Sample Medical School Essays
This section contains two sample medical school essays
- Medical School Sample Essay One
- Medical School Sample Essay Two
Medical School Essay One
Prompt: What makes you an excellent candidate for medical school? Why do you want to become a physician?
When I was twelve years old, a drunk driver hit the car my mother was driving while I was in the backseat. I have very few memories of the accident, but I do faintly recall a serious but calming face as I was gently lifted out of the car. The paramedic held my hand as we traveled to the hospital. I was in the hospital for several weeks and that same paramedic came to visit me almost every day. During my stay, I also got to know the various doctors and nurses in the hospital on a personal level. I remember feeling anxiety about my condition, but not sadness or even fear. It seemed to me that those around me, particularly my family, were more fearful of what might happen to me than I was. I don’t believe it was innocence or ignorance, but rather a trust in the abilities of my doctors. It was as if my doctors and I had a silent bond. Now that I’m older I fear death and sickness in a more intense way than I remember experiencing it as a child. My experience as a child sparked a keen interest in how we approach pediatric care, especially as it relates to our psychological and emotional support of children facing serious medical conditions. It was here that I experienced first-hand the power and compassion of medicine, not only in healing but also in bringing unlikely individuals together, such as adults and children, in uncommon yet profound ways. And it was here that I began to take seriously the possibility of becoming a pediatric surgeon.
My interest was sparked even more when, as an undergraduate, I was asked to assist in a study one of my professors was conducting on how children experience and process fear and the prospect of death. This professor was not in the medical field; rather, her background is in cultural anthropology. I was very honored to be part of this project at such an early stage of my career. During the study, we discovered that children face death in extremely different ways than adults do. We found that children facing fatal illnesses are very aware of their condition, even when it hasn’t been fully explained to them, and on the whole were willing to fight their illnesses, but were also more accepting of their potential fate than many adults facing similar diagnoses. We concluded our study by asking whether and to what extent this discovery should impact the type of care given to children in contrast to adults. I am eager to continue this sort of research as I pursue my medical career. The intersection of medicine, psychology, and socialization or culture (in this case, the social variables differentiating adults from children) is quite fascinating and is a field that is in need of better research.
Although much headway has been made in this area in the past twenty or so years, I feel there is a still a tendency in medicine to treat diseases the same way no matter who the patient is. We are slowly learning that procedures and drugs are not always universally effective. Not only must we alter our care of patients depending upon these cultural and social factors, we may also need to alter our entire emotional and psychological approach to them as well.
It is for this reason that I’m applying to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, as it has one of the top programs for pediatric surgery in the country, as well as several renowned researchers delving into the social, generational, and cultural questions in which I’m interested. My approach to medicine will be multidisciplinary, which is evidenced by the fact that I’m already double-majoring in early childhood psychology and pre-med, with a minor in cultural anthropology. This is the type of extraordinary care that I received as a child—care that seemed to approach my injuries with a much larger and deeper picture than that which pure medicine cannot offer—and it is this sort of care I want to provide my future patients. I turned what might have been a debilitating event in my life—a devastating car accident—into the inspiration that has shaped my life since. I am driven and passionate. And while I know that the pediatric surgery program at Johns Hopkins will likely be the second biggest challenge I will face in my life, I know that I am up for it. I am ready to be challenged and prove to myself what I’ve been telling myself since that fateful car accident: I will be a doctor.
Medical School Essay Two
Prompt: Where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?
If you had told me ten years ago that I would be writing this essay and planning for yet another ten years into the future, part of me would have been surprised. I am a planner and a maker of to-do lists, and it has always been my plan to follow in the steps of my father and become a physician. This plan was derailed when I was called to active duty to serve in Iraq as part of the War on Terror.
I joined the National Guard before graduating high school and continued my service when I began college. My goal was to receive training that would be valuable for my future medical career, as I was working in the field of emergency health care. It was also a way to help me pay for college. When I was called to active duty in Iraq for my first deployment, I was forced to withdraw from school, and my deployment was subsequently extended. I spent a total of 24 months deployed overseas, where I provided in-the-field medical support to our combat troops. While the experience was invaluable not only in terms of my future medical career but also in terms of developing leadership and creative thinking skills, it put my undergraduate studies on hold for over two years. Consequently, my carefully-planned journey towards medical school and a medical career was thrown off course. Thus, while ten-year plans are valuable, I have learned from experience how easily such plans can dissolve in situations that are beyond one’s control, as well as the value of perseverance and flexibility.
