Editing the medical school personal statement

Here are some additional tips on editing the personal statement

  • When you have to cut out words, consider every sentence and ask yourself this question: does this sentence (or word) help the admissions committee member reading your personal statement want to give you an interview?
  • It is good to be honest, but there is no need to be overly frank about every motivation behind your activities.
  • Again, show, don’t tell. Instead of saying I am compassionate, show this side of you with an anecdote.

Here is an example of a rough draft of a paragraph prior to undergoing editing:

Nonetheless, I began to volunteer at Hospital X because I thought that this is what I “should” be doing. I did not feel that I was truly making a difference and had no idea why I was volunteering. I wanted to quit so badly until I watched an endoscopy procedure performed on an 87-year old lady. As the instrument traversed the patient’s throat and deep into the GI tract, the frowning on the poor old lady’s face made me feel incredibly uneasy. The geriatric patient was so frail that her wheezing plea to have it removed remotely resembled that of a human. Fortunately, she did not have any duodenal ulcers and I was glad she did not have any. The peptic ulcers that she did have were treated by local injection of epinephrine. As fascinating as it was to see the lumen of a human organ, it was really sad to see how much discomfort the patient had to cope with. There were 10 ulcers dispersed throughout the stomach. I simply could not even imagine how painful it would be to have them inside the stomach, ulcers that cause bleeding. Nonetheless, I realized how important interpersonal skills are. Being able to comfort a patient as much as possible, reassuring that everything will be okay. I noticed the little things that the doctor did the calm the patient – firmly holding hands, gently stroking the patient’s calf to soothe her, saying encouraging words to help her battle through the procedure.


  • First two sentences: This is probably the truth, but there is no need to be this frank.
  • The positives: very descriptive
  • Some grammatical mistakes
  • The sentence about peptic ulcers and how exactly it was treated is not essential. It does not help the reader understand why they should select you for interviews.
  • “Sad” is very primitive. Better word choice can engage the reader more.
  • “gently stroking the patient’s calf to soothe her” – now, this may very well have happened, but it is important to be careful with word choice. You do not want the reader to suddenly think he/she is reading something out of some inappropriate genre of novels.
  • Some showing going on here.

Here is what it looks after (several rounds of) editing:

With my refined interests in medicine, I wanted to apply my developing interpersonal skills in a clinical setting so I decided to volunteer at Hospital X. One day at the ICU, I jumped at the chance to observe an endoscopy. As the endoscope snaked down Mrs. J’s throat, her face contorted into a grimace. I silently grew frustrated waiting for someone to address her wheezing plea to have it removed. Finally a doctor gently placed a hand on my shoulder, gesturing me to step back, and only then did I realize I had instinctively inched towards Mrs. J. The doctor began to encourage her verbally and massage her arms to assuage her pain. It was clear that this doctor had done an incredible job by the look of relief and gratitude she now wore on her face. This doctor not only treated the peptic ulcer, she also treated Mrs. J by expressing empathy through the art of healing. This art, in combination with my research, has ignited a desire to learn more about medicine as a union of science and human interaction.

  • We incorporated more descriptive words (e.g. ‘snake’, ‘contorted into a grimace’)
  • We removed sentences that did not add value
  • We incorporated a theme to the personal statement that had not existed before.
  • We “showed” a compassionate side of the applicant rather than simply stating “I am compassionate.”
  • Some of the sentences from the original paragraph could have stayed, but they were removed due to character limit constraints.

If you would like professional help with editing your personal statement, help from physicians who have admissions committee experience from schools like UCSF, please visit our main webpage for more information: http://www.road2md.com/#services

Posted in Personal Statement

How to write a personal statement for medical schools

The personal statement is somewhat important. Why this qualifier in particular? Because the middle 60-80% won’t make a difference. However, the top 10-20% of personal statements will really help distinguish your application from the rest of the pack and the bottom 10-20% of personal statements will really make the reader question your application. With that said, it would behoove you to take this very seriously. Your MCAT, GPA are all set, but this is the one aspect of your application that you can still improve.

