Sample Medical School Essays
This section contains two sample medical school essays
- Medical School Sample Essay One
- Medical School Sample Essay Two
Medical School Essay One
Prompt: What makes you an excellent candidate for medical school? Why do you want to become a physician?
When I was twelve years old, a drunk driver hit the car my mother was driving while I was in the backseat. I have very few memories of the accident, but I do faintly recall a serious but calming face as I was gently lifted out of the car. The paramedic held my hand as we traveled to the hospital. I was in the hospital for several weeks and that same paramedic came to visit me almost every day. During my stay, I also got to know the various doctors and nurses in the hospital on a personal level. I remember feeling anxiety about my condition, but not sadness or even fear. It seemed to me that those around me, particularly my family, were more fearful of what might happen to me than I was. I don’t believe it was innocence or ignorance, but rather a trust in the abilities of my doctors. It was as if my doctors and I had a silent bond. Now that I’m older I fear death and sickness in a more intense way than I remember experiencing it as a child. My experience as a child sparked a keen interest in how we approach pediatric care, especially as it relates to our psychological and emotional support of children facing serious medical conditions. It was here that I experienced first-hand the power and compassion of medicine, not only in healing but also in bringing unlikely individuals together, such as adults and children, in uncommon yet profound ways. And it was here that I began to take seriously the possibility of becoming a pediatric surgeon.
My interest was sparked even more when, as an undergraduate, I was asked to assist in a study one of my professors was conducting on how children experience and process fear and the prospect of death. This professor was not in the medical field; rather, her background is in cultural anthropology. I was very honored to be part of this project at such an early stage of my career. During the study, we discovered that children face death in extremely different ways than adults do. We found that children facing fatal illnesses are very aware of their condition, even when it hasn’t been fully explained to them, and on the whole were willing to fight their illnesses, but were also more accepting of their potential fate than many adults facing similar diagnoses. We concluded our study by asking whether and to what extent this discovery should impact the type of care given to children in contrast to adults. I am eager to continue this sort of research as I pursue my medical career. The intersection of medicine, psychology, and socialization or culture (in this case, the social variables differentiating adults from children) is quite fascinating and is a field that is in need of better research.
Although much headway has been made in this area in the past twenty or so years, I feel there is a still a tendency in medicine to treat diseases the same way no matter who the patient is. We are slowly learning that procedures and drugs are not always universally effective. Not only must we alter our care of patients depending upon these cultural and social factors, we may also need to alter our entire emotional and psychological approach to them as well.
It is for this reason that I’m applying to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, as it has one of the top programs for pediatric surgery in the country, as well as several renowned researchers delving into the social, generational, and cultural questions in which I’m interested. My approach to medicine will be multidisciplinary, which is evidenced by the fact that I’m already double-majoring in early childhood psychology and pre-med, with a minor in cultural anthropology. This is the type of extraordinary care that I received as a child—care that seemed to approach my injuries with a much larger and deeper picture than that which pure medicine cannot offer—and it is this sort of care I want to provide my future patients. I turned what might have been a debilitating event in my life—a devastating car accident—into the inspiration that has shaped my life since. I am driven and passionate. And while I know that the pediatric surgery program at Johns Hopkins will likely be the second biggest challenge I will face in my life, I know that I am up for it. I am ready to be challenged and prove to myself what I’ve been telling myself since that fateful car accident: I will be a doctor.
Medical School Essay Two
Prompt: Where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?
If you had told me ten years ago that I would be writing this essay and planning for yet another ten years into the future, part of me would have been surprised. I am a planner and a maker of to-do lists, and it has always been my plan to follow in the steps of my father and become a physician. This plan was derailed when I was called to active duty to serve in Iraq as part of the War on Terror.
I joined the National Guard before graduating high school and continued my service when I began college. My goal was to receive training that would be valuable for my future medical career, as I was working in the field of emergency health care. It was also a way to help me pay for college. When I was called to active duty in Iraq for my first deployment, I was forced to withdraw from school, and my deployment was subsequently extended. I spent a total of 24 months deployed overseas, where I provided in-the-field medical support to our combat troops. While the experience was invaluable not only in terms of my future medical career but also in terms of developing leadership and creative thinking skills, it put my undergraduate studies on hold for over two years. Consequently, my carefully-planned journey towards medical school and a medical career was thrown off course. Thus, while ten-year plans are valuable, I have learned from experience how easily such plans can dissolve in situations that are beyond one’s control, as well as the value of perseverance and flexibility.