Eventually, I returned to school. Despite my best efforts to graduate within two years, it took me another three years, as I suffered greatly from post-traumatic stress disorder following my time in Iraq. I considered abandoning my dream of becoming a physician altogether, since I was several years behind my peers with whom I had taken biology and chemistry classes before my deployment. Thanks to the unceasing encouragement of my academic advisor, who even stayed in contact with me when I was overseas, I gathered my strength and courage and began studying for the MCAT. To my surprise, my score was beyond satisfactory and while I am several years behind my original ten-year plan, I am now applying to Brown University’s School of Medicine.
I can describe my new ten-year plan, but I will do so with both optimism and also caution, knowing that I will inevitably face unforeseen complications and will need to adapt appropriately. One of the many insights I gained as a member of the National Guard and by serving in war-time was the incredible creativity medical specialists in the Armed Forces employ to deliver health care services to our wounded soldiers on the ground. I was part of a team that was saving lives under incredibly difficult circumstances—sometimes while under heavy fire and with only the most basic of resources. I am now interested in how I can use these skills to deliver health care in similar circumstances where basic medical infrastructure is lacking. While there is seemingly little in common between the deserts of Fallujah and rural Wyoming, where I’m currently working as a volunteer first responder in a small town located more than 60 miles from the nearest hospital, I see a lot of potential uses for the skills that I gained as a National Guardsman. As I learned from my father, who worked with Doctors Without Borders for a number of years, there is quite a bit in common between my field of knowledge from the military and working in post-conflict zones. I feel I have a unique experience from which to draw as I embark on my medical school journey, experiences that can be applied both here and abroad.
In ten years’ time, I hope to be trained in the field of emergency medicine, which, surprisingly, is a specialization that is actually lacking here in the United States as compared to similarly developed countries. I hope to conduct research in the field of health care infrastructure and work with government agencies and legislators to find creative solutions to improving access to emergency facilities in currently underserved areas of the United States, with an aim towards providing comprehensive policy reports and recommendations on how the US can once again be the world leader in health outcomes. While the problems inherent in our health care system are not one-dimensional and require a dynamic approach, one of the solutions as I see it is to think less in terms of state-of-the-art facilities and more in terms of access to primary care. Much of the care that I provide as a first responder and volunteer is extremely effective and also relatively cheap. More money is always helpful when facing a complex social and political problem, but we must think of solutions above and beyond more money and more taxes. In ten years I want to be a key player in the health care debate in this country and offering innovative solutions to delivering high quality and cost-effective health care to all our nation’s citizens, especially to those in rural and otherwise underserved areas.
Of course, my policy interests do not replace my passion for helping others and delivering emergency medicine. As a doctor, I hope to continue serving in areas of the country that, for one reason or another, are lagging behind in basic health care infrastructure. Eventually, I would also like to take my knowledge and talents abroad and serve in the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders.
In short, I see the role of physicians in society as multifunctional: they are not only doctors who heal, they are also leaders, innovators, social scientists, and patriots. Although my path to medical school has not always been the most direct, my varied and circuitous journey has given me a set of skills and experiences that many otherwise qualified applicants lack. I have no doubt that the next ten years will be similarly unpredictable, but I can assure you that no matter what obstacles I face, my goal will remain the same. I sincerely hope to begin the next phase of my journey at Brown University. Thank you for your kind attention.
To learn more about what to expect from the study of medicine, check out our Study Medicine in the US section.
Tips for a Successful Medical School Essay
- If you’re applying through AMCAS, remember to keep your essay more general rather than tailored to a specific medical school, because your essay will be seen by multiple schools.
- AMCAS essays are limited to 5300 characters—not words! This includes spaces.
- Make sure the information you include in your essay doesn't conflict with the information in your other application materials.
- In general, provide additional information that isn’t found in your other application materials. Look at the essay as an opportunity to tell your story rather than a burden.
- Keep the interview in mind as you write. You will most likely be asked questions regarding your essay during the interview, so think about the experiences you want to talk about.
