One of the open days for Dundee University is the 31st Aug 2011. You should probably book if you want to go. This will give you a good idea of what Dundee might be like in general, and also sounds good if you can throw in a “when I was at the open day…” at an interview if you get one.
Personal Statement Building 101
Building a personal statement for medicine is a big deal. It basically determines whether you get an interview or not, as its one of the few things that separates you from other candidates. You could argue that UKCAT(+ similar tests) and academic grades also contribute, but not nearly to the same degree as your personal statement, so it’s worth putting in a fair bit of thought and effort into your personal statement! It also almost always is a topic of conversation at medical school interviews as well, so it really is worth doing well and developing over time.
What should you include in your personal statement? Well, just about anything! It’s not important particularly what you put in, what IS important is how you justify its relevance to medicine. For example, if you wrote something like “I particularly enjoy knitting”… big deal. However, if you wrote something about how you feel this has asssisted you in developing your manual dexterity, a skill which would be of benefit to you regardless of which branch of medicine you wish to pursue, then that would seem a lot more impressive and a far more interesting read!
Some broad categories to think about including on your Statement would be:
Reason for wanting to do medicine
Sports and level of competition if any
Musical instruments and level of ability
Hobbies and interests
First aid courses
Societies, Clubs you are a member of
Personal qualities you think which are appropriate for a career in medicine
As I say, try and link things to the personal qualities each task has helped you develop.
Once you have written your statement, ask some other people to look over it – English teachers for spelling, wording etc. Guidance teachers who have had experience of applying to medicine before can be useful, even head teachers would probably be happy to help you. Parents as well can be an invaluable resource for helping you make a slick personal statement.
One thing I would say is don’t lie on your personal statement. It sounds obvious, but seriously, dont! If you get found out, I could say with almost certainty that you won’t get into medicine!
For people who aren’t at the stage of writing their statement yet, but know they want to apply to medicine, it’s still worth thinking about! If you’re looking at this thinking you haven’t done any of these things, it might be a good idea to make a start!
Academic prizes: Obviously, not everyone can have these sorts of things (e.g. Dux), but if you’ve got them, write them down. Even if you’ve got something like “Voted most likely to succeed” in your yearbook or something, it all counts!
Work Experience: The more, the better. Pouring tea in a care home is a great and easy way to get some voluntary and work experience. Almost any local care home would help you and most are short staffed, so would love the extra help. If you’re “lucky” you might get to do more than just pour teas! This is what I did prior to medicine and it lead to summer job as well for some extra pennies to pay for a pint or two in freshers week! Also, there’s usually programmes around letting you shadow hospital doctors. Have a look on the internet. I did one at Monklands Hospital which was really good. If not though, try and find a doctors email address (doctors with an interest in teaching are usually the best bet) and ask them if you can shadow for a week. If all else fails, try a GP surgery (try one outside your local area as there are issues of confidentiality if you go to the surgery in your town, in case you know people!). Also, if you know any current medical students, ask them if they would mind at least chatting to you about medicine and the uni course etc. Its not really about what you do and med schools appreciate that not everyone has contacts to let you do hospital work experience, but anything you do goes in your favour, as long as you’ve made an effort!
Sports: If you do any, say what you do and what level you’ve done it e.g. bronze at district level, gold at national level, set the world record at the olympics in 2008, did 12 keepy-uppys in the garden last week, whatever it is, get it down – its important to have interests outside of medicine! Also, sometimes volunteering as an assistant coach at local sports clubs or even your own sports club can be a good thing. A lot of those kind of things let you work with kids as well, so you can see if you enjoy that or not!
Musical instruments: same as sports!
Hobbies: if you like music, put it down, if you like wine tasting, put it down.
Voluntary work: Again this looks really good – it shows a giving nature with no expectation of reward – a good quality for a doctor. It also allows you the opportunity to develop communication skills and confidence, probably without you even noticing it, which would improve your chances at an interview!
First aid courses: probably a good idea, although can cost a wee bit of money to do. It shows an interest, and also, as of yet, ive not been taught how to put a bandage on somebody in medicine. You’d look like a prize fool when somebody screams for a doctor in 5 years time asking you to bandage somebody up and all you can think to do is tie a nice bow-knot!
Societies and clubs: Member of the scouts? Got any awards/badges from it? Write it down! If you’re a member of the healthy eating society at school, brilliant, health promotion is a great thing for medics to do (and is even a Dundee Outcome (more of that later, im sure!))