Eventually, I returned to school. Despite my best efforts to graduate within two years, it took me another three years, as I suffered greatly from post-traumatic stress disorder following my time in Iraq. I considered abandoning my dream of becoming a physician altogether, since I was several years behind my peers with whom I had taken biology and chemistry classes before my deployment. Thanks to the unceasing encouragement of my academic advisor, who even stayed in contact with me when I was overseas, I gathered my strength and courage and began studying for the MCAT. To my surprise, my score was beyond satisfactory and while I am several years behind my original ten-year plan, I am now applying to Brown University’s School of Medicine.
I can describe my new ten-year plan, but I will do so with both optimism and also caution, knowing that I will inevitably face unforeseen complications and will need to adapt appropriately. One of the many insights I gained as a member of the National Guard and by serving in war-time was the incredible creativity medical specialists in the Armed Forces employ to deliver health care services to our wounded soldiers on the ground. I was part of a team that was saving lives under incredibly difficult circumstances—sometimes while under heavy fire and with only the most basic of resources. I am now interested in how I can use these skills to deliver health care in similar circumstances where basic medical infrastructure is lacking. While there is seemingly little in common between the deserts of Fallujah and rural Wyoming, where I’m currently working as a volunteer first responder in a small town located more than 60 miles from the nearest hospital, I see a lot of potential uses for the skills that I gained as a National Guardsman. As I learned from my father, who worked with Doctors Without Borders for a number of years, there is quite a bit in common between my field of knowledge from the military and working in post-conflict zones. I feel I have a unique experience from which to draw as I embark on my medical school journey, experiences that can be applied both here and abroad.
In ten years’ time, I hope to be trained in the field of emergency medicine, which, surprisingly, is a specialization that is actually lacking here in the United States as compared to similarly developed countries. I hope to conduct research in the field of health care infrastructure and work with government agencies and legislators to find creative solutions to improving access to emergency facilities in currently underserved areas of the United States, with an aim towards providing comprehensive policy reports and recommendations on how the US can once again be the world leader in health outcomes. While the problems inherent in our health care system are not one-dimensional and require a dynamic approach, one of the solutions as I see it is to think less in terms of state-of-the-art facilities and more in terms of access to primary care. Much of the care that I provide as a first responder and volunteer is extremely effective and also relatively cheap. More money is always helpful when facing a complex social and political problem, but we must think of solutions above and beyond more money and more taxes. In ten years I want to be a key player in the health care debate in this country and offering innovative solutions to delivering high quality and cost-effective health care to all our nation’s citizens, especially to those in rural and otherwise underserved areas.
Of course, my policy interests do not replace my passion for helping others and delivering emergency medicine. As a doctor, I hope to continue serving in areas of the country that, for one reason or another, are lagging behind in basic health care infrastructure. Eventually, I would also like to take my knowledge and talents abroad and serve in the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders.
In short, I see the role of physicians in society as multifunctional: they are not only doctors who heal, they are also leaders, innovators, social scientists, and patriots. Although my path to medical school has not always been the most direct, my varied and circuitous journey has given me a set of skills and experiences that many otherwise qualified applicants lack. I have no doubt that the next ten years will be similarly unpredictable, but I can assure you that no matter what obstacles I face, my goal will remain the same. I sincerely hope to begin the next phase of my journey at Brown University. Thank you for your kind attention.
To learn more about what to expect from the study of medicine, check out our Study Medicine in the US section.
Tips for a Successful Medical School Essay
- If you’re applying through AMCAS, remember to keep your essay more general rather than tailored to a specific medical school, because your essay will be seen by multiple schools.
- AMCAS essays are limited to 5300 characters—not words! This includes spaces.
- Make sure the information you include in your essay doesn't conflict with the information in your other application materials.
- In general, provide additional information that isn’t found in your other application materials. Look at the essay as an opportunity to tell your story rather than a burden.
- Keep the interview in mind as you write. You will most likely be asked questions regarding your essay during the interview, so think about the experiences you want to talk about.
- When you are copying and pasting from a word processor to the AMCAS application online, formatting and font will be lost. Don’t waste your time making it look nice. Be sure to look through the essay once you’ve copied it into AMCAS and edit appropriately for any odd characters that result from pasting.