- When you are copying and pasting from a word processor to the AMCAS application online, formatting and font will be lost. Don’t waste your time making it look nice. Be sure to look through the essay once you’ve copied it into AMCAS and edit appropriately for any odd characters that result from pasting.
- Avoid overly controversial topics. While it is fine to take a position and back up your position with evidence, you don’t want to sound narrow-minded.
- Revise, revise, revise. Have multiple readers look at your essay and make suggestions. Go over your essay yourself many times and rewrite it several times until you feel that it communicates your message effectively and creatively.
- Make the opening sentence memorable. Admissions officers will read dozens of personal statements in a day. You must say something at the very beginning to catch their attention, encourage them to read the essay in detail, and make yourself stand out from the crowd.
- Character traits to portray in your essay include: maturity, intellect, critical thinking skills, leadership, tolerance, perseverance, and sincerity.
Additional Tips for a Successful Medical School Essay
- Regardless of the prompt, you should always address the question of why you want to go to medical school in your essay.
- Try to always give concrete examples rather than make general statements. If you say that you have perseverance, describe an event in your life that demonstrates perseverance.
- There should be an overall message or theme in your essay. In the example above, the theme is overcoming unexpected obstacles.
- Make sure you check and recheck for spelling and grammar!
- Unless you’re very sure you can pull it off, it is usually not a good idea to use humor or to employ the skills you learned in creative writing class in your personal statement. While you want to paint a picture, you don’t want to be too poetic or literary.
- Turn potential weaknesses into positives. As in the example above, address any potential weaknesses in your application and make them strengths, if possible. If you have low MCAT scores or something else that can’t be easily explained or turned into a positive, simply don’t mention it.
A tale of two statements...what do you think of each? Who would you rather study with for the next four years? Which makes it easier to know the student and make an admissions decision? Why?
#1 -- (An excerpt From Accepted.com)
As the time approached for me to set my personal and professional goals, I made a conscientious decision to enter a field which would provide me with a sense of achievement and, at the same time, produce a positive impact on mankind. It became apparent to me that the practice of medicine would fulfill these objectives. In retrospect, my ever-growing commitment to medicine has been crystallizing for years. My intense interest in social issues, education, and athletics seems particularly appropriate to this field and has prepared me well for such a critical choice...
I’ve been asked many times why I wish to become a physician. Upon considerable reflection, the thought of possessing the ability to help others provides me with tremendous internal gratification and offers the feeling that my life’s efforts have been focused in a positive direction. Becoming a physician is the culmination of a lifelong dream; and I am prepared to dedicate myself, as I have in the past, to achieving this goal.
#2 -- (an excerpt from a former student)
“Look at the person sitting to your left . . . now look to the right . . . now to the front, back, and every which way diagonally.”
Each new, fresh-out-of-high-school Gator followed the professor’s instructions and acknowledged—with his or her own blend of straight “A” confidence and freshman cockiness—the other newbies in the lecture hall. The professor’s steel-faced smile, however, told me we weren’t in Kansas any longer: “Not one of these people will get into medical school.” I had been a student of the University of Florida for exactly twenty-two minutes, and I had already decided to give up a goal I had defended for eight years. What would Pop-Pop say?
The Geriatric Neurology Unit of Naples Community Hospital may not be the destination of choice for an evening out—unless, of course, one mistakes “L-Dopa” for the newest import from Miami. Otherwise, it’s true: a hospital can be a sad place to visit—especially for a ten-year-old. However, when my Pop-Pop—my once-burly, sauerkraut-making, soccer-playing personal hero—was sidelined by both Parkinson’s and prostate cancer, I visited him every chance I could and hoped that my mother was right: “Laughter is the best medicine.”
Note: the AMCAS made changes beginning with the 2012 cycle that includes new essay information -- with regards to the personal statement, you need to be aware of the new "3 most meaningful experiences" section. This section frees you from having to include everything in the personal statement because you'll have the opportunity to write about your experiences elsewhere. This means the personal statement can focus more on motivation and qualities.
The Personal Statement
Keep in mind that all writing is READER-CENTERED and PURPOSE-DRIVEN.
Who are the readers here? An Admissions committee.
What is their job? To make yes/no decisions about admission into med school.
What do they want to know? They want to know what distinguishes you from the other hundreds of applicants who are also smart, well-educated, and interesting.