Personal qualities: as the name suggests, I can’t really guide you on this one…
With all these things you can put in, you’ve got to try and be concise and watch your word count. Although, in saying that, I wouldn’t say use bullet-point lists or anything… it doesn’t really give you the chance to tell the story of how you’ve developed your interest in medicine which would come across more from writing a kind-of essay. Besides, if you have too many words, you can always take out the keepy-uppy thing…
All in all, I would say do as much as you can. Try different things. It all adds up at the end of the day. Also, once you’ve submitted your personal statement, don’t stop there. It sounds great at an interview when they ask you what work experience you’ve done and you can say “oh, i did this, i did that and I also plan to spend a week with my GP during my easter holidays later this year” or something to that effect. Also, speaking from experience, you should keep building your CV throughout medicine too. You can’t really count on getting a job later in life for the stuff you did in high school!
More on Personal Statements
By now, you should probably be starting to piece together your personal statement, or you should at least be thinking about making a start.
But how do you actually write a personal statement? It’s not really an essay, and there’s a tendancy within the british population to shy away from opportunities to sell yourself in fear of bragging or being big headed, making writing a personal statement a significant challenge to a great deal of applicants in the UK. If this applies to you, my advice would be this: Forget you’re british, just for this one form. None of your friends are going to read it, and it could be the difference between getting into medical school and not.
When I wrote my personal statement, I started by writing out a list of absolutely everything I’d done in my life. This included work experience, clubs I’d joined, committee’s I’d been a part of, sports and hobbies etc. etc. (See the Personal Statement page for more information) After listing them out, I removed some of the irrelevant or less impressive ones e.g. learning to play keyboard at grade 1 when I was like, 7 years old, and then started to sort the remaining ones into categories. Being a keen swimmer, I had a paragraph on my swimming achievements and other things which stemmed from my time in swimming. I also had another category on my medical work experience.
Once you’ve got the main body, you should work on your intro and outro. Your intro should probably contain something about what made you want to do medicine and, for post-grads, why you’ve chosen to do medicine after your first degree. For an outro, it’s sometimes quite nice to talk about the personal qualities you think make you suitable to be a doctor.
After you’ve done all this, it’s a case of fleshing out the text and making different points link together. At this point I would say that it’s probably a good idea to give the greatest detail for your most impressive achievements/skills/attributes.
The next thing, which I cannot stress enough is to get people to read it over. When I wrote my personal statement, I got my mum, sister, guidance teacher, another teacher who was friends with my mum and my english tutor to look over it for me. And then I got some of them to read it over again. I ended up having about 9 different versions of my personal statment from it’s transformation to an ok-ish essay with spelling mistakes to something a good deal better.
Coming towards the end of the writing process, I would keep an eye on your charater limit. From the UCAS website, it says you’re allowed 4,000 characters (this includes spaces) or 47 lines of text (this includes blank lines), whichever comes first. As a side note, it says the system removes any italics, bold or underlining, so don’t use those to highlight points.
Dos and Don’ts
Do spend a long time on it – very little separates you from other medical students for selection for interview – you all have virtually the same grades, the use of UKCAT varies between universities, so your personal statement is an opportunity to show your enthusiasm and experiences of medicine to date.
Do get lots of people to read it – especially somebody who has written one before, and especially medical students – who better to advise you than somebody who has done it all and succeeded at it?
Do jot down lists/mind maps of things which could be included and categorise them.
Do check punctuation – and not just with a spellchecker – get people to look it over
Do try to be succinct – every word counts in your small character limit! Personal statement isnt a test of your english literature skills. However, in saying that, bad spelling and grammar won’t impress people.
Do only write about relevant details – this saves words which you can use to write about other things
Do be careful about putting in jokes and quotes and other eye-catching statements to make your personal statement stand out – I personally think they seem tacky and don’t like them, but it might work for you. If you do use them, don’t over do it, otherwise it might go against you!
Do say explicitly that you want to apply to medicine – despite saying I wanted to study medicine, I still was accepted for my non-medical course option with an unconditional offer – I’m sure many other medics will have had the same experience.
Don’t talk about medical diseases – personal statements aren’t a test of medical knowledge – its a chance to show why you feel you are suitable to study medicine and to show that you’ve made attempts to find out what a career in medicine is like i.e. you know what you’re getting yourself into!