- Avoid overly controversial topics. While it is fine to take a position and back up your position with evidence, you don’t want to sound narrow-minded.
- Revise, revise, revise. Have multiple readers look at your essay and make suggestions. Go over your essay yourself many times and rewrite it several times until you feel that it communicates your message effectively and creatively.
- Make the opening sentence memorable. Admissions officers will read dozens of personal statements in a day. You must say something at the very beginning to catch their attention, encourage them to read the essay in detail, and make yourself stand out from the crowd.
- Character traits to portray in your essay include: maturity, intellect, critical thinking skills, leadership, tolerance, perseverance, and sincerity.
Additional Tips for a Successful Medical School Essay
- Regardless of the prompt, you should always address the question of why you want to go to medical school in your essay.
- Try to always give concrete examples rather than make general statements. If you say that you have perseverance, describe an event in your life that demonstrates perseverance.
- There should be an overall message or theme in your essay. In the example above, the theme is overcoming unexpected obstacles.
- Make sure you check and recheck for spelling and grammar!
- Unless you’re very sure you can pull it off, it is usually not a good idea to use humor or to employ the skills you learned in creative writing class in your personal statement. While you want to paint a picture, you don’t want to be too poetic or literary.
- Turn potential weaknesses into positives. As in the example above, address any potential weaknesses in your application and make them strengths, if possible. If you have low MCAT scores or something else that can’t be easily explained or turned into a positive, simply don’t mention it.
Note: The below essays were not edited by EssayEdge Editors. They appear as they were initially reviewed by admissions officers.
Theme 1: Why I Want to Be a Doctor
Many people look back in time to find the moment of their initial inspiration. Some people have wanted to be a doctor so long they do not even know what originally inspired them. To incorporate this theme, look back to the material you gathered in the last chapter, specifically in response to “The Chronological Method,” “Note Major Influences,” and “Identify Your Goals.” Ask yourself these questions: How old was I when I first wanted to become a doctor? Was there a defining moment? Was there ever any ambivalence? Was I inspired by a specific person? What kind of doctor do I want to be and how does that tie into my motivation?
Here are a few of the common ways that students incorporate this theme:
“I’ve Always Wanted to Be a Doctor”
AKA: “I’ve Wanted to Be a Doctor Since I Was…” and “Everyone Has Always Said I’d Be a Doctor”
This is perhaps the most common approach of all. The secret to doing it well is to show, not just tell, why you want to be a doctor. You cannot just say it and expect it to stand on its own. Take the advice of one admissions officer:
“The “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor” essay has been done to death. I think candidates need to be careful to show that their decision was not only a pre-adolescent one and has been tested over the years and approached in a mature manner.”
Supply believable details from your life to make your desire real to the reader. One secret to avoiding the “here we go again” reaction is to be particularly careful with your first line. Starting with “I’ve wanted to be a doctor since…” makes the reader cringe. It’s an easy line to fall back on, but admissions officers have read this sentence more times than they care to count; don’t add to the statistic.
“My Parents are Doctors”
This approach to the “why I want to be a doctor” theme is dangerous for a different reason. Says one officer:
“It’s a prejudice of mine, but the legacy essay, the one that reads, “My dad and my grandpa and my great-grandpa were all doctors so I should be too,” makes me suspect immaturity. I envision young people who can’t think for themselves or make up their own minds.”
This is not the opinion of every officer, though. The point is not to avoid admitting that your parent is an M.D., it is to avoid depending on that as the sole reason for you wanting to go to medical school. If a parent truly was your inspiration, then describe exactly why you were inspired.
“My Doctor Changed My Life!”
AKA: “Being a Patient Made Me Want to Become a Doctor”
Some people claim to be motivated to become doctors because they have had personal experience of illness or disability. Notes an admissions officer:
“I had a student who grew up with a chronic illness. She spent much time with physicians and other health care providers throughout her young life. In her essay she wrote about this continuing experience and how the medical professionals treated her. She wrote of her admiration of them as well as her understanding that they couldn’t yet cure her. Her essay literally jumped off the page as being unique to her and a compelling understanding of and testament to her desire to join the people who had been so important to her life.”
