Writing a personal essay in order to make your application stronger is no secret. This is why we have medical mentors here at UCAT Education to help students avoid problems writing their essays. Here are some important strategies I want you to avoid when writing your essay:
Tip 1. Avoid generic ideas
Generic ideas include: “I want to be a doctor to help people…” Who doesn’t? And if I was reading this essay, I would think, “Then why not go for nursing?” Other generic ideas include: “I like to work in teams.” Yes, even though teamwork is essential in Medicine, these generic sentences and ideas don’t actually demonstrate these qualities within you. You need to provide credible reason why you would make an awesome doctor and why Medicine would be the right choice for you.
Here is an example of one of our more superior personal essays submitted by one of our medical mentors when she applied to medical school. She is now in her third year and aspires to become an oncologist. Hopefully, this would make you realise that you can get creative in your writing.
“When I was nine in the fourth grade, it was the first time I had to confront the concept of mortality. My mother had a cyst in one of her breasts, a concept that I didn’t understand. I now know that a cyst is often benign, and is not cancer. But what did I know then? I asked my mum about it incessantly as I was filled with sheer paranoia that my mum would die. But she was abrupt and said to me, “You’re too young to understand, and this is a conversation for adults only.” Little did she know she was feeding my paranoia even more by saying this. After that, I spent a lot of time trying to decipher the radiologist’s report and her ultrasound report, when I would come home from school and she and dad were still at work. From that experience, I had to try to understand sentences such as “Clean margins, the cyst is approximately 3.5 cm by 1.8 cm. Most likely benign …” People say “Ignorance is bliss.” But to me, ignorance was fear. I was afraid my mother would die and that she and my dad were trying to protect me from the truth because they thought I was too young to understand.
So with the science encyclopaedias, the local library and our school library, I was reading about breast cancer and cysts. I probably understood 2% of it all. I became obsessed with reading about breast cancer and cysts because I wanted to understand when my mother would die. My friends and the librarian thought I was like Matilda. Not really a genius but reading books that were way beyond and above my age group. I now know why people shouldn’t ask Dr. Google regarding their health problems because the sheer volume of information is misleading if construed in the improper manner. I couldn’t trust what my parents told me because my mother ended up having surgery. The biggest question to me was, “Why have surgery if your cyst is benign?” I carried this paranoia with me until I was in Year 9.
This is one major reasons why I aspired to be a doctor. To be on the ignorant and uninformed end was too terrifying for me. I believe that knowledge is not only power and also about responsibility, but also knowledge for me, was liberating. At school, when friends fight, I knew that high school politics were so trivial compared to the problems of other countries and families. I knew that my friends did not want to hurt one another. I knew that they didn’t want this conflict. I knew that deep down we all wanted to forgive. So I ended up being the person who told the truth. Because I had been on the ignorant end with my mother’s health issues, I wanted transparency in every part of my life. All I needed to say, in order for the fight to not prolong more than necessary was to say, “We all don’t want to fight. We all want everyone to be happy, and this petty fight shouldn’t ruin the most important thing we have – our friendship. So suck it up. We were all wrong. And I think we don’t need to go into details because it’ll make both parties angry again. So let’s hug it out, and let it go!”
It has always been known that doctors should show qualities such as responsibility, empathy, humility and compassion. I learnt these lessons as I grew up. Truthfully, I learnt these lessons after getting my first dog. My family was not one of those families that express love through hugs and kisses. I fought with my sister too many times to count that in my childhood she and I were not the best of siblings. My dog Toffee was a toy poodle that taught me unconditional love. She was so intelligent she’d make us all laugh. When she was left at home alone for too long, I’d worry about her being lonely. And when she passed, I was torn to bits. For the first time in my life I cried over the loss of something living. True – too many goldfish died under my care, but they were different to a dog. My dog loved me more than my own sister did. She would lick my tear-streaked face after I had a fight with my sister. And when I was too sick to go to school, she would lie on my tummy and would growl at anyone who tried to approach me. I think in this way I learnt all these human values through Toffee. When I argued with my sister or parents, Toffee would tremble in my arms. Now, I can’t walk past a dog without thinking of my dog and what she had taught me, what my parents failed to teach me … ” (To get full essay, please ask your mentor).
