Center for High Achievement & Scholarly Engagement
Pre-Graduate and Pre-Professional Advising

Personal Statements for Health Professional Programs

When applying to a professional program, your personal statement will serve as an interview on paper. Admission committees want to learn information about you that cannot be gleaned from transcripts and MCAT scores. Your statement should demonstrate that you are more than a conscientious student, explain your motivation for entering your chosen field, and confirm that you have the maturity to succeed in their program and as a health-care professional.

Your statement must be well-written. Proving your ability to communicate is essential as you embark on a career in which interpersonal skills, including being able to work with colleagues and connect with patients and clients, are vital. Above all else, you should be sincere. The statement should be an accurate reflection of your experiences, aspirations, and motivations. In combination with the in-person interview, if required by the program, your personal statement will give admission committee members a window into what type of student, colleague and practitioner you will be.

Getting Started

It is often difficult to write about yourself. You do not want to come across as boastful, nor do you want to seem insecure or incompetent. Yet, you must be specific about yourself. General statements, such as how you have always wanted to help people or that you will strive to live up to an idealized version of a doctor or dentist, are unlikely to sway the committee in your favor. To begin getting personal, you can list out what experiences, both positive and negative, led you to want to enter your chosen field. You should also write out your career goals and what type of preparation, including coursework, internships, shadowing and mentoring opportunities, and volunteer work, in which you have engaged. You can ask family, friends and colleagues what traits best describe you and what examples make them think of you in that way. Keep in mind not everything you list will make it into your statement. However, these lists can help you see connections between the activities you have chosen and the person you have become. They will also provide you with some ideas regarding on what theme or experience to focus your statement. The more cohesive the statement is, the better it reflects on you.

While looking over your lists, look for common themes. Is there any particular experience that will allow the admission committee to understand you and your motivations better? Is there an experience that demonstrates that you can empathize with others? Committee members rather know one or two things about you that define you as a person and the type of professional you will be than a laundry list of experiences and accomplishments. When writing about yourself, it is best to demonstrate your abilities and motivations through an example or story and not just through a declaration. For example, instead of stating you are well-organized or love working with people, provide an example of how you organized a complex event or volunteer regularly to work one-on-one with people. Even a negative experience, if it provided you with a lesson, can demonstrate your ability to self-reflect and grow as a person.

Medical School Personal Statements

If you are applying to medical school, you should consider what skills medical schools expect their own graduates to have. For example, Indiana University School of Medicine organizes its program around the "Nine Competencies." The nine competencies include the following skill sets: (1) effective communication; (2) basic clinical skills; (3) use of science to guide diagnosis, management, therapeutics, and prevention; (4) life-long learning; (5) self awareness, self-care, and personal growth; (6) social and community contexts of health care; (7) moral reasoning and ethical judgment; (8) problem solving; and (9) professionalism and role recognition. (See IUSM, Nine Competencies.) If you can show that you are well on your way to developing some of these competencies, you will have given the committee good reason to consider you a strong candidate for its program.

Keep Writing

Once you begin writing, keep in mind that your statement will likely go through many drafts. You should ask friends, family, professors, advisors and supervisors to review and comment on it. Is it an accurate reflection of you? Does it move them? Does it answer the questions asked on the application? Is it well-written? If the answer is no to any of the above questions, keep working on your statement. As you edit, the below lists will help guide you.

Do:

  • Answer the questions asked
  • Follow any formatting guidelines
  • Use a consistent theme or tell a story to make your statement cohesive
  • Self-reflect on your experiences and motivations instead of just reiterating them
  • Demonstrate your abilities with examples
  • Include relevant information about the program to which you are applying
  • Have others read your statement
  • Edit, edit, edit

Do Not:

  • Write your autobiography
  • Write your résumé in prose form
  • Use clichés
  • Be too general
  • Be gimmicky
  • Be funny
  • Be overly dramatic
  • Begin with a quote
  • Write about someone else
  • Spend your entire statement recounting information found elsewhere in your application

For more information see: