• Kathleen Murphy

How to Write an Amazing Personal Statement Without Draining Your Brain or Bank Account

Dear pre-med students, no matter how far along you are in your journey to medical school, your reasons for wanting to become a doctor probably have not changed. For that reason, it is never too early to start writing your personal statement. I congratulate you on your dedication in preparing for this process sooner rather than later. This document was designed specifically by a pre-medical student, for other pre-medical students, however students preparing to apply for admission to other academic programs, may find this content useful as well.

As your editor, I have taken it upon myself to research what the differences will be (if any) for personal statement essay prompts when applying to MD vs. DO programs. I will cover that information briefly in this document. From there, I will give you my personal essay writing formula. This simple step-by-step process I have perfected over the years has given me a strong foundation to achieve success in both my academic ventures and writing career. Before reading further, it is important to note that writing is a process, not a project. So, whether you breezed through English coursework in college, or are terrified at the sound of a pen hitting paper, this document is sure to help all writers of all levels. Let’s get started!

Will the application process be the same for DO and MD schools?

It is my understanding that one must complete applications through AACOMAS, and AMCAS if they wish to apply to both DO and MD programs. According to my research, there is no duplicate application service option available that will allow you to apply to both DO and MD programs simultaneously. A key concept to note here is that both programs offer different approaches to medicine. It is highly advisable that one researches and understands the difference between MD vs DO, because that ought to be addressed in a personal statement. In my personal experience as a pre-med student, I have met other students who were applying to a DO program as a last resort, based on their stats. However, perhaps that is not something that should be shared in a personal statement. The following is a list of organizations relative to the type of doctor one wishes to become, when applying to medical school:

AACOMAS is for DO schools

AMCAS is for MD schools

TMDSAS is exclusively for Texas Medical Schools

The personal statement is to be a maximum of 5,300 characters in length. A quick internet search will show you that the AAMC prompt for a personal statement will ask the very simple question “Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.” Although this question may seem vague, it also gives you the freedom to write about anything that really inspired or challenged you. It may also be helpful to use the prompt as a way to explain specifically why you would like to be a DO or MD, and showcase through your writing that you truly understand the difference and are attracted to one over the other due to personal experiences and/or preferences. Now that you have a good idea as to whether you want to apply to DO programs, MD programs, or both, it is time to start preparing yourself for writing the personal statement. The following information will be presented in a step-by-step format to help you navigate this process with ease.

Step 1:

Understand who your audience is in order to understand what your role is as a writer. I have been a writer under many roles. Whether typing out bland medical reports at my clinic or writing a heartfelt note expressing my condolences to the family members of a recently passed patient, it is always crucial to understand your role as a writer. With personal statements, you are not just writing in paragraphs what your CV/resume already says, you are on a mission to explain to your audience why you would be an exceptional doctor. Make it your goal to write such a powerful statement, that the person reading it truly believes the school would be missing out without having you in attendance.

“I start with a question. Then try to answer it.” – Mary Lee Settle

Step 2:

A huge pitfall for many writers is worrying what other people think about them. I personally was not a stellar high school student, I got into a lot of trouble, and my high school counselor told me to skip right past university and into a vocational program. I did not start dreaming of medicine until I was 19 years old, and having achieved certification as a Nurse Aide, began working the nightshift at a care home. My younger sibling at the time was deep in the thick of his drug abuse, so much so that I was terrified of going home. The police were always at our house. I hated going home so much that I began to accept double shifts working overnight at the care home (from 11pm-7am). It was in those multiple 16-hour shifts that I began to fall in love with patient care, and for the first time in my life I realized that I could be a great college student because I now had both motivation and direction. One of the hardest times in my life turned into one of the best things that ever happened to me. I truly believe that if I had never been motivated to find somewhere safe to pass the night hours, I may have never realized my passion for taking care of others. I know that this is such a huge part of my story, but for the longest time it was incredibly difficult to talk about because I felt like I was putting my family down. If you struggle with sharing something difficult that you went through but also really want to include it in your personal statement, I would invite you to take a different perspective on the issue. Do no worry about what other people will think of you, think in more positive terms. Perhaps your story will really impact one of the readers, and the authenticity and fearlessness of you telling the truth will shine through the application. I have heard students describe their personal statement to me as “cringeworthy” or “embarrassing”, but to that I just smile and say, “hey if you lived through it, then you are the best person to write about it.”

“The secret of good writings is telling the truth.” – Gordon Lish

Step 3.