What is the purpose of your writing? To show this committee that you are more than a collection of admirable statistics—that you are a person worthy of cultivating, of educating, of eventually calling a colleague.
How do you fulfill this purpose? By telling the story of yourself.
To this end, here are some pointers on writing personal statements.
Show, don’t Tell. Demonstrate, don’t state. Relate, don’t Pontificate. In other words, give the reader the "hands-on" tour— you think that your diligent, hard-working, ambitious, compassionate, etc., then SHOW the reader this through an experience in your life that demonstrates this quality. Don’t just use the words; they’ve got no reason to believe you!
Related to above, but from the other direction…you have the wonderful experiences, but you don’t finish the task by telling the reader what you gained. Take the Admissions Committee through your experience, but don’t leave them to make their own conclusions. They won’t. They’re too busy reading personal statements. Show them what you want them to see about you.
Contextualize all information – if you give a fact, make it important to the story. If you use an adjective, show that it’s true.
Avoid clichés. After all, a "simple joy" implies such a thing as a "complex joy" and what is that?
Be careful of using faulty logic. Just because your family has sixteen medical professionals doesn’t really make it "natural" that you should become one. Your experiences in the emergency room don’t necessarily result in an interest in medicine. Lots of people have professionals in their families and they don’t run out to become doctors. Lots of women have babies and yet never become ob/gyns. If this is how it worked for you, then great! Say it simply then relate a particular experience that really demonstrates your interest in medicine.
Doctors are not the only ones on the planet who help people.
Don’t exaggerate. Nobody under 50 gets to claim "innumerable times" or "untold amounts" or "infinite varieties" of anything.
Not every noun requires an adjective.
Wanting to help people is an admirable quality. Be careful of sounding like the Super Savior of Humanity, though. Phrases like "less fortunate" and "down trodden" are patronizing. Instead, talk about wanting to help people with limited access to health care or setting up neighborhood clinics so that affordable health care is available to more people. Finally, when the readers are finished with your personal statement, do they know you? Life has got to mean more than a series of points on a resume. Is yours represented?
From Clark University: "... one can imagine at least three different styles of essays, including biographical, introspective, and inspirational. Biographical essays tend to be a chronological description of relevant life experiences, but such essays often lack flair or distinction. Introspective essays can be especially revealing, but may be very difficult to write or relate to practical aspects of medicine. The dramatic essays usually entail some sort of "I want to save the world" and should be avoided unless you can cite convincing evidence that you actually have saved the world (several times). Frequently, a combination of the biographical and introspective approach can be effective." (emphasis added)
And -- here -- is what AMCAS has to say about it!
"Best Practices" is a new fancy term for using techniques with a proven history of working well (sort of like "evidence based", but without the research requirement attached). There are a couple of them pertaining to personal statement writing that are missed surprisingly often. Here are a few of the biggies that will help.
- Most Important Rule -- say nothing in your personal statement that isn't directly relevant to helping an admissions committee make a yes/not decision about your merit as a graduate student. This includes quoting other people (why should they care what Einstein or Maya Angelou or Luke/Mark/John or anyone else has ever said? What does it have to do with your ability to succeed?)
- Be truthful. Do not lie. I know, this one seems obvious...but you'd be surprised. You can manage vocabularly choice (and you should), but you may not say something that isn't true.
- Keep it positive. Do not write negatively about yourself or your profession or anyone else! If you need to explain a dip in grades, do so briefly and objectively; do not belabour whatever trauma/situation caused the problem. Also, do not to say things like "I went into CSD because I couldn't cut in organic chemistry, thereby destroying my dreams of being a pediatrician." Always find the "positive" (meaning not negative, not meaning ridiculously idealistic) way of communicating the same information. For instance, another way of expressing the previous example is -- "Though I'd planned on becoming a pediatrician, I found that speech pathology provides the sort of sustained, personal contact with children I really crave as part of my career."
- Details sell. Lists do not. Do not rehash your resume. Instead, choose a few experiences that were particularly meaningful and/or can illustrate qualities that you want the admissions committee to know. To succeed as illustrative examples, experiences must have the following 3 parts (you can't expect the readers to fill in missing parts -- they have too many essays to read to spend time performing literary interpretation):
Tell the story (what happened)
Tell what you learned (what you got out of it)
Tell how what you learned applies to success in grad school or in your profession (why it matters).
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