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What is a good UCAS Personal Statement for Medicine?

Medicine is a highly competitive subject and Personal Statements are closely scrutinised. Here is a couple of fictional extracts, to illustrate unsatisfactory and better practice.

Part of a bad Personal Statement

I have always wanted to be a doctor. Ever since I cut my head as a small child and experienced the drama and professionalism of an A and E department, this has been my aim. I can think of no more satisfying career than helping people in life-changing or even life-threatening situations. I hope to specialise in cardiology.

Science has always been my strongest area at school. I am proud to have achieved 10 straight A* grades at GCSE, and I chose to support my fascination for Biology and Chemistry by studying Mathematics. English has helped to develop my communication and analytical skills.

I am fortunate to have relatives who are GPs, and I have spent several days at their surgeries. My godfather, who is a consultant cardiologist, arranged for me to see different departments during one week in a large local hospital.

I have read many books about medicine. These include “Call the Midwife”, “An Insider’s Guide to Medicine”, “Saturday” and “Grey’s Anatomy”. I read “New Scientist” regularly and have been intrigued to develop my scientific knowledge from many articles. I attend our school Science Society. I also went to a captivating lecture on surgery.

I have a variety of extra-curricular interests. I play most sports and represent the school for first team hockey and athletics. My main event in the latter is javelin. I have completed the Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award. In Year 9 I won a Community Service award.

Part of a better Personal Statement

I am interested in scientific problem-solving. A recent article in “New Scientist” on the development of personalised gene therapy treatment led me to give a talk to my class on “Glybera”, the first treatment approved by the EC: I focused on both the scientific and the ethical issues. I learnt that articles in the popular press often skate over complex issues in both areas.

I have worked for several months on a supermarket check-out, where, like a doctor, I have had to deal with a wide range of people, some of whom are clearly under stress. I have become more confident in trying to communicate in a clear and friendly way, while maintaining an efficient service. Weekly voluntary work for the last year at an old people’s home has taught me the value of regular contact: what is at first shown on the surface is not always the main concern.

I recognise, as Gabriel Weston shows in “Direct Red”, that Medicine is a demanding profession, which requires great collaboration among colleagues as well as physical and mental stamina. I have five young cousins, whom I regularly supervise during the school holidays with a couple of older cousins: this has helped me to devise strategies for coping with stress, including diversion, variety of activities and humour. I regularly exercise for recreation by running in the local park.

Part of a bad Personal Statement

Para.1:

always This can never be true!
Ever since…aim  Suspicion that drama is the interest (confirmed by suggestion of book read in connection with TV drama later?)
I can think of no…situations Again the focus on drama. Use of negative does not impress.
I hope…cardiology  Suggests narrow-mindedness. This person has already decided on specialisation before starting any of the training. Is godfather (para.3) being idolised?

Para.2:

Science..school Although scientific ability is necessary, the way this is expressed suggests that the motivation to study Medicine comes from what comes most easily academically rather than a commitment to the career area.
I am proud No need to blow the trumpet. Medics. need to have confidence, but also humility, if they are to be teachable, empathetic and communicative. Let the referee judge your achievement.
A* grades at GCSE Already mentioned elsewhere on the form.
I chose…Mathematics  Again, this is already on the form. What is needed is evidence of that fascination.
English…skills A bland comment that anyone studying the subject at any level might justifiably write. Give evidence!

Para.3:

I am fortunate Let others judge your good fortune. Just give the evidence. In this context it might easily be read as sneering contempt for those “less fortunate”.
relatives…surgeries But what did you learn there? From this you might easily have just sat in the waiting room!
My godfather…hospital  Again, we need to know what was learnt. An opportunity to compare & contrast (different departments; GP & consultant) has been missed.

Para.4:

I have read…medicine Quantity does not impress.
These include…Anatomy” Lists do not impress. A rule of thumb: the more books listed by an applicant, the more likely it is that the applicant has read none of them! The list is an odd mixture: memoir; student applicant guide; a novel; a “classic” of anatomy – but spelling should be Gray.
I read…articles Unconvincing, unless supported by reference to specific article(s) and how that developed the applicant’s knowledge/awareness.
I attend…Society How often? What topics have been presented and in what format? Suggestion of simply sitting there passively rather than active participation.
I also…surgery “Captivating” is hyperbolic. What was particularly interesting?

Para.5:

I have..interests Too bland.
I play…athletics Nobody plays “most” sports. What skills are involved: e.g., persistence, time management?
I have completed…award Again, what was learnt in the process?

Part of a better Personal Statement

Para.1:

I am…problem-solving  If I go to a doctor, I often want her/him to solve a problem (& have the knowledge to do so). Personal skills might be important, but are secondary.
A recent…issues The applicant specifies a particular article (on an area of rapid development in medicine) and shows that the initial interest led to a presentation being researched and given. It limits the scope of this presentation to a manageable amount.
I learnt…areas The student has realised, from the scientific article, that non-scientific articles can over-simplify and cause serious distortion. This is a thinking student, who can compare and contrast and, it seems, reach an independent conclusion.

Para.2:

I have…stress I have heard more than one Medicine admissions’ tutor say that this is better preparation than shadowing a GP or consultant. The skills developed by dealing with a wide cross-section of people, some of whom might not be at their best (as the student acutely observes), are valuable in the NHS. The student draws the analogy and perseveres (several months).
I have…service Evidence of learning and development of communication skills.
Weekly…concern Again evidence of someone who sticks at something. Many patients will be old. The student has insight: is aware of the distinction between superficial statements/evidence and underlying issues.

Para.3:

I recognise…stamina The student gets rid of any notion of Medicine as a romantic profession, but puts this in a positive way, while quoting a good memoir as evidence.
I have…humour Again there is evidence of regular commitment, here to working with children. The student works in a team and shows awareness of problems and possible solutions in exercising a responsibility.
I regularly …park Regular physical fitness. Although it is not high status or team-based, there is the reassurance here that this student acts on trying to keep body as well as mind in a healthy state. Stressed Medicine students need a contrasting activity as a release.

N.B. Note the contrast between the unimpressive listing of names and experiences assumed to be “high status” in the first example and the cogent use of examples from everyday life in the second example. Applicants often ignore such potentially important evidence as being too mundane. It is not!

Posted by Philip Rogerson on Tue, 31 Jan 2017



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Philip Rogerson read Classics at Oxford. He has taught in a wide range of institutions: from UN (refugee camps in Jordan) to university (Oxford). Philip has been an HMC/ISI inspector of schools and has was Director of Higher Education and Careers at Sherborne School from 1997 to 2017.

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