General tips for writing the personal statement:

  • The first draft should be longer than the maximum limit (5300 character limit, 2015)
    • Always easier to cut the fat than it is to expand
  • Read many well-written articles with good rhetoric
    • You’ll need to pick up good rhetoric to be a good writer; you’ll be surprised by how much you pick up via osmosis.
    • Since you don’t have a lot of time, make it count by reading articles that will also help you for interviews
      • New Yorker
      • NY Times
      • Find common list of topics, current events (esp. the controversial one)
  • Show, don’t tell — Convey your strengths with stories and examples without explicitly saying it yourself
    • “I’m compassionate and empathetic” vs. a very descriptive anecdote that conveys these traits through your actions and reflections.
  • Might be easier to just write it all at once after brainstorming


  • What is the theme of your application?
  • Most Important: Why did you choose medicine?
    • Any unique life experience that led you to medicine?
    • How did you confirm your interest in medicine? But don’t get so lost in this that the why becomes unclear
    • How important is research from your perspective?
    • Any specific career goals? Research-clinician, public health, health administrator
  • Any activities particularly meaningful to you?
  • Anything that makes you stand out?
    • Athlete?
    • Hardship?
    • Different background?
    • Unique accomplishment?
  • Any clinical experience/anecdote that is particularly meaningful to you?
    • What did you learn from this experience?
  • Attention grabber.
    • Do a mini survey to see how successful your attention grabber was
    • Think of structure:
      • Chronological vs. essay
    • Include a few hard accomplishments you want to mention without tooting your horn.
      • Research publication?
      • Award for your student organization?

Do not:

  • Include philosophical statements about what a doctor should or should not be.
  • Make it look like your resume
  • Make statements about how kind and compassionate you are – let the letter writers do this for you. Words coming from them have way more credibility than self-ascribed adjectives.


  • Assess the quality of attention grabber
  • Does it flow?
  • Does everything fit into the theme?
  • Does it explain the primary question – why medicine
  • Does this make it convincing? Will an admissions committee member reading this want to know more about you?
  • Did you use any words outside of what you normally say?
  • Any clichés?
  • Any redundant sentence structure (e.g., “In light of this, I did x, y, z. Because I wanted to this after, I did x, y, z.)? Any words used repeatedly?
  • Did you make any sweeping generalization? If so, did you back it up with specifics? If not, better to remove it
  • Did you show all your hands? If so, you may want to hold back saying a few things
    • Make the reader want to read more in the rest of your AMCAS
  • Is it memorable? (For good reasons)
    • The reader should be able to remember your personal statement after reading 10-20 and say, oh yea, the fella who did X, Y, Z.


  • Revise over and over again, and again
  • Put it down for a few days and come back to it
  • Edit until you don’t think it can be any better
  • Have someone with experience reading personal statement for medical school read it. Why?
    • You may not realize that something should not be in your personal statement
    • You may think it is good but it may not be ready
    • Subpar personal statement may give schools an excuse to not give you a secondary/interview. When so many applications are stellar, it gets to a point where schools almost have to look for reasons not to give you a secondary/interview.
Posted in Personal Statement

How to prepare for medical school interviews – Part II.

We cover the importance of the medical school interview for receiving that acceptance letter, importance of feedback for mock interviews, and sample questions for the traditional format.

How important is the interview?
A lot more important than most applicants think. Take it from Dr. Quinn Capers IV, MD, the Associate Dean for Admissions in the College of Medicine at The Ohio State University. “I have screened thousands of applications, presided over admissions committee meetings in which the disposition of, collectively, hundreds of student applicants have been decided, and personally interviewed many applicants to our College. One of the most frustrating experiences in this job is to watch a student with excellent credentials, who I strongly suspect will make an excellent physician, go down in flames in the interview. It is clear that some students have been coached on the interview process and others have not. It is definitely an advantage to put some serious thought and preparation into the interview, since medical schools generally only extend interviews to students who appear to have the right stuff to succeed. Translation: if you get offered an interview, there is a chair in that school’s first-year medical school class with your name on it. Based on your performance in the interview, you will either claim it or give it away.”

Can’t I just prepare by going to as many interviews as I can?
Yes and no. You learn to be less nervous and you become more articulate when answering interview questions. However, the one thing you do not get from any of these real interviews is feedback. You could be making the same mistake at every interview and not know. Doing the same thing that does not work repeatedly is the definition of insanity. Don’t be insane. Be sane. Be strategic. Be prepared.

Why is feedback important?
One applicant received about 12 interviews but no acceptance. Turns out he kind of laughs when he is nervous and rubbed interviewers the wrong way. He was clearly not aware of this. He only found out through his mentor who knew someone that had interviewed him. If he had done mock interviews with useful feedback (keywords: useful feedback), he may not have had to re-apply and spend thousands of dollars again. Don’t sell yourself short. Make sure you get some mock interviews in to filter out potential deal-breakers like these. Many career centers offer free mock interviews. While they aren’t physicians who have experience interviewing applicants like yourself, they are certainly better than nothing. We also offer a free 20-minute mock-interview session. Sign up here.

