Stethoscope next to a laptop

Writing a personal statement for medicine (and other competitive degrees)

Courses like medicine, veterinary science and dentistry are extremely competitive and there are far more applicants than places available. It’s therefore a given that you must stand out from the crowd to stand any chance of getting an interview.

Here are ten tips to help you market yourself well in your UCAS personal statement. Aimed predominantly at students applying for medical and life science degrees, these tips will also be useful to student’s applying for other competitive science and engineering degrees.

Demonstrate your motivation

What made you choose this subject?” will be one of the first questions an admissions tutor will have when reading over your personal statement, so make sure you give them a clear and believable answer.

Use a lively tone so that your passion and enthusiasm for your chosen course comes across clearly, but remember this document is going to a university, so keep the tone professional and matter-of-fact.

By all means, cite any personal connections you have to your chosen field (such as your own experiences, or those of family members), but steer clear of excessively dramatic statements and clichés if you use personal anecdotes.

If you’re applying for the super-competitive field of veterinary medicine, telling the admissions tutor how much you love cute puppies is not likely to convince them. A love of animals and wanting to be a vet go hand-in-hand; it’s not something that needs to be stated.

Show you understand the profession

Another question that will be at the forefront of an admissions tutor’s mind as they read your personal statement is “do you understand what is involved with this profession?”

You need to demonstrate that you are engaged with your chosen career, which means providing evidence of having actively researched it. You should also show that you understand what is involved with studying it at university level.

You’ll be well-aware that it’s essential to have undertaken work experience for these highly-competitive courses. This experience will have given you an invaluable glimpse into the professional and interpersonal skills you’ll need in your future career. You should write about these skills from direct experience because it will prove that you are committed to the profession and that you are realistically informed.

It’s a good idea to talk about some of the topical issues affecting your profession, too. Here, you should not be afraid to voice your opinion by stating where you stand on these issues – it’s potentially a good talking-point for your future interview.

Demonstrate you have a passion for learning

A personal statement for entry to the medical professions or life sciences needs to clearly get across that you’re highly academic and enjoy learning. It’s going to a university after all, which are institutes for higher-level learning, and these are very academically-demanding courses.

There are many ways you can communicate a love of science and learning in a not-too-technical way, such as:

  • Writing about the subjects have enjoyed studying at school, with reasons why;
  • Mentioning any popular science books or journals that you read;
  • Mentioning any articles you’ve written about science;
  • Talking about any science clubs that you’ve been a member of;
  • Listing any relevant events that you’ve attended, such as summer schools or university open days, or any competitions that you’ve taken part in

You should also mention any parts of the course you are looking forward to studying and why – it again will show that you’ve bothered to find out about what the course involves.

Convince them you are medical-school material

Studying at university requires a lot of self-motivation and independent study, since you won’t have teachers spoon-feeding you course material or nagging you to get assignments done.

As well as showcasing your academic ability (which for the most part, your GCSE grades and predicted grades will take care of), you should also mention things that you’ve done that demonstrate ‘stickability’ – in other words, will you be able to stick with a course like medicine that is seven years’ long?

Be sure to mention any awards or competition victories you’ve received in support of your academic ability.

All these professions are research-led, so showing off any research skills you’ve acquired will help. Important skills that you might have gained during A Level / IB study include:

  • Critical thinking skills
  • Finding, organising and analysing data
  • Time management
  • Understanding and adhering to ethical guidelines
  • Academic communication skills (writing and presenting orally)

IB students have the edge here thanks to the internal assessment and extended essay projects, but if you did an EPQ or undertook any sort of research project, mention the skills you gained from it.

Backup any claims with evidence

A common mistake made on personal statements (and CVs) when talking about your skills is to give vague descriptions of situations you were involved with, but not be clear about exactly what you contributed and what you gained from the experience. Without this, your claims lack credibility and so you must provide evidence.

A good way to do this is to use the ‘STAR’ method:

  • Situation: briefly describe the situation
  • Task: state what needed to be done
  • Action: describe what you did and using which skills
  • Result: state what the outcome was and what you gained from the experience

Demonstrate transferable skills

Transferable skills are non-career specific, interpersonal skills that people acquire in various ways and which can be applied to lots of different roles and situations.

Transferable skills are valuable, and the most valuable ones are:

SkillDescription
ReliabilityAble to manage your time well, good attendance and punctuality, sticking to deadlines, going beyond what was needed.
ProfessionalismHaving high standards regarding work, creating positive relationships with colleagues, setting high expectations, maintaining composure in difficult situations
Problem-solvingUse logic and analysis to come up with a workable solution to a problem
Communication SkillsWriting skills and verbal skills that are able to break down and present complex information in a way that is persuasive and influential
ResponsibilityDemonstrating that you are ethical, trustworthy and use good judgement, especially when handling sensitive or confidential information
AdaptabilityShowing that you can take the lead and adapt to change and new challenges, and that you are able and willing to learn
Team skillsBeing able to work well as part of a team and being able to motivate and manage others to get the most out of them

A good way to incorporate the STAR approach into your personal statement is to pick two or three skills that strongly relate to your application and describe them.

Talk about your longer-term goals

Where is your degree going to take you? Are you attracted to a certain specialism within your field? Do you have ambitions to become a surgeon? Do you want to research rather than practice? Are you thinking about postgraduate study and ultimately, a career in academia? What are your reasons behind these choices?

These are important questions to consider and answer in your personal statement. They show you’ve thought beyond your degree, and that you have a definite career path in mind.

Show there is more to you than studying

Lots of academically-gifted students have ambitions to study medical fields at leading universities, but there are precious few places. This means admissions tutors are likely to have a stack of personal statements to sift through, all from students with outstanding GCSE grades and that are predicted straight As.

Extra-curricular activities like music, sports, hobbies and any clubs you’re a member of are an important part of your application because they showcase your individuality.

They also suggest that you’re more likely to blend in and adapt to the very social environment of university life, by proving you know how to balance work and study.

You should mention musical talent if you have it, because it shows off some valuable skills including self-discipline, tenacity, self-confidence, focus, cultural-awareness and self-expression.

Sporting ability is also extremely valuable, since it gives you numerous qualities including leadership ability, team-working and management skills.

Don’t overdo the extra-curricular stuff though; remember this is an application for university, so aim for about 75% academic and 25% extra-curricular in terms of content.

Get a second (and third) opinion

Give your personal statement draft to at least three people that know you very well, and that you can count on to give you honest, constructive criticism.

If you’re fortunate enough to know somebody working in your chosen profession, or that is studying on the course you’re applying for, ask them to give you feedback. They will be able to give you the ‘insider’ perspective on whether you’ve done what you need to do to show you understand the profession and are suitable for it.

Read it over and ask yourself “so what?”

An UCAS personal statement is primarily designed to market you effectively and get you an interview. There is absolutely no room on it for vague, empty claims. If you read through it, and encounter sentences that make you think “so what?”, I guarantee the admissions tutor is going to think the same.

If that’s you, go back and rewrite so that the necessary impact and evidence is clear and so that every sentence adds something to your application. Any sentence that doesn’t do that, just delete it.