If your personal experience with the medical profession sincerely is your motivation for attending medical school, then do write about it. The problem is that many students fall back on this topic even when it does not particularly hold true for them. We cannot stress enough that you do not have to have a life-defining ability or a dramatic experience to have an exciting statement. Admissions committees receive piles of accident- and illness-related essays and the ones that seem insincere stick out like sore thumbs (pun intended!) and do not reflect well on you as a candidate. Says another officer:
“My orthodontist changed my life!” “My dentist gave me my smile back!” These types of themes are certainly valid, but go beyond that to what particular aspect of the profession intrigues you. Do you understand how many years of study your orthodontist had to have in order to reach his level of practice? Have you observed your dentist for any significant amount of time? Do you know that the profession now is much different than it was when he or she was starting out? Have you given any thought to the danger of infectious diseases to all health-care professionals? Present a well-organized, complete essay dealing with these points.”
You may just want to mention your own experience only briefly toward the end of the essay. Use it as a confirmation of your decision to be a doctor (instead of as his primary motivation) and demonstrate that because of the experience you will become a better doctor. Try not to dwell on the experience and provide plenty of further evidence of your sincere motivation.
“My Mom Had Cancer”
This theme is really just a variation of “I was a patient myself” and the same advice applies: If a loved one’s battle with illness, trauma, or disability is truly what inspired your wish to become a doctor, then by all means mention it. But don’t dwell on it, don’t overdramatize, and don’t let it stand as your sole motivation-show that you’ve done your research and you understand the life of a doctor and you chose it for a variety of reasons.
The Hard-Luck Tale
Some truly outstanding essays are about strong emotional experiences such as a childhood struggle with disease or the death of a loved one. Some of these are done so effectively that they are held up as role models for all essays. Says one officer:
“I had a student who was considered a weak candidate because of poor grades and low test scores. She was African-American and although she had pursued all the right avenues (classes, MCAT, volunteer experiences) to prepare herself for medical school, she remained undistinguished as a candidate- until, that is, she wrote her essay. The essay revealed her tremendous and sincere drive. She was from a crime-riddled area of New York City and several of her siblings had been violently killed. She wrote about her experience and her desire to practice medicine in the city and improve the neighborhood where she was raised. It was compelling, believable, and truly inspiring.”
While it is true that these poignant tales can provide very strong evidence of motivation for medical school, they are difficult to do well and need to be handled with extreme care and sensitivity. And, as we have said before, do not rely on the tale itself to carry you through; you always need to clearly show your motivation. Notes another admissions officer:
“This is going to sound harsh, but I don’t like the tales of woe such as the ones that begin with the mother’s death from cancer. Frankly, I feel manipulated and I don’t think that the personal statement is the proper mode of expression for that kind of emotion.”
The Medical Dichotomy
One of the major draws of the medical field is its dualistic nature combining hard-core science with the softer side of helping people. This is described by people in many ways; some describe it as a dichotomy of science to art; to others it is intellectualism to humanism, theory to application, research to creativity, or qualitative to social skills. No matter how you choose to phrase it, if you mention the dichotomy, then be sure to touch on your qualifications and experience in both areas.
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Theme 2: Why I Am an Exceptional Person
This theme is often tied in closely with “why I am a qualified person.” Be very clear on the difference, though; the latter focuses specifically on your experience (medical or otherwise) that qualifies you to be a better medical student, while the former focuses strictly on you as a person. Committees are always on the lookout for well-rounded candidates. They want to see that you are interesting, involved, and tied to the community around you.
To help you think about how to support this theme, look at your answers to the exercises from the last chapter and ask yourself: What makes me different? Do I have any special talents or abilities that might make me more interesting? How will my skills and personality traits add diversity to the class? What makes me stand out from the crowd? How will this help me to be a better physician and student?
If you are creative, you’ll be able to take whatever makes you different --even a flaw -- and turn it to your advantage.
“One student wrote about her experience as a childhood “klutz” and how her many accidents kept her continually seeking medical care. The care she received was the impetus to her desire to become a doctor and made her essay entertaining, sincere, and eminently credible.”
Note that the candidate in this example tied her experience to her desire to become a doctor. It is imperative that this be done with practically every point you make in your essay.
The Talented Among Us
If you are one of a lucky few who have an outstanding talent or ability, now is no time to hide it. Whether you are a star athlete, an opera singer, or a violin virtuoso, by all means make it a focus of your essay.
