(Please scroll down for additional information about personal statements and how to review your personal statement with the USF Writing Studio)
There are two types of essays for Health Profession Programs:
- The Personal Statement (or sometimes called The Essay) which accompanies the primary application, commonly submitted through a centralized application system such as AMCAS, AADSAS, VMCAS, PTCAS, etc.
- The Admissions Essays (sometimes called the Secondary Essays) which accompany secondary applications, if offered.
The Personal Statement (The Essay)
The intent of the essay is to give you the opportunity to explain why you are a good candidate for professional school. Remember that you are competing with hundreds and sometimes thousands of candidates. Your essay should focus on your unique qualities. It should give a reader a good sense of who you are and why you are interested in professional school. It is important that the essay be well written and interesting, and that it conforms to the space requirements. Good essays articulate why you what to be a healthcare provider and why they should pick you (over all others). They also tend to have the following characteristics:
- Reveal an understanding of your personality traits
- Focus on a few events or persons who have influenced you, especially in your decision to pursue a health profession
- Explain the effects of that influence
- Maintain the readers interest
The Admissions Essays (The Secondary Essays)
Most secondary applications will include additional essays. These are likely to fall under one of the following categories:
- Essays about yourself and your activities
- Essays on why you are interested in a particular school
- Essays asking you to respond to a thought-provoking statement or contemporary problem
A well-written essay requires thought and effort. The process outlined here is well established and worthwhile. In order to help you in your journey the Division of Health Professions Advising has developed the information below and encourages you to review all of the following PRIOR to starting your first draft:
- Crafting a Personal Statement
- Interactive, Online Personal Statement Workshop (offered by the University of Minnesota at no cost)
- Pre-Recorded Workshops (View recorded workshops tab)
- The information provided below.
Reflect and Assess
Consider the following questions:
- Have you fully researched your intended health profession? If not, what else do you need to know? If so, how holistically competitive are you (more than simply GPA and test scores)?
- How/why did you develop an interest in medicine (dentistry, pharmacy, etc.)?
- What is your motivation for pursuing medicine (dentistry, pharmacy, etc.)? Are they mature rather than pediatric? (pediatric reasons: because I like to help people, because I am good at science)
- What experiences helped you grow in your understanding of the field? How?
- How can you display you knowledge about the profession?
- What examples can you provide about your humanistic capacity?
- What is it specifically about medicine (dental, pharmacy, etc.) that will allow you to serve others?
- What skills/characteristics do you embody that make you a good fit? Do they align with the AAMC competencies?
- What goals and values are important to you in the successful practice of your profession?
- How is your personality suited for this profession?
- What sets you apart from other applicants (i.e. special talents, languages, hobbies, recognition)? Why will these activities make you a better healthcare provider?
- Does your GPA/test score reflect your academic potential? Why or why not?
If needed, how do you explain incompletes, withdrawals, and repeated courses? (don’t make excuses)
- What is your vision for the future of your intended profession? How will you make a positive contribution?
Determine Your Theme
The personal statement should be YOUR story and, therefore, the theme YOU choose will be personal. There is no one “best” theme but you may wish to consider your relationships, experiences, and events as a guide. Additionally, some students may have more than one overarching theme.
Organizing Your Statement/Telling Your Story
Now that you have your theme(s), you can begin to outline your story. Remember that all statements should have a strong opening (preferably with a hook), clear themes in the body, and a conclusion.
The opening should set the tone for the entire essay (written equivalent of a first impression), should be POSITIVE (no slug to butterfly stories) all while introducing the themes you will explore throughout your statement.
The body should consist of 3-5 key experiences or achievements you want to highlight that support the theme. For each paragraph consider using the P.E.E.L. technique, explained as such:
The conclusion should tie together the themes you introduced in your introduction with the stories/examples provided in the body of your statement.
Write a draft of your essay. Let the questions you asked above guide your writing. Be sure to include your thoughts and emotions. Be vivid, and use good description.
