How to write your personal statement

Writing your personal statement? Here’s what you need to do:

1. Go to

2. Read it

3. Reflect on how the information you read may help you write your statement

4. Repeat 2 & 3 until truly inspired to write

5. Write an awesome personal statement! (2 & 3 can continue to be repeated throughout the process)



AMCAS M.D. Personal Statement

When applying to medical school, whether you’re applying to MD or MD/PhD, you will have to write a personal statement regarding your reasons for pursuing a career in medicine. This statement, with a limit of 5,300 characters, is a great opportunity to let your passion shine through and complement your GPA, MCAT score, and extracurriculars to convince admission committees that you would be an excellent addition to their program. As an example, here’s my MD personal statement:

Lying beneath the linear accelerator, I put myself in a patient’s position. I was eager to understand what it felt like to have cancer, to familiarize myself with the fear, worry, and pain of the life-threatening disease and its dangerous treatment. As I looked up at the machine, I wondered what it would feel like to have radiation directed at my body. Did it hurt? Did it not? Despite these insecurities, I was reassured, had I been a patient, that I would have the doctors’ undivided attention and vast medical knowledge helping me through the therapy. I had seen these doctors in action earlier when I looked in on a patient being prepped for this treatment, and I admired the bond that the doctors had formed with the patient based on trust and understanding to ensure them that they are in good hands. It is experiences like this one in radiation oncology that continue to attract me to becoming a physician.

As a girl who knew little of medical science at the time, I was nonetheless captivated by the complexity of medicine and aspired to be more involved in the healthcare community. I became a volunteer and immersed myself in various areas around the hospital, learning to appreciate all of the workers who make both a direct and indirect impact on patients’ lives. As a volunteer, my favorite phrase to tell patients has been “if you need anything, just let me know.” I pride myself in being able to ensure them that I will do everything I can to help meet their needs though it was not until I met a 97-year-old patient in a nursing unit that I realized the full depth of that phrase. Alone and recovering from surgery, he needed someone to talk to more than anything, and his face lit up as I told him that I would be happy to sit with him. While we talked, I learned that his wife had recently died, that they never had children because they could not afford it, and that he was restricted to living the rest of his life between the nursing home and the hospital. Empathizing with his struggles and his loneliness, I helped him feel connected to another person to reduce these emotional pains. I then understood that the phrase could provide even more comfort to a patient than the physical relief I had initially intended.

Ambitiously, I desire to further serve patients’ needs by using my interest in research to complement my work in the clinic. Being a scientifically curious and innovative individual, I am optimistic about the opportunities for the advancement of knowledge regarding the chemical, biological, and physiological interactions that comprise human life, and I want to be on the cutting edge of such discovery. I have already begun to be involved in such medically relevant research in medicinal chemistry so that I can study how carcinogens chemically react with biological molecules to have a mutagenic effect. As an interdisciplinary scientist, I have learned to combine multiple angles on a situation such as that of a chemist and a biologist to more completely understand it, which can help me translate scientific information to clinically relevant techniques. This is also an ability I hope to emulate as a doctor to recognize and address the intricacies of medical ailments from their scientific basis and systemic effects to their psychological and social impacts on the lives of patients and their families.

As I have explored careers in medicine, pharmacy, and science, I have become passionate about cancer, and I want to combine my intellectual interest, ambition, and compassion to do everything that I can for patients as an oncologist. Other than its challenging conceptual complexity and opportunity for expansion, I am attracted to this specialty because of the longevity of the disease’s effects that enable formation of strong doctor-patient relationships as I have seen in my volunteer work in an oncology intravenous infusion suite. My most touching observation was when I helped a woman on her last day of a round of chemotherapy by taking her picture with various nurses and doctors that were a major part of her treatment. I admire that these medical professionals have made such an influence on her life that she wants to commemorate it in photographic memory. As she left, she did not say goodbye but instead said see you next time; it is determined patients like her who inspire me to be more involved in oncology and its research to see that I do everything that I can to help them win their fight against cancer. Although I desire the lasting connection to patients, I would much rather see them healthy than having to return for multiple rounds of treatment.

Valuing knowledge, I have placed myself in positions to try to better empathize with patients’ experiences and to appreciate the role of doctors and other medical professionals in their care. Through such learning experiences, I have become passionate about understanding and treating cancer, and I am determined to be more involved in the complex health care system by bridging the gap between science and medicine to best serve those afflicted with the disease. I take pride in my ability as an interdisciplinary scientist and I believe that I can use that skill to complement my work as an oncologist so that I can combat cancer as a true physician-scientist.