When you sit down to write your essay, do not write your essay! This is an easy way to overwhelm or discourage yourself. Before making a first attempt at a rough draft, it is essential that you brainstorm. I personally grab my favorite cup of joe, set my timer for 7-10 minutes and tell myself to not stop writing. Get anything and everything that is in your mind onto the paper. The mistake that many writers make is thinking that this is a waste of time. However, I find it to be an incredible time saver. After my brainstorm, I grab a highlighter and am always pleasantly surprised with the notes jotted down when I was writing to fast to allow myself time to think. Through this process I have found great ways to lead into my core topic, develop my thesis, or have a general direction with which to start writing.

“Write as if your life depends on it. Because someone else’s life just might.” – Kathleen Murphy

Step 4.

Now that you have made up your mind to write fearlessly and have had enough discipline to brainstorm a solid 7-10 minutes of ideas, it is time to construct your skeleton essay. This is a simple format to help structure your writing, and the way in which you apply the skeleton is totally up to you. I found this method incredibly useful when I was studying for my BA in Spanish. I never could have guessed I would be feeling overwhelmed with a writing assignment, but the 15-page literary research project to be written and researched completely in Spanish, and required for my senior project in college, really threw me into a panic. By the second week of the class I was feeling the stress and wrote to my professor an e-mail filled with worry and insecurities. The e-mail included information such as “Spanish is my second language, everything feels backwards, and I have no idea how to organize this!” I expected words of encouragement and some helpful hints on what baby steps to take, but her simple nine-word response would prove to impact me so greatly that it eventually reinvented the way that I write everything. Her e-mail suggested “Write about what you are going to write about.”

After a few more e-mails, I had a good idea of how to write a rough draft for the rough draft before approaching my final draft. With a blank sheet of paper, I wrote the following:

Skeleton Essay, Draft 1


Paragraph 1, Introduction + Thesis:

Paragraph 2: Develop point 1 of thesis…

Well, you get the picture. I wrote out the structure of a basic 5 paragraph essay, then went back and filled in the blanks. In each labeled section, I wrote about what I was going to write about. Of course, being that my writing project was a 15-page research paper, I revised the skeleton method as needed. In another document I will go into further detail as to how to save hours of time through writing out your own structure of a skeleton essay. Structuring your writing in the form of the ‘skeleton essay’ is doing more than half of the work for what needs to be accomplished. From there, it is all about inputting cleaned up sentences from your brainstorm into the appropriate sections of the skeleton structure.

“Sit down to write what you have thought, and not to think about what you shall write.”

- William Cobbett

Step 5.

At this point in your writing journey, you have brainstormed at least 2-3 pages of material, and you have also constructed your skeleton essay. It is time to start inputting information. This is often a very rewarding part of writing, because it is the part when all the preparatory work starts to pay off. Where your skeleton essay say’s “introduction sentence”, write an introduction sentence. Where your skeleton essay say’s “thesis sentence”, input a thesis sentence. Remember that this is your first rough draft, and you will make changes as needed. Even if you are not sure what fits or does not fit, just keep inputting the information. It is easier to know if a painting on your wall is hanging correctly, once you put it on the nails, and take a few steps back to assess how it looks.

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” – E.M. Forster

Step 6.

From brainstorming, to editing the final draft of this document, I have taken multiple breaks. It is important once you complete your rough draft, to walk away from it. Even the most experienced writers will come back in a few hours, or another day, and realize that they misspelled something, or there is awkward sentence structuring that needs to be improved. This is also another reason why starting the writing process early is very important. Once you have taken a necessary break (or several), it is time to take your written document through the editing process that takes your personal statement from a rough draft to a final draft.

“All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary – it’s just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences.” – Somerest Maugham

Step 7.

This is the final step of the personal statement writing process. If you have followed along with me this far, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this document, as well as to wish you the best of luck on the rest of your application journey. After you have written your rough draft, and then edited it to the best of your ability, it is time to seek the second opinion of another writer. This is a very crucial part of completing your writing project, and my most sincere advice is to be selective about who will proofread and comment for you. Family and peers can potentially be a great option if they have not been out of practice with their reading and writing skills. I personally find it better to ask a peer or even hire an editor. I launched my writing, editing, and content development business “Great Editations” (trademark pending) with the intent of taking on healthcare related projects, however I was surprised to find many students contacting me to help develop their writing projects. I am always happy to help students as time permits. However, there are also other resources out there including your school library, or even hiring a freelance writer on Upwork, or Fiverr. Whatever method you chose, it is essential that before submitting your personal statement, step 7 is put into practice.

“Pre-medical students chose Great Editations…

Because every future doctor needs a second opinion.” – Kathleen Murphy


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