- Be Clear, Concise, Complete:
-You do not have much space, so avoid “filler” in your sentences (Ex: “at this point in time” vs. “now”)
- Be specific and explain yourself:
- You should know more than a lay-person about the medical field and this should come through in your statement. Ex: Instead of saying “my shadowing experience taught me the importance of good doctor-patient communication,” explain what exactly you learned using relevant examples and reflection. Break down medical concepts into your own specific observations.
- Show, Don’t Tell:
- In other words, demonstrate, rather than list, your personal attributes.
- Generally only include recent activities when describing extra-curriculars (college and beyond).
- Move on quickly from your earliest motivations to become a doctor:
- Write from the viewpoint of an adult whose experiences and education have given you a mature and realistic understanding of the field, its nuances and its challenges.
- Use active voice, use strong verbs, and vary your sentence structure.
-Lecturing your readers on what their job is
-Using shock value or overly dramatic language
-Criticism of the profession you are trying to join
-Using clichés, abstractions or generalities
-Grandiosity, negativity, humor, controversial topics, arrogance, excuses, assuming the role of the victim, lies, leading with a quote from someone else (they want to know what you have to say), an “epiphany into medicine” (the decision should be the result of thoughtful decisions), and/or that you have “always known” you would be a good physician.
Review and Rewrite
Once you have a draft written, ask the following questions:
- Did you answer the essay prompt provided (if applicable)?
- What 2-3 clear qualities/characteristics (about you) would a potential admissions committee identify? Are they quality? Some possibilities: maturity, passion, logic, commitment, ability to relate to diverse cultures, compassion/empathy, genuineness, leadership, enthusiasm, self-awareness, perseverance/commitment.
- Was humanism highlighted? In the words of Dr. Specter from the Morsani College of Medicine, “Patients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
- Did you support the assertions you make about yourself with examples?
- How was the flow? Did you get hung up on any words, sentences?
- Did you adhere to the word limit? If not, what changes can be made to do so?
- Does the introduction grab attention?
- Would dialogue or conversation help?
- Will the reader understand why/how you have been influenced?
- Were any irregularities in your academic record adequately explained?
- Did you conclude or just quit?
Then get to work on your next draft!
You should have multiple drafts- most quality statements have gone through at least 7 drafts over a period of many month! Hence, do not wait until the last minute! And remember, you cannot have enough proofreading!
Proofread: Use the spell and grammar checker in your word-processing program. Have someone else read the essay for clarity and grammar. Have someone who does not know you well read the essay for content and interest. When you give the essay to someone for proofreading, give him or her a copy that is double-spaced so there is room to write. In proofreading, look for the following common problems:
- Grammar (appropriate use of words, sentence structure)
- Punctuation (especially commas, colons, and semi-colons)
- Mechanics (capital letters, spelling, hyphens)
- Word choice (appropriate, concise, apolitical)
- Syntax (word order)
- Vocabulary (if you use a thesaurus, be careful that you know what the word means)
Tips for Better Essays:
- Accurately follow any instructions, including rules about font size and space.
- Use most or all of the space provided. A very short essay may suggest arrogance, overconfidence, or laziness.
- Be sure that someone qualified reads the essay. Ask the reviewers to note the following:
- Grammar/spelling errors
- What impression does the essay give?
- Avoid gimmicks like quoting odd poetry. Avoid the overused "I want to help people."
- If this is a re-application your essay should address progress you have made since
the first application, significant changes in grades, test scores, or personal growth,
and reasons you believe you are a better candidate this time around.
Personal Statement Reviews
After you have reviewed all information above and written multiple drafts, you may wish to take your personal statement to the USF Writing Studio. The Division of Health Professions Advising has partnered with the USF Writing Studio to offer personal statement reviews specifically for pre-health students. Please contact the USF Writing Studio to schedule an appointment with one of their consultants.
Even More Help
There are also several internet companies that will read and evaluate your essay for a fee. Although we do not recommend any of these sites for their services, their websites also have examples of what to do – and not do – in a good essay:
We hope that you have found this guide helpful. Please be sure to attend one of our workshops, and feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any further questions.