I think you get the gist. Through anecdotes, the writer was able to demonstrate her personal experiences. The details she provided heightened the credibility of the essay of her personal experiences.
Tip 2. Spend quality time asking yourself questions you want to avoid answering
Ask yourself this deceptively simple question: “Why do I want to be a doctor?” Jot down a list of ideas. What kind of doctor do you want to be? What lifestyle would you like to have? All these questions may be a little early for you to ask yourself if you are in Years 10 and 11 but remember, you are the one to map out your life. You are the one that holds the keys to the car you are driving (I’m writing metaphorically here, if you didn’t notice). You are the one to construct your own identity. I planned my life out in periods of five years. The first half of my twenties, the last half of my twenties, the first part of my thirties and so on. Of course I had goals. But the reason why I wanted to be a doctor is because I craved knowledge and I wanted to use that knowledge to have the power to improve the lives of others. I admit. I was a complete nerd in high school. I admit I loved learning. I loved assessments and I loved studying. Every time I learnt something new I felt inspired. And if you want to be a doctor, you need to be prepared to be studying for the rest of your life. This is because methods change. Technology improves technique. Doctors must educate themselves to be better and more time-appropriate doctors.
Tip 3. Embrace your uniqueness and be genuine
As you can see from the above example, the writer utilised anecdotes to support her argument and to draw emotions from her readers. The personal essay is as it is called indeed ‘personal’. What has made you you is what may be a strength in being a doctor. It doesn’t even need to be me a medical experience. What experiences in high school taught you lessons of empathy, compassion and strength? What experiences in your short life have taught you valuable lessons you feel are important in being a doctor? Writing about these experiences is what renders you unique, and most importantly, you would be able to write a credible personal essay that touches right at the core of what a doctor should be. Well, I hope that your essay does. UCAT Education mentors help their students construct these personal essays, and, believe it or not, universities read them. It is unlike ‘personal statements’ that they have in the United States or the United Kingdom. The admissions team wants to be able find that unique individual who would be resilient and compassionate enough to be a part of the backbone of our society.
Tip 4. Take your time writing
Spend time drafting this important essay. Have people (older and more experienced than you), your mentors as well of course to proof-read your personal essay. It shouldn’t be rushed. It needs to be a masterpiece. A piece of you that you are proud of. If you lack experiences of qualities that you feel are important to be a doctor, spend quality time with your mentor to discuss how you can work your way around this. This is why we have them here in our program. Too many students are misguided and need to be steered into the right direction. Too many students actually lack ideas, so if you’re feeling this way, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Many students in our program struggled to write their first and without guidance they weren’t able to begin in the proper manner. You can do this slowly with your mentor – the planning, the drafting, the discussions – through Google Docs, which is, in my opinion, an awesome way of sharing ideas. Even though you may be in Year 10, and you have only a couple of ideas, you should start it. Your piece of writing will transform as you slowly come to realise how much Medicine means to you.
Tip 5. Talk to people – not just doctors or nurses
If you know someone who is a doctor, that is awesome because then you could ask them why they decided to embark on a journey towards Medicine. People who are older than you, clearly have a lot of life experience and who they are today are perhaps a product of those experiences, or they realises what their true passions were. People who love their jobs are obviously more successful at it. If you have people like that around you (for example your parents), that is a good way to start. For example, my uncle is an architect and he is awesome at it. He finds anything inspiring. Even a glass of water. There I was, drinking away my thirst but all he could think of was the beautiful contour of the glass. He hinged his last project on that contour shape and glass that I can see that deep down, his creative energy was a bottomless pit. When I asked him about why he decided to become an architect, he simply said, “I love buildings, but what I love more, is making a space that people love to be in.” I completely understand what he means. I once walked into the lobby of a large skyscraper here in Sydney and amongst the echoes, muffled conversations of people and the clacking of women’s heels on the marble floor, I was impressed because the staggering elegance of the lobby and thought to myself, “It would be awesome to work here.”
I hope I’ve provided you all with some inspiration to write your own personal essay. If you are already a part of your program, I’m pretty sure you would have started something with your personal essay. Have the courage to be honest, have the wisdom to find yourself, and have the insight to see what you want in your life.
~ Marion P.