Okay, so here are some basic traditional interview questions that you definitely should be prepared to answer.

Why medicine? Followed by… “Okay, that’s your rehearsed answer. Tell me why you really want to go into medicine.”
–  Arguably the most important question. Make sure this is polished. Make sure you get feedback from multiple people.
Why should we take you?
Why do you want to come here?
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
What do you do with your free time?
If you can’t be a doctor, what would you do instead?
What is a stressful situation that you have encountered and how did you deal with it?
Give me examples of mistakes that you have made and how you dealt with and resolved them.
Anything in your application we haven’t discussed that you want to discuss?
Tell me more about ____ (in your application).
What would you do in… (some ethical situation)?

Less high-yield
What was the last book you read?
What is a historical figure that best exemplifies you?
Who are your mentors?
What was your most embarrassing moment?
What is the stupidest/riskiest thing you’ve ever done?

Make sure to go through all of these questions and most importantly, have someone you trust give you feedback on your answers. If you’d like, you can sign up for a free 20-minute mock interview session here.

Next post: Multiple Mini Interview (MMI). Despite what some people say, you can definitely do a lot to prepare for it ahead of time. We’ll cover different types of stations you may encounter and how to approach them.

– Jiwon


Posted in Medical School Interview Preparation

What can I do to receive a medical school interview?

You check your email. No interview invite. You check SDN and see other premeds getting interview invites. You check your email again. Still nothing. You pout and repeat this the next day. Do NOT be this premed. There is a lot you can do!


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Posted in Misc.

How to Prepare for Interviews

How important are interviews? It literally makes or breaks your chances of being accepted. You can have a 3.9 and 37 from UC Berkeley and be rejected by most medical schools. Alternatively, a 3.7 and 33 may be enough to land you an interview at your top school, which if you rock, can get you in. So read on! 

List of questions
Make a word document of a list of common questions you might be asked. These are all over SDN. The obvious question you should have reflected on for a few years is why medicine. You should have a physician, like a former admissions committee member, who is trained to dissect your reasons for wanting to pursue medicine. Review this list before every interview.

List of topics
Related to the list of questions, but there are general topics that you should be prepared to have a knowledgeable conversation about. End of life. Health care reform. ALS ice bucket challenge. Lebron James going back home. You know, current events.

Know your application
Read your AMCAS application again. There’s no doubt you’ll be asked about something on it, and you don’t want to be caught off guard. Go the extra mile and try to anticipate what kind of questions you might be asked. If you did research, prepare to be asked questions about it as if you are an MSTP applicant. Unlikely anyone will delve into your research that much, but if they do, you can really, really impress them. Also, practice explaining your research to people who don’t know much about your research.

Know the school
Read up as much as you can about the school. You show interest by demonstrating evidence of interest, not merely by saying “this is my top choice. I would love to come here.” Of course, prepare some questions you want to ask the interviewers. Real legitimate ones to help you and them decide, not just ones for the sake of asking questions.

What to wear
I think most people have this down by now, but the general rule is this: You want to be remembered for who you are as an applicant and not for what you wear. Don’t wear anything too fancy.

Avoid common mistakes
Here is a list of some good ones from SDN to get you started.

Mock Interview
Try to have someone with extensive experience interviewing applicants for medical school give you a mock interview. Your PI, if not an admissions officer, is good for helping you brush up on your research. Family/friends are less than ideal, but mock interview by them are better than nothing. You want the mock interview to be as realistic as possible. Ideally, you accomplish a three things: 1) practice answering questions out loud (more different than it seems rehearsing to yourself in the shower), 2) receive feedback on the content of your answers, and 3) receive feedback on your body language.   How you say things are sometimes more important than what you say. Everyone at the interview will all be very qualified. Learn how to distinguish yourself.

Practice smiling a lot
Sounds silly right? Think again — especially if you aren’t the super extroverted, bubbly type. Some of the best interviews I have had were with applicants who were just fun to talk to, and I noticed they smile easily. So spit your game. Show your swag. And remember to smile 😀 (but don’t go overboard).

More to come, like MMI or topics to read up on, but that’s it for now. Let me know if you have any questions!

– Jiwon
Email: jiwon@road2md.com


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Posted in Medical School Interview Preparation

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