Episode 13: Learn the 10 steps to creating a clear, compelling essay for your application to residency or medical school. There are 5 things that you MUST do and 5 things you must NEVER do. Do you know what they are?

Why is the personal essay the most important thing to start with after you’ve gotten yourself organized?

Because your entire ERAS application will be filtered by who you are and where you’re going – exactly what your essay will clarify! By thinking about who you are, articulating your goals and motivations, other parts of the application will fall in to place automatically. You will be able to answer many of your questions all by yourself as you progress!

Benefits to clarifying your goals and motivations early:

  • Present a concise, confident application to your interviewer
  • Demonstrate maturity and good insight into yourself – a crucial ability for a physician!
  • Determine the weaknesses in your application and background
  • Direct you to the highest yield volunteer and employment opportunities – specific for your circumstance
  • Build your confidence that what you are doing is real
  • Know that you are now taking action that will get you to your goals

How To Write Personal Essays

Step 1:

Listen to my sister podcast’s Episode 3 to remember Why You Went In To Medicine In The First Place; for thought-provoking articles and many factors that go into the decision to pursue medicine as a career.

Step 2:

Do some free-form journaling about your influences, first impressions to the questions in the above podcast and show notes.

Step 3:

Brainstorm a random scratch pad of every idea you have that has shaped your decision up to this point. Include your family experiences, health problems, your best times, your worst times, everything that you think makes you who you are!

Step 4:

Group these ideas together by logical themes. You can either rewrite the ideas in categories, use notecards, or cut out the pages and make piles of cut-outs (my favorite).

Step 5:

Choose the groups of ideas that you think give you the most to write about. Can have several different ideas at this point.

Step 6:

Begin writing about these ideas, one at a time. Write as if you are writing to a professional that happens to be your supportive friend (like me). Some of the themes will be easier to write about than others – that’s the point!

Step 7:

Narrow down the main ideas that give you the best content to put in your personal statement/essay. So what you’ve done at this point is come up with the body paragraphs for your essay. You should have 2-3 decent-sized paragraphs at this point.

Step 8:

The thesis paragraph will be the first paragraph in your essay that provides a summary preview of what the next 3 paragraphs are about to tell the reader. Make it captivating, not boring. Attention-seeking, not flagrant. Interesting, not boastful!

Step 9:

Save the last paragraph to discuss some sort of future expectation; something along these lines:

  • What you expect to gain from a medical education at their institution
  • What type of medical specialty interests you the most
  • How excited you are to actually begin working with real patients and making a positive influence in the lives of others
  • How medical school is the next natural step in your gaining the necessary skill set to compliment your already altruistic personality

STEP 10:


At least 3 different professionals should review your personal statement. As many physicians as you can get to provide feedback the better! It’s a good idea to have the people writing your letters of recommendation to comment about your essay. That will help them write about you and perhaps convey in your letter of recommendation how well they actually know you. Take their comments with a grain of salt and gather all of their advice before you start editing the document. They may have conflicting advice. They aren’t allowed to suggest how you write it, but I can! Members of my Professional PreMed Coaching Course get a thorough review with suggestions from me personally.

Many faculty actually require to see this and a copy of your CV. More about STRONG letters of recommendation coming on a future podcast!

You are NOT done yet. This essay is a work in progress and will be different every month you update it. Because it reflects who you are uniquely, it should change as you learn more information. For example, my essay changed dramatically from the first year I applied to the second. The idea is that the PreMed experience is a fluid, work-in-progress.

You aren’t expected to know every detail about what your future career holds. You are simply giving a confident assertion as to what you believe RIGHT NOW! So, act “as if.” As if you do know what your medical specialty. As if you actually will get accepted. As if you really are as altruistic as you claim to be.

5 Do’s of Writing The Personal Essay

1. Make it personal, not a narrative version of your resume.
2. Review your essay early and often, making revisions as you go.
3. Show your essay to at least 1-2 physicians before making changes.
4. Use a catchy, but not stupid opening sentence and paragraph. Grasp the reader’s attention and interest.
5. Explain any institutional or criminal actions against you that you feel may severely decrease your chances of acceptance.

5 Don’ts of Writing The Personal Essay

1. Don’t embelish or stretch the truth.
2. Don’t neglect the essay to the last minute.
3. Don’t forget about your personal statement of goals and your practice vision statement. Often there are other important essay questions in the primary and secondary applications.
4. Don’t write too little or add too much detail. You have one page – use it. Don’t make the reader’s job difficult.
5. Don’t make excuses for deficiencies elsewhere in your application. Own your mistakes and don’t use the essay for a pity party. You’re all grown up now, right? (well, I’m not exactly…lol)

Leave a Comment