What should and should not go into a personal statement

Can anyone enlighten me on what should and should not go into a personal statement?

I went to a prehealth seminar on Saturday, and a speaker from a medical school told us some things we should not put into a PS. Among them, she said to not criticize doctors and not criticize medicine. Rather we should talk about doctors whom we admire and want to be like.

I was a bit dismayed by her advice, as most of the reasons as to why I want to be a doctor are that I don’t like the way medical care is delivered and how doctors treat and mistreat underserved populations in the U.S. I want to change that (for lots of reasons too long to list here).

My opinion is that a personal statement is not the most appropriate place to criticize the healthcare system or doctors. PS to me is a way for the adcoms to know who you are as a person and why YOU are a good fit to be a doctor, to be in a profession that can affect so many people’s lives. I would use PS as a place to highlight your strength, and your positive experiences. If you have any weakness on your application, like many of us, PS provides an opportunity to briefly explain what you have learned from the negative experience, and how did the experience helped you to become a better person. But I certainly will not let negative experience or past mistakes to be the sole focus of PS. The length of PS is very limited, so I would use it to sell YOU as a product,and not to point fingers. You will have opportunities to discuss any problems in medicine during interviews.

Of course, this is just my humble opinion.

Most of the personal statements I review are from resident applications, but the principles are the same for med school. If you are a non-traditional applicant, at least answer three questions: Why medicine, why now, and what did you do in the interim? A stumble or two along the way is OK, but it should be explained in the PS and not left up to the interviewer to address the 500 lb gorilla. It’s entirely appropriate to discuss your hopes and aspirations for the future of medicine, but I agree that the PS is not the place to criticize health care or physicians as a group. It’s a common mistake, but still a huge turnoff to the majority of physicians who are doing our best to provide compassionate care in an increasingly complex delivery system.

Nobody wants to read that. Makes for great talk DURING med school and to fuel you into med school but you will never get in saying that. You are an outsider. You are essentially arm-chair quarterbacking from your PS.

PS are for us to tell the adcoms why we would make great physicians and not why they suck. While you’re not saying “them” they are part of the healthcare system and by saying it sucks you have lumped them into the suckage. Bad form and it will not get you what you want. Instead of focusing on the negative of the system switch that to how you’ll improve it.

Don’t say: I want to be a physician because the medical community in general mistreats the underserved population…

Do say: I believe my unique experience in working with the underserved has fueled my passion for medicine…

You’ve said the same thing in both instances but one will get you in the interview room and the other will not.

Cosigning with jmdmd and crooz, be positive!

I also wouldn’t mention mental illness and for the younger women, I wouldn’t mention kids.

But if you’re middle aged like me, they’ll probably assume your “eggs” are fried, so no worries there!

Thanks for all of your advice on focusing on the positive reasons for going into medicine rather than the negative ones. I understand jmdmd’s point about the necessity of explaining the “Why medicine, why now, and what did you do in the interim?” I also understand the need to explain stumbles. Unfortunately, for me, I am having a difficult time integrating my reasons for applying to medical school now with my past mistakes, all academic mistakes and timeline disconcordances: I started college, got a few ad grades due to working too much, quit school to work in order to save for college, got involved in another field, stayed in that job for years, then went back to school to get my premed, but got some C’s in premed (all in upper division). Throughout all this time, I started and ran free health projects and clinics for the low-income/poor/homeless, etc. But I did not get interested in being a physician partly because I was too busy doing the public health aspects and because I did not believe I had the academics to get in anywhere. On the other hand, my narrative for why I want to be a physician has everything to do with my experiences with the medically underserved here and abroad, which provides the common thread through everything.

(I hindsight, I realize that if I did have better academics, then this issue would not be a problem as I have been told that my experiences are top notch.)

Do you have any advice on how to integrate these together?

I could not agree more with the above comments. I can’t imagine a more disastrous outcome than if you were to tell the adcom that they are the reason that medicine is failing. You have the right to feel that way, and that could be the driving factor for your internal motivation but that should be kept unexposed/personal.


I agree wholeheartedly with the other posts which state that you should not criticize the medical profession. Remember that physicians are reading your statement and they don’t want you–from outside the profession–criticizing what they do. You undoubtedly have ideas as to how to improve the medical profession; most premed students do! But for now keep those to yourself. Your PS should articulate, in compelling terms, your path to medicine. If you’ve had academic missteps (which you admit to) you can briefly explain those but they should definitely not be the focus of the essay. Instead focus on WHY medicine and why NOW. Your essay could be thematic or it could be descriptive of your experiences. Either way, it should add up to a convincing whole.

I agree with all of the replies - always keep a personal statement positive. But wanted to delve deeper into the question of what actually should go into a personal statement. As a former Harvard pre-med tutor and current admissions advisor, I have read hundreds of personal statements. The best are those that tell a great story and fit into the overall admissions narrative of the applicant. If you were on an elevator ride with a member of the admissions committee and had less than 30 seconds to pitch to her why you should be accepted by her program, what would you say? That is the place to start your personal statement.

Adding to this thread, some of you might be interested in reading a guest blog post I made regarding five essential elements of a great personal statement:

http://www.afuturemd.com/2013/03/the-five-esse ntia…