AMCAS M.D./Ph.D. Personal Statement

For those applying to MD/PhD programs, you will have to complement your MD personal statement with a MD/PhD statement and a research statement. The MD/PhD statement has a 3,600 character limit and serves to strengthen your argument why you want to do both MD and PhD. As an example, here is my MD/PhD personal statement:

As an undergraduate, I have begun to experience the complementarity of medicine and scientific research. I now understand that clinical work as a physician requires not only application of the scientific principles learned throughout college and medical school, but also requires compassion and an interest in the personal side of health care. For me, this interest was reignited by my experience in research where I learned more about the effects of cancer and had first hand experience in the search for a better understanding of the disease. From learning about the devastating effects of the disease and the efforts that doctors and researchers are putting forth to improve treatment of it, I was inspired to resume volunteering at the hospital, doing anything I could to be more involved.

My research inspires me to pursue medicine, and now, my experience in the hospital motivates my efforts in the lab. In my current research, I have found that at first, I easily became discouraged when, after seven months of trying multiple methods for synthesizing a single molecule, another attempt fails. Before I began to volunteer in the intravenous infusion suite, I reacted to such difficulties with near resentment of my work, at times, and continued to try just to reach the end goal set for me. Now that I have returned to the clinic as a volunteer, I have found new motivation in some of my more straining times in the lab. At the end of a long workweek, while infusing my sample only to find that the product degraded or was not formed at all, I remember my morning in the clinic and the patients that I met. I regain my optimism and drive much faster, as I remember that I am not only doing this for myself or for the scientific knowledge, but for them.

Through my learning experiences in the lab and the clinic, I have become passionate about cancer and want the next eight years to prepare me for spending the rest of my life devoted to doing as much as I can to help improve the lives of those affected. Clinical and lab work now seem to be individually inadequate options for my ambition. Rather, with the training of an MD/PhD program, I hope to bridge the gap between these two areas of interest to become an academic oncologist to more broadly contribute to the fight against cancer. I look forward to making discoveries in the lab and being able to apply them in the clinic. I also want to amplify my training and experience to help teach a new generation of doctors and researchers to not only be able to excel at their own areas of focus, but to gain an understanding of a broader range of experiences and ways of thought. I believe in the ability to utilize the complementarity of these roles to maintain my motivation and compassion, to contribute novel and useful knowledge, to influence future generations, and to ultimately make the greatest impact toward making the lives of patients and their families better.

AMCAS Research Personal Statement

For those applying to MD/PhD programs, you will have to complement your MD personal statement with a MD/PhD statement and a research statement. The research statement has a 10,000 character limit and serves to strengthen your argument why you want to do research and why you would be a good researcher. As an example, here is my research personal statement:

I initially became interested in research as an alternative to becoming a pharmacist because I wanted to actively search for new information rather than simply apply what is known. My experience volunteering at the University of Minnesota Medical Center (UMMC) helped me gain an interest in contributing to health care, which led me to wanting to do research that would have an impact on human wellness and understanding of the human body. As a freshman in college, I had wanted to work on synthetically designing novel drugs so that I could use chemistry to help improve human health. Although I was planning to do strictly chemistry research, a guest speaker for my genetics freshman seminar said he had availability for undergraduates in his lab so I jumped on the opportunity. This was an important decision that caused my vision for my future research to involve a broader spectrum of science.

My first research lab experience was in Scott Fahrenkrug’s lab in the animal science department at the University of Minnesota, which incorporated quantitative genetics, functional genomics, and genetic engineering to design methods for specifically inducing homologous recombination to create mutations in DNA. This research was applied to the design of transgenic animals such as a pig model for cystic fibrosis and cows lacking the growth hormone inhibitor gene so that they would produce more muscle per animal to potentially produce more meat to supply the growing world population.

I was involved in the research by performing much of the manual lab work for the assistant professor and lab supervisor, Dan Carlson. I cloned plasmids and verified their identity by gel electrophoresis, isolated RNA from tissue samples, and grew cells, lysed them and analyzed their DNA by PCR. I was able to learn vast amounts about the process of research and how my work contributed despite my limited knowledge of genetics and biochemistry that made it difficult to completely understand the mechanism by which we were pursuing our goal. I eventually understood how everything was connected in the lab: I made plasmids that were designed by Dan who would then put them into pig or cow cells to express the sequence-specific homologous recombination-inducing restriction enzymes that were either zinc-finger nucleases or transcription activator-like endonucleases (TALENs). The cells modified by these restriction enzymes had the potential to be cloned into animals to determine the effectiveness of the mutations.

I volunteered in the lab for the summer after my freshman year of college and was hired as a lab technician for the remainder of my time in the lab. Working in this lab helped me appreciate biology from a chemist’s perspective almost to the point that I felt like more of a biologist than a chemist. This experience made me excited about my future biochemistry and genetics classes where I was finally able to understand the general mechanisms of the protocols performed in the lab. By having applied a wide range of protocols, I found it easier to learn the biochemical mechanisms behind the research. This also made me more interested in topics related to our work in genetic engineering such as the possibility of using siRNA or miRNA to selectively turn off or reduce translation of certain proteins that could be potential methods for selectively targeting cancer cells based on their mutations. I learned to value the biological techniques involved in the lab’s research even though I do not want to focus my research on genetic engineering of transgenic animals.

