Your sentences should be short and to the point, as unnecessary words waste valuable characters (the exception to this might be if you are applying to Oxbridge, when a bit more eloquence is appropriate).


Find other ways of saying that you find something ‘interesting’. Use a thesaurus, or your own creativity!

Hands up who used the word ‘intriguing’ in their personal statement? I’m guessing most of you - it is the most clichéd personal statement synonym for interesting there is! Strangely, in mine, I managed to steer clear of describing things as ‘interesting’ at all (the only time I even came close was using ‘engaging’ when discussing the culture of life-long learning). Instead, I used my actions to imply that I found things interesting. Just stating your interest doesn’t have as much impact as demonstrating it through your actions. For example, after mentioning that I studied philosophy and ethics, I wrote “Pursuing this further by reading Tony Hope's 'Introduction to Medical Ethics' and the Student British Medical Journal has helped widen my knowledge of the more controversial issues, for example the ethics of how resources are distributed”. In this case, I don’t need to state that I find medical ethics interesting, as I wouldn’t have done the extra reading if I didn’t!
If you do need to say you find something interesting, a thesaurus can useful to remind you of words that you already know. DO NOT use it to find new words that you wouldn’t normally use! Often, they can have a slightly different meaning to the original, and it’s much better to use the same word twice than a new one incorrectly.


Including all your activities is important, but keep a good structure

I know that there are countless things you want to include - and you can, as long as it’s well structured. The danger is it turning into a chronological list of ‘I did this, then this, then this, then this’, which gets boring for the reader.
My personal statement was made up of six paragraphs: an introduction, my A levels and what I did to build on them, volunteering and work experience, leadership and responsibility, extracurricular activities and a conclusion. Then, I made everything I wanted to write about fit logically into one of these paragraphs.
If you’re struggling to fit everything in, you can start with a summary. I said: “My volunteering and clinical work experience totals over four hundred hours and six weeks respectively. This has provided me with insight into the realities of life in a caring role, and demonstrated that medicine demands personal qualities which academic learning alone cannot provide.” Then, I went on to talk about specific examples and what I learnt from them.


Personal Statement vs Reality

Disclaimer: These reflections are my own personal views only and may not apply to everyone!

“I find investigating the body on a chemical level fascinating” – FALSE

I do find it interesting, but only in terms of understanding why certain diseases present the way they do. For me, clinical medicine is the priority, so learning about the exact, minute changes in the makeup of molecules, or what precisely happens at a molecular level inside the mitochondria, ended up being the worst part of first and second year for me.


“From this, I gained an understanding of hospital structure” – TRUE… ish

I may have gained a basic understanding… but I still don’t fully understand hospital structure or the structure of the healthcare system as a whole, six years later. Does anyone?


“The importance of clear communication and compassion also became evident when observing a case where these traits were lacking. If a patient understands and is at ease, they are more likely to open up, leading to a more accurate diagnosis and better care.” – VERY TRUE

The importance of compassion and looking after your patients cannot be overemphasised. This compassion can be demonstrated by simple things, such as remembering to moving the tray table back when you’ve finished examining, or opening a window if a patient says they are hot. Even as a work-experience or medical student, you can always ask: ‘what can I do to make you more comfortable or make your stay better?’ This, in turn, will make them open up and want to work with you more. If you don’t care about the patients and their happiness, why are you in medicine at all?


“Spending time with a nurse running a GP's diabetic clinic also showed me that vigilant monitoring, although seemingly routine, can be vital in managing chronic illness.” - TRUE

This is true… so why does no one want to do it?! Diabetes complications incapacitate patients and put huge strain on NHS. Yet, because type 2 diabetes generally has no symptoms, coming in for regular check-ups, taking their medication and making all-important lifestyle changes are not high on many people’s list of priorities.


“For eight years I have been a keen musician, proficient in four instruments. I go to the gym regularly, enjoy horse riding and fulfilling my duties as a LDNP Young Ranger.” – TRUE… at the time

Don’t get me wrong, I am still a total busy-body! But don’t expect to be able to keep up the same quantity of extra-curricular activities at medical school, particularly in the later years. You can do a lot, and the more you do the more you can do. But if you are the sort of person who did everything at school, be prepared to prioritise. There countless exciting and important things to do at university, but unfortunately, you can’t do them all.


“I enjoy being involved in my school community, and look forward to contributing to my university in the same way.” – TRUE… but not in the same way

I love being part of the medical school and taking part in a variety of activities. But, although I had previously enjoyed being on school council, I personally avoided student-staff committees at university. I found that I would rather spend my limited free time taking part in societies and spending time with my friends, rather than on giving feedback to the university. Of course, everyone is different – university politics and course improvement might really be your thing! Just be prepared for your interests and priorities to change a bit, compared to what you might expect.


“Being a doctor is not just a title, but a way of life. You have to be dedicated, determined, and committed to continuous learning. Although challenging, it would be hugely rewarding, and I would be honoured to become part of such an incredible profession.” – VERY TRUE

Although extremely cheesy, this is so, so true. I would even go further, to say that it is not only a way of life, but a community and a family. Doctors have a certain comradery and culture that is so wonderful to be part of, if you can put up with the challenges and the rubbish bits (of which there are many) and maintain your dedication, enthusiasm and genuine care for patients. I do feel honoured to be where I am, and am excited to see where medicine will take me in the future.