“These people can be some of the strongest of candidates. Assuming, always, that they’ve excelled in the required preparatory coursework, the other strengths can take them over the top. Athletes, musicians, and others can make the compelling case of excellence, achievement, discipline, mastering a subject/talent and leveraging their abilities. Medical schools are full of these types; they thrive by bringing high achievers who possess intellectual ability into their realm.”
If you do plan to focus on a strength outside the field of medicine, your challenge becomes one of how to tie the experience of that ability into your motivation for becoming a doctor.
Students of Diversity
If you are diverse in any sense of the word-an older applicant, a minority, a foreign applicant, or disabled-use it to your advantage by showing what your unique background will bring to the school and to the practice of medicine. Some admissions officers, however, warn against using minority status as a qualification instead of a quality. If you fall into this trap, your diversity will work against you.
“If you are a “student of diversity,” then of course, use it. But don’t harp on it for it’s own sake or think that being diverse by itself is enough to get you in; that will only make us feel manipulated and it will show that you didn’t know how to take advantage of a good opportunity.”
So just be sure you tie it in with either your motivation or your argument for why your diversity makes you a better candidate.
Latecomers and Career Switchers
You need not be a member of a minority, a foreign applicant, disabled, or an athlete or musician to be considered diverse. There are, for example, those who have had experience in or prepared themselves for totally different fields. If you fall into these categories, give succinct reasons for wanting to go into medicine and show evidence of sincere and intensive preparation for your new chosen field.
English Majors and Theater People
Not everyone who is accepted to medical school has a hard-core science background. If you’re one of these applicants, you must turn your potential weaknesses into strengths. Point out that communication is an integral part of being a doctor, and discuss the advantages of your well-rounded backgrounds. Be very careful to demonstrate your motivation and qualifications in detail and with solid evidence to offset worries that your non-science backgrounds may have given you an unrealistic view of a doctor’s life or that you might be unable to cope with the science courses at medical school.
Can I Be Too Well Rounded?
Some people have talents, abilities, or experience in so many different areas that they risk coming across as unfocused or undedicated. When handled deftly, though, your many sides can be brought together, and what could have hurt you becomes instead your greatest vehicle for setting you apart from the crowd.
Taking Advantage of International Experience
Many applicants have international experience. So, while it may not set you apart in a completely unique way, it is always worthwhile to demonstrate your cross-cultural experience and sensitivity. To be successful, you must go beyond simply writing about your experiences to relating them either to your motivation or qualifications. Do not expect the committee to make these leaps for you; you need to put it in your own words and make the connections clear.
Some admissions counselors advise against the mention of religion altogether. Others say that it can be used to applicants’ advantage by setting them apart and by stressing values and commitment. This is a sensitive subject area and is best left to individual choice.
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Theme 3: Why I Am a Qualified Person
The last major theme deals with your experience and qualifications both for attending medical school and for becoming a good doctor. Having direct hospital or research experience is always the best evidence you can give. If you have none, then consider what other experience you have that is related. Have you been a volunteer? Have you tutored English as a Second Language? Were you a teaching assistant? The rule to follow here is: If you have done it, use it.
Direct experience with patients is probably the best kind to have in your essay. But the important thing to remember here is that any type or amount of experience you have had should be mentioned, no matter how insignificant you feel it is.
A word of caution: Do not focus solely on your research topic; your essay will become impersonal at best and positively dull at worst. Watch out for overuse of what non-science types refer to as “medical garble.” If it is necessary for the description of your project, then, of course, you have no choice. But including medical terms in your essay just because you are able to will not impress anyone.
Unusual Medical Experience
Even if you have not volunteered X number of hours a week at a clinic or spent a term on a research project, you might still have medical experience that counts: the time you cared for your sick grandmother or the day you saved the man at the next table from choking in a restaurant. It does not even matter if you were unsuccessful (maybe, despite all your valiant efforts, the man at the next table did not survive), if it was meaningful to you then it is relevant; in fact, these failed efforts might be even more compelling.
Your experience does not even have to be medically related to be relevant. Many successful applicants cite non-medical volunteer experience as evidence of their willingness to help and heal the human race.
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For tips on answering general application questions, click here.
Move on to Lesson Two: Brainstorming a Topic
|From Essays That Will Get You Into College, by Amy Burnham, Daniel Kaufman, and Chris Dowhan. Copyright 1998 by Dan Kaufman. Reprinted by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc. and EssayEdge.com|