Because I want to more directly contribute my work to medical research and utilize my chemistry background, I sought another lab position that would give me an opportunity to begin preparing myself for such a career. Therefore, I joined Natalia Treyakova’s medicinal chemistry research group in the cancer research center at the University of Minnesota in my junior year of college. The primary goal of the lab is to understand the role of DNA adducts in carcinogenesis by using the tools of mass spectrometry, organic synthesis, biochemistry, molecular biology, and computational chemistry.

My experience in this lab has helped me grow as an independent researcher because I was able to quickly comprehend concepts due to my strong chemistry background and previous experience in a genetic engineering lab. This experience helped me quickly become more independent in the lab. It has also improved my ability to communicate my results to others and practice creativity by designing my own project, going to lab meetings, presenting my research, participating in journal club, writing reports for Professor Tretyakova, troubleshooting, and receiving feedback from the other lab members.

When I started in the lab, I was placed to work with Teshome Gherezghiher, a post-doctoral student, to help him with his work on cyclophosphamide, a prodrug of a DNA alkylating agent, nornitrogen mustard. I learned how to perform the fundamental techniques used in the lab such as high-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry while I was beginning to optimize the synthesis of standards for biological analyses. These standards had already been described in the literature, but I worked for four months to alter the reaction conditions to increase the yield of the reaction. I also synthesized an additional standard from one of the products of the reaction that had not been synthesized in the lab before and was not well characterized.

Over time, I have begun to understand how my work has contributed to more advanced analytical techniques. These standards are used to not only quantify the adduct formation and repair in cell lines in vivo, but they are also being used to quantify adduct formation in leukocytes isolated from donated blood that are treated with the drug. This can potentially be used in an ex vivo test in the clinic. Developing such a test to quantify adduct formation will hopefully contribute to personalized dosing of the drug, which is important because it has been shown that the sensitivity of the drug varies; this is the case in Fanconi Anemia patients who require a much smaller dose than other cancer patients without the disease to have the same amount of adduct formation because there are more defects in their DNA repair mechanisms. Without proper dosing of the drug, higher sensitivity patients may experience more severe side effects.

In addition to contributing to Teshome’s work on cyclophosphamide, I took on a project from a previous graduate student in the lab, Xun Ming, to study the occurrence of protein-DNA cross-links induced by cisplatin and their potential to facilitate mutagenicity and cytotoxicity. To our knowledge, cisplatin has not been previously shown to form mutagenic DNA-protein adducts. In his thesis, Xun showed how he had studied a cisplatin cross-link between lysine and guanine; he was successful at synthesizing a standard and was able to observe the cross-link in cells treated with the drug. He also wanted to search for guanine-cysteine cross-links that he determined to exist. Although he tried to synthesize a novel standard for the guanine-cysteine adduct, he struggled with its stability. Since December 2011, I have been trying to optimize a multi-step synthesis and purification method for this molecule.

When I synthesize and purify the standard without degradation, I will be continuing my research to search for the cross-link in cancer cell lines. Xun had hypothesized the cysteine-guanine cross-links migrate to guanine-guanine cross-links though the rate is unknown. The migration is believed to only occur with cross-links involving cysteine, but the formation of the specific adduct has not been confirmed. Observing the stability of the conjugate in cells will help determine whether the DNA-protein conjugates could potentially have a mutagenic effect. Also, verifying the formation of such cross-links in cells could help explain the effectiveness of the drug in certain kinds of tumors such as sarcomas, lymphomas, and some carcinomas based on protein interactions.

My research experiences have motivated me to learn more about cancer and become passionate about understanding its mechanisms and improving its treatment. Cancer is an incredibly complex disease; every cancer involves different genetic mutations resulting in alterations in the expression and structure of proteins – these mutations even vary within individual tumors. I am optimistic about the possibility to take advantage of these modifications to create personalized medicines that selectively target cancer cells to more efficiently and effectively treat cancer.

I plan on utilizing my undergraduate research experiences to propel myself into more advanced cancer research emphasizing in pharmacology and medicinal chemistry to contribute to the development of more specific anticancer medicines. I am inspired by the development of medicines such as the breast cancer drug Herceptin that targets cells containing a large abundance of the Her2 receptor that is characteristic of some breast cancers. Herceptin uses an antibody and has improved the survival rate of patients with Her2+ breast cancer. There have been some great advancement recently in more personalized cancer treatment such as with the design of Herceptin and I want to be a part of the discovery of new drug targets and the design of novel anticancer drugs. Researching novel ways to personalize medicines will combine my interests in the biology fostered in the genetic engineering lab and the chemical aspects of my research in the medicinal chemistry lab to contribute to improving the treatment of cancer.

Featured image: Instagram | Hanna Erickson (@MDPhDToBe)