Updated: Jun 18
By Usman Nasir
How many of these clichés are in your personal statement right now? Circle them.
Don’t worry if you circled lots of clichés, we will show you how to avoid them next…
Medical schools have spent countless hours reading through personal statements full of clichés, so make sure yours is not one of them. The clichés above may look like bold statements, but they do not tell the reader a lot about you. They have become overused to the point that their meaning has become lost. So, do not waste your limited number of words on these sweeping statements that have little substance to them. Instead make every word count and expand upon these statements as each sentence should say something different about either your motivation for medicine, your passion for medicine or your commitment to medicine. It is great saying “I just want to help people”, but it is not enough to just simply stop there. It raises more questions than it answers. Why do you want to help people? How have you helped people so far? Why does that mean that you want to study medicine?
A lot of these clichés also come from not carefully planning your answer to the ultimate question: “Why do you want to do medicine?” So, make sure you have clearly planned the answer to this question before starting your personal statement.
More common mistakes
1. Not reflecting on work experience/volunteering
Avoid falling into the common trap of just listing all the work experience and volunteering you have completed. Medical schools are looking for students that can reflect on their work experience so write about what you have learnt from them, even if this means including fewer examples. Ask yourself the following questions:
· What did you gain from that work experience opportunity?
· How did it shape your decision to pursue a career in Medicine?
· What did it teach you about a career in Medicine?
· How did it change your understanding of Medicine?
· What did you learn about yourself?
You might not be able to fit in all your experiences so choose the ones that you think will show your passion and commitment to Medicine the most. A lot of students think that you must show them how much work experience you have done, but it is quality not quantity.
What not to do
“I visited a GP for a week. I volunteered at a local primary school for a year. I shadowed a consultant during a ward round in the urology department at my local hospital”.
Feedback: It is just a list. There is no reflection or insight into what they learnt from their experiences.
What to do
“Shadowing a consultant during a ward round in a urology department gave me an insight into the teamwork and commitment required to care for patients.
2. Demonstrating an unrealistic perspective of Medicine as a career
Another common mistake is that students think that they should only represent Medicine in a positive light in their personal statement. They often solely focus on how great Medicine is and ignore the less favourable aspects of Medicine. But medical schools are looking for students that understand the reality of Medicine and can appreciate that it is a tough career with many challenges. In your personal statement you need to show your understanding of this and that you can overcome these challenges. In this section, you can link any personal skills you have developed that will demonstrate your suitability for a career in Medicine. You can also turn these so-called “negative aspects of medicine” into a positive by talking about how being a doctor is worth all these challenges.
Remember that medical schools often use personal statements at their interview stage, so make sure you have not exaggerated or lied about anything you have done. You do not want to be caught out lying at an interview as this is not a trait they want to see in a medical student. Did you actually read that book that you included in your personal statement? Did you really attend all those extracurricular societies you talked about? Make sure the answers to all these questions are yes. The personal statement is a way to take control of your interview, as you can be prepared for all the questions they could ask. So have a think about all the points from your personal statement that you could expand on at an interview. For example, how could you use your volunteering at a care home to show that you are a good team player and that you are empathetic?
4. Poor structure and grammar
You want your personal statement to be easy to read. So make sure that the sentences make sense and there are no grammatical errors. This immediately makes a good first impression and shows that you are a professional and serious candidate. The admissions team will be reading thousands of personal statements so they will appreciate one that is clear and easy to follow. You can do this by carefully planning your personal statement and having a clear structure. Don’t jump all over the place in your writing, but instead dedicate each paragraph to a new theme explaining why you want to study Medicine. Examples of paragraph themes: work experience/volunteering, passion for science and extra-curricular activities.
5. Not answering the ultimate question
Why do you want to apply for Medicine? That is the ultimate question and many students fail to address this clearly in their personal statement. So, plan an answer to this question carefully in the planning stage so you can incorporate your reasons effectively into your statement. Do not be tempted to give generic and stock reasons, make it personal to you by using your own experiences. For example, it may be that you have had a personal experience in hospital or have witnessed the care a family member received in hospital. You just need to explain this carefully and reflect on why this shaped your decision to pursue Medicine. Answering this question could be a great opening to your personal statement as it grabs the reader’s attention straight away. To keep the focus of your personal statement, it might also be a good idea to link each paragraph back to this ultimate question.
6. Not researching enough
Some universities consider the personal statement in their application process more than others so do your research. Visit their websites, send them emails or even ring them to get the most up-to- date information. Some universities even tell you what they are looking for when they read personal statements so have this in mind when you start writing.
7. Forgetting why you are writing a personal statement
The personal statement is all about you. Universities can see your grades and academic performance in other sections of the UCAS application, but this is a chance for you to show them how great you are. It is an opportunity for you to show them that you are suited for Medicine and that you are ready to start the course. So, always keep this in mind and stay true to yourself when writing it.