If I Could Do It Again

I wrote. Then I rewrote. Then I started over and rewrote again. Soon, the words began to blur together. I couldn’t make sense what I had covered in which piece. I read my work out loud to have a better idea of how it flowed but even still that lost its meaning. I made leaps of logic that I weren’t aware of because it was my own life and my hopes and wishes that I was covering. I was writing medical school personal statements.

writers block

Hindsight is 20/20 and since I was near having to reapply this year, I began looking back at my application to plan for try number two. Luckily, my last ditch effort ended up for the best and I have found a home for the next eight years at the University of Illinois. Nonetheless, this process had begun and I wanted it to be worthwhile, so I am sharing it with you! Each person’s statements are different – their experiences, their goals, everything – but perhaps my reflection on my own personal statements will help you write your own.

For your reference you can find my final personal statements here:

MD personal statement: https://mdphdtobe.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/amcas-m-d-personal-statement/

MD/PhD personal statement: https://mdphdtobe.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/amcas-m-d-ph-d-personal-statement/

Research personal statement: https://mdphdtobe.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/amcas-research-personal-statement/

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LEARN FROM THE COMPLEXITY OF OTHERS

I used many stories about patients and experiences at the hospital for my MD personal statement. This statement was the one that I spent the most time on, and it was also the one that I am most satisfied with. If I did it again, I would likely use my grandmother’s experience with bladder cancer and ultimately her death as my main story to connect everything. *I would not be cheesy and say that this inspired me to go into medicine, I would emphasize what I learned about the complexity of health (in that it is much more than physical), what I learned about treating the elderly, and what I learned about death.

I was pretty satisfied with my personal statement from last year though, so here’s the things that I got good feedback about:

My story with an elderly man that I met at the hospital was likely the best one I included. I had multiple interviewers show interest in it. It showed that while I understand the importance of science in medicine, I have grown to appreciate the other sides of human health. Our health is extremely complex and is based on physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual factors, but we are mainly trained to be scientists that focus on the physical component of health as premeds.

I found it helpful to use this statement to show that I am much more than a scientist and can appreciate all the factors that contribute to the well being of others to show my maturity and understanding of health. Actual patient experience to back it up was key. This was my primary concern since I didn’t add M.D. on to my goals until the end of my junior year of college and so I felt that I needed to work harder to show my interest in the human side of medicine to convince committees that I truly wanted the M.D. in addition to the Ph.D.

This emphasis on other factors of health was also incorporated in my interviews. I was asked in one if I believed that there was a psychological factor to health and I responded with a resounding “YES!” I’m taking a health psychology course in my last semester of undergrad (which I highly recommend) that gave me talking points and has helped me understand even more about the complexity of human health still from a researcher’s perspective.

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ILLUSTRATE THE COMPLEMENTARY

For my MD/PhD statement, I emphasized the complementary motivation arising from being involved in both clinical and lab endeavors. I said it would help me maintain my motivation and thus would make me a better physician scientist. Then I interviewed for a Medical Scientist Training Program and in one discussion, the professor made me realize how cool it was that when I see someone receiving chemotherapy, I see the drug undergoing chemical reactions such as the drug I study that binds to proteins and DNA. Additionally, I can easily connect simple chemical reactions to a whole body (as I describe here: https://mdphdtobe.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/when-i-synthesize-my-molecule/). If I had done it again, I would have emphasized this by perhaps explicitly describing these observations and how I see them as related. I thought it would be an interesting lead into the statement.

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RESEARCH DOESN’T HAVE TO BE BORING

Yeah we’re scientists, but that doesn’t mean we have to only write like one.

Though I was talking about my scientific research experience, that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t make it a story. The people reading your personal statement are highly educated, but they may not be experts in a similar area as you are. You have to educate and excite them about what you’ve done! My research personal statement was mainly about what I actually did in my research and less about my feelings toward research. I did explain why I chose to do the research and why I switched between labs to give a little more meaning to my statement, but my focus was that I understood the time given to research. While it was essential for me to establish that I understand and have experienced the research process, I wish that I had expressed my feelings about research more to the committee.

If I had done it again, I would open by explaining my trials with my research then transition into the first time there was an indication that I had succeeded at making the molecule I was trying to make. I would have talked about how great of a feeling it was to accomplish something that no one had ever done before! This would show that I appreciate not only the difficulty of research but also that I live for the worthwhile feeling of discovery!

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I will update this as I think of other things. Best of luck on your applications! And never forget to let your passion shine through. 🙂

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Hanna is a MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and an aspiring physician scientist who aims to specialize in hepatobiliary cancers. She is also passionate about teaching, leadership, and advocacy. The energy she once used to pep up crowds as a college marching band member is now directed toward exciting and educating others about science and medicine, especially through her tweets at @MDPhDToBe and her blog at www.mdphdtobe.com.

Posted in Pre-med

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