Example of Personal Statements
This chapter offers you some examples of both successful and not so successful essays with some commentary that should help you draft your own master piece that will make you unforgettable, desirable, and the resident your readers can’t wait to work alongside.
I have grouped these examples, drawn from the many I have read, into four categories: Grabbers: the ones, that make readers want to meet you; Same –Old-Same-Old the ones that put readers to sleep, Cohesive: the ones that connect the beginning with the ending, and Too Much God Talk: the ones that may frighten or alienate readers of faiths different from yours or may make even same–faith readers suspicious.
Twenty-seven years ago, shortly after bawling my way into the world at Saint Vincent Hospital in Portland Ore., the nurses nicknamed me “Moose” They said I was big (9lb., 6oz.) that I ate a ton, and even my own mother admitted I was rather homely. In spite of this bluntly honest welcome, I have been well loved and taken care of in my home and hospital and, will spend the rest of my life returning this affection.
While growing up, I spent a lot of time in hospitals. Not because I was sick but because my father who was a surgeon, would drag me down to the hospital from time to time on morning rounds. My job was to clamber over things, ask impertinent questions, and generally make a nuisance of myself in any way possible. The goal was twofold: first, to cheer up patients who either weren’t doing well or had no visitors, and second, to normalize to my little mind that sickness and health are merely two parts of one life that confer neither value nor disgrace.
These lessons were reinforced throughout my life as friends and relatives spent their last months with my family. My grandmother died of breast cancer after a protracted course of therapy. An old family friend lived with us as her body slowly gave out until, at the age 101, her will to live slipped away. My great uncle died of lung cancer. Asking for palliation only, he was gentle and brave to the last, an example to remember always.
Some years ago, my mother found that she had breast cancer. I hurt with her; wishing I could share some of her pain. A few years later, I found a testicular lump. Now it was my mother wishing she could share some of my discomfort. Together we discovered that while physical pain cannot be shared, there are a myriad of other ills that find solace with the support of others. Happily, we are now both in remission.
In 2001, I began medical school but shortly thereafter took a leave of absence after discovering that-for me-chemotherapy and school were too much to stomach at the same time. Regardless, I learned a great deal about medicine that year. I learned how lonely a hospital bed could be despite the never-ending cacophony surrounding you. I learned that successive waves of students, interns, residents, and physicians can still leave you feeling uncared for. I learned that the sick role often takes less out of you than it does out of your family, particularly when your recovery appears faster than your resumption of responsibilities.
Once classes resumed, my experiences enabled me to see what we were taught through a slightly different shade of lens. My ordeal didn’t make me any smarter; in fact, I struggled back. It didn’t make breaking bad news any easier since I know more clearly what that really means. It did personalize knowledge in a way that allows treatment to emphasize patient needs over disease needs.
I know that “whole-person care” is a somewhat trite yet a popular phrase these days, but it truly is where I have found myself. I am an inquisitive sort. Beyond what, I must know why, and how, if at all possible. Not just risk factors and pathophysiology, but support systems, personalities, outlooks, hope and spirituality as well. All are fair game and none need take as much time as we fear. Disease is a process-as is life-as we ignore the narrative of our patients’ lives, what right do we have to complain about noncompliance.
I fear death far less than the loss of my humanity and so I choose to see patients not diseases.
Particularly in medicine, I rely as much on others as on myself. “ Team Player” is a catchphrase, but it fits. I prefer team sports with the exception of the introspection I find in fly-fishing. I enjoy shoring up others’ weaknesses, fully realizing that they are doing the same for me. Yet I make every effort to be ready for any situation that may arise because I don’t want to be a weak link in the chain on which a patient’s life depends.
My work principles are simple. First, if it works, don’t mess with it unless you an indisputably improve it. Secondly, even if you could do a better job, if someone else is willing and competent, do not interfere. Third, if you are capable, then fulfill the job at hand. Fourth, no job is too onerous or odorous. Fifth, I am only human and there are times to delegate or to say no. In short, I work and play well with others, never leave early, and recognize my limitations as well as my strengths.
