Today on the MDS Outreach blog we have a post, from Zaiba Abid, a member Birmingham Widening Access to the Medical Sciences (BWAMS) about writing UCAS personal statements.
How I Started Writing My Personal Statement
When the challenge of writing my personal statement presented itself, unfortunately I had little guidance from the college I was studying at. Over the summer break I began to write my personal statement, so it’d be ready for my teachers and friends to provide feedback on. I’m glad I did so as I made many changes based on the feedback alone- which I never anticipated would be the case.
The first task I gave myself was probably the same as anyone reading this- I read articles and watched videos on how to write a medical personal statement, what makes one good, what to avoid and any useful resources I could refer to. I prefer anything I do to be fairly organised, so I collated and summarised this information to refer back to later- if need be.
Then I moved onto planning what my personal statement should ideally include. I wanted to ensure I made the most of my 4000 characters. I take a fairly logical approach whenever I have a big task to complete, so my planning process was to mind map generic areas I aimed for my personal statement to cover, essentially this helped me build up my ideas- some examples of the categories I made were:
• Why I want to study medicine,
• First exposure to medicine
• Favourite Medicine related topic in my A-level subjects
• Relevant work experience
• Best attributes/characteristics
• Research/reading I’ve done
• More about me- interests, hobbies- including my contributions to school and college.
I went through each category by turn and jotted any ideas I had. The mind map was quite a messy one once I was done with it, but I had something down which would give me a promising start. I called it a day after this and decided I’d revisit the mind map a couple of days later with a ‘fresh mind’.
Back with that fresh mind, I skimmed through the mind map and highlighted the ‘best bits’ from each category I made- these would make the cut into my personal statement. I also added any new ideas I had over the last 2 days (just so I could reference back to this mind map if I felt my personal statement wasn’t taking the direction I wanted once I began writing).
When beginning the writing stage of my statement, I struggled with writing the introduction. This is fairly common and nothing to worry about! I wrote the body of the statement and conclusion first- once I got a tone of the piece I moved to the introduction – I rewrote the intro a few times to provide a clear overview on myself and why I want to study Medicine. In the conclusion I spoke more about my hobbies and interests and how these would help me if I study Medicine.
The dreaded topic for me to write about was my work experience- the perception I had was that this would make or break the whole piece. I started to think about studying Medicine as soon as I’d left secondary school, but I didn’t decide this was it until I received my AS grades. I knew Medicine was quite competitive to get into so completed a few placements when I had the chance to increase my exposure to Medicine and different groups in society: This meant, if the time arose and Medicine wasn’t what I wanted to study anymore I had a belt of work experience that could take me into the Psychology or Sociology sector that was also on my mind.
My work experiences ranged from elderly/ children’s day-care centres, British Heart Foundation, NCS volunteering, health ambassador at sixth form etc and GP shadowing. To make the most of the limited words I had to express myself I linked my reflection of my work experiences and my matching attributes together to kill two birds with one stone. Keyword here being reflection- Medical schools like to see their applicants reflecting on any experiences they’ve had, anything they enjoyed, lessons they have learnt and anything that struck them and may leave a lasting impact on them. In order to reflect, ensure you keep a journal when completing placements so you could do this as you go along- this will aid you in the medical application process as you will probably pen down your thoughts in more depth. Use these logs to demonstrate how much you’ve learnt from each work experience, and how this experience has given you the skills to be a medical student or doctor- maybe take a look at the GMC good practice guidance for skills/qualities required for doctors for reference- this might help clarify the skills you’d like to reflect on. It is never too early to reflect in this manner as you can pick up on weaknesses and identify what actions to take to address these before you submit your application to medicine
I realise, due to the unique nature of the current COVID situation many of you will not have the oppurtunity to complete any relevant placements and add these to your statements as you would have originally planned. HOWEVER, with a postive outlook you could make the most of this unprecedented situation and demonstrate your passion and drive to study Medicine with what you do during your quarantine time. Use this time to pick up a new hobby and talk about this in your statement! Anything you do reflect on how this may help you become a better doctor- will it help you relax/ put a thinking cap on or is it a skill completely new to you? I’m a bit biased but read some of the other blogs we have put together for you- reflect on them and maybe write a post yourself- you would have done the research and shown the initiative- this is exactly what Med schools like to see.
There are also virtual work experience portals online and the traditional newspaper which contain medicine related articles- branch out and increase your exposure to Medicine! If it’s considered safe for you to complete some work experience in the community do so as long as you have thought and about this and consulted with somebody else about your plan. Alternatively, if you know somebody who is a medic or even a medical student, interview them on their favourite speciality to study, what it is like to study or practice medicine and reflect on how you may need to adapt to this.
Follow the BWAMS and wearemedics pages on Instagram which may help you with their regularly hosted lives and top tips. If you don’t have any hospital experience, don’t be disheartened! Not all medical schools require hospital experience so you’re better off than you think. Your personal statement might not the most conventional with regards to work experience, but you can definitely make it a win by ensuring your exposure and interest in Medicine hasn’t diminished as a result of the lockdown.
When I look at my statement now, it is a more academically styled one. I should remind you that everyone’s process is different and what you’d like your statement to focus on may differ from me- that’s okay. The aim is to portray yourself -your chosen layout and writing style will only add to that. That being said, there is seriously no need to break your pocket when writing your personal statement- many costly resources exist claiming to enhance your statement but honestly, you’re more than capable of doing the job yourself!
Also, you may not be pleased with your personal statement when you first write it, it took me a couple of drafts before I wrote what I considered ‘usable’ for my final draft. It certainly isn’t an easy piece to write especially when you consider that this is the impression of yourself you are leaving with the reader. Keep at it, remind yourself that preparing it now will save you A LOT of stress at the start of A2. More time to write it will give you more time to reflect on the piece, improve the quality and make it more streamlined and concise. It also means that when you send your statement to peers and teachers for feedback, you have more time to act on it. It will likely come out a more well-rounded and impressive piece if you spend more time on it.
Before sending your personal statement to others to read, read it aloud and make any corrections you seem fit based on this. Then move onto the feedback stage. Ensure, you choose 2-3 individuals maximum to check your statement to save yourself from the commentary and changes many readers could be asking you to make- at the end of the day it is YOUR piece and you don’t want to lose the essence of YOU from it!
Also make sure you don’t get carried away using big, fancy words as many students feel the need to when writing their statements. This will only distract the reader and lose the ‘realness’ from the piece. As with anything, this task is about balance in all respects so write what you would naturally write.
I will remind once again that everybody’s process is different. For me I built the Skeleton and moved onwards from that. I love tickboxes and had a few of these when writing my statement for different purposes. Ensure you think about who is reading your personal statement and aim to add this information to your piece- avoid clichés and be yourself to stand out!
My must do steps:
1. More time in advance to complete the task
2. Mind map to begin with: as without a well thought plan, nothing comes to fruition as well as it could.
3. Log for work experience- helps keep your medicine related exposure and relevant reflection in detail and up to date.
I really hope you find this piece useful when beginning to think about writing your personal statement. I hope it goes well and we’ll see you in Birmingham (or any uni for that matter) soon. Remember hard work pays off- keep on pushing.
*One last thanks to a fellow 4th year medic and a close friend Ameenah Rasool who provided me with her invaluable advice and extra tips to help you write your personal statement- you’re a star!
By Zaiba Abid
A huge thanks to Zaiba for all the time and effort she put into putting this blog together.
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