Self-reflection and personal insight into one’s strengths and weaknesses as well as one’s work are two attributes that are essential for medical students and doctors to possess. They are listed explicitly in the Medical Schools Council’s list of key attributes required to study Medicine and also discussed thoroughly in our article on the attributes needed to study Medicine. This article is about why these attributes are important and how to show them in a Medicine personal statement. We then show examples of successful medical school personal statements that show these traits and explain how they have achieved this so that you can do the same.

Why do doctors and medical students need these two attributes?

Medicine and science are constantly advancing. As a result, being a doctor requires a career-long commitment to acquiring new knowledge and skills so patients can benefit from the latest advancements. A doctor must have sufficient self-awareness to identify and be honest about their abilities and discern what they know and what they do not. They must recognise when to seek help. They must know when personal factors such as ill health, stress, a lack of practice or training have an impact on their competency to do something. These all require high levels of personal insight into one’s abilities and one’s work.

Medical school differs from college and high school and requires greater personal responsibility for your learning. This is particularly the case in PBL universities where learning is much more self-directed. There will be guidance, but ultimately you need to be able to manage your schedule and identify your own learning needs and make plans to achieve them. Then you must have enough self-awareness and self-reflection to know if your plans are working or not.

Throughout medical school and as a doctor you will require the ability to reflect on events some of which will be serious. What did I do well? Why did I do this well? What do I need to improve? Why did I not handle the situation appropriately this time but have done so previously? What could I have done instead? How will I ensure that I do not do the same thing again in a similar situation?

Of course, in medical school, you will be formally taught about self-awareness and reflection and will have countless opportunities to improve these skills. However, candidates need to already possess these attributes, which is why medical school admissions teams look for them from applicants.

How do admissions tutors look for these attributes from candidates?

Your personal statement, reference, interview and UKCAT results will all help you to show these traits.

Real examples from successful medical school personal statements

Now we will look at excerpts from successful medical school personal statements, which the Medicine Answered team have worked to improve, that show these traits. We analyse how this has been done with the aim of helping you to be able to do this yourself in your medical school personal statement. We have kindly been permitted by the applicant to post these examples here.

In this paragraph, the candidate is doing an excellent job of following the “show don’t tell” principle. He is not merely “telling” or claiming to possess a list of skills; he is listing skills, but then linking them to examples which “show” he has these skills. His ability to create an innovative and successful project and manage a team he selected show that he possesses many desirable skills. One of which is self-reflection and self-awareness. The things the candidate says he taught other students (which indicates he also possesses these traits) are all desirable characteristics in medical students too.

Notice how our edited paragraph manages to explain an unknown project to the reader succinctly and without becoming complex. Very few characters are wasted describing the contents of the Medlink lecture or attending Medlink as the other things in this paragraph are far more important. For this reason, we edited it in this way as the unedited version was unnecessarily wordy and wasted precious characters explaining things such as “I attended the Medlink residential course which had various lectures including…” These add nothing to enhance the authors’ achievements and are not required for descriptive purposes either. Admissions tutors already know what Medlink is.

So how has this paragraph shown self-reflection and personal insight? Again, the candidate is not simply listing things he did such as feeding guests or looking after children. He is reflecting on these experiences. The candidate is saying how aware of his thoughts and feelings he was during his experiences. Due to the character limits of the personal statement, the extent to which he can elaborate these thoughts is limited. However, he succinctly says it was initially a challenging experience to deal with guests with limited communication and who could sometimes become violent (he even used the word intimidating) and also when he was responsible for groups of children. Despite these challenges he persisted and learned from these experiences. His comment about doing further reading show he is an independent thinker and able to identify things he wants to further learn about and then pursue them. This is important to show to admissions tutors as these skills are essential for medical school, particularly PBL courses.

The conciseness of this paragraph adds to its power. In the original version, the candidate gave some insightful reflections on things he learned. However, it was mixed in with many superfluous words which diluted the strength of the strong points. In our enhanced version this is now a strong paragraph because the superfluous words have been removed. This makes the remaining text more powerful as it is succinct. Notice how relatively few characters are used to explain the work experience. Instead, most of the characters are the candidate’s reflections. Now this enhanced version shows that the candidate has excellent self-awareness and insight. He can extract concrete learning points from his experiences.

Here the candidate “tells” the reader he is interested in the ever-advancing nature of Medicine and that he is a passionate and curious independent learner. However, he does not stop here. He “shows” the reader these things are true with real examples by discussing extracurricular lectures they attended, and how they explored one lecture further by penning an essay on the topic. In another paragraph in the personal statement, the author states how a Medlink talk sparked an interest which the author explored further by creating a mentoring project. These statements indicate that the candidate is an individual with curiosity and a desire to understand things more deeply. He again shows personal insight when saying it was challenging to use books beyond his A-level’s and science journals, but he enjoyed the challenge and looks forward to the academic challenges of the continually evolving field of Medicine.

Need help with your Medical school personal statement?

Medicine Answered provide one of the highest quality Medicine personal statement review services available. A professional editor and also a doctor will both look at your personal statement. Our services go beyond simply proofreading your personal statement. A doctor will comment on your entire medical application, suggest areas of improvement and things which may specifically come up at interview based on your personal statement. Unlike many competitors, our services use professional proofreaders and qualified doctors not students or people with no medical admissions background or professional proofreading skills.