Where does this place me in 10 years? In a smaller community, I hope, practicing medicine with friends and neighbors, offering whatever skills I have to help provide an ever-improving quality of care.
On the final day of my surgery rotation, I had to break the news to a lady that she had a pancreatic tumor and we recommended a pancreaticoduodenectomy. After several minutes of discussion, I asked her if she wanted time to think or needed to go home to talk it over with her family. She adamantly shook her head not. “I want to get this over with now. I trust you and Dr. K [my attending]. I’d rather have my life in your hands than anyone else’s.”
Stunned, I replied, “You do realize that saying such a thing puts more than a little bit of fear of God into my heart.”
She looked at me quizzically. Then smiled slightly saying “No. I don’t think it scares you at all.”
Though I disagree, I liked her answer.
Comments: The writer demonstrates warmth, sensitivity, humor and genuineness. He began writing at least 10 months before it was due.
Gripping the hatch cover for support, I braced myself for the next ocean swell that pounded the hull of our fishing vessel. My own body could relate to the sea's assault; after a long day of handling 500 steel prawn traps I could scarcely find the strength to maintain balance in the nighttime storm let alone attempt to pack the delicacies into their boxed formation. It was my fourth summer working on a commercial fishing vessel I expected rough days, but times like this made me question why suffer this pain? When physical ability and emotional capacity are pushed to the extreme, financial compensation becomes irrelevant. But I knew my purpose; three other men depended on me to work for their safety and livelihood and I had an education to fund. After a whispered prayer for perseverance, I found the strength to continue until the work was done.
During my summers, I worked at landscaping jobs, on ocean fishing boats, and in a sawmill. These experiences enforced calmness and flexibility that I would need in stressful environments. Opportunity to hone efficiency and perfection could be found in fast-paced, high-volume manual occupations, from finger-packing tiny prawns to shoveling massive snowdrifts, to piling unwieldy lumber. A desire to continue education outside of the classroom led me to Kansas for a diverse summer externship. I took the opportunity to strengthen the relationships I had with others by leading hockey teams, working in soup kitchens, and tutoring sessions. In all these experiences I was drawn to ophthalmology.
As an undergraduate student I intended to pursue optometry; a desire to work in healthcare, an interest in physics and the potential to restore vision made optometry very attractive. Soon after shadowing in the field. I realized I could provide more comprehensive care, be challenged intellectually and do more procedures by pursuing ophthalmology.
Self-motivated, I worked diligently on the jobsite, on my rotations, and in leading an ophthalmology interest group. During medical school I have enjoyed reaching out to the underserved through a mission trip to Malaysia, as well as through monthly community clinics, tutoring underprivileged teens, and annual health fairs for the neighboring San Bernardino community. A particular high light has been leading out in a student/resident-lead clinic to provide eye care for low-income and uninsured patients. Physical fitness is another important part of my life, as it keeps the mind focused and the spirits uplifted. Meeting up with others for a game of floor hockey, swimming, snowboarding, and a workout program called P90X are some favorite pastime activities.
My leadership in community eye clinics and an ophthalmology interest group, along with involvement in ophthalmology research has helped affirm this commitment. To the residency I will bring a strong work ethic, efficiency, and enthusiasm. I know some rough seas are coming, and I am eager to continue full force ahead and meet the rigorous demands of residency.
Comments: The writer shows fortitude when his emotional and physical capacity was spent; the type of resident you want to work with when the nights are long and tiring. He demonstrated interest in his specialty with research, community service, and interest group activity.
The ice seemed to move and breathe under me as I burrowed deeper into my -32 degree sleeping bag. The thought crossed my mind that Antarctica might spring to life and swallow me whole. I dreamed of going to this Crystal Desert since I was small, but now that I am sleeping on the final continent for me to explore, I remembered that I did not really enjoy being cold. Even the 13 layers of thermal gear cannot keep the biting wind from brushing her icy fingertips across my face.
Itwas my goal since I was 10 years old to explore every continent in the world. This night was the moment, the first landfall on the white continent; even the most biting cold could not take away the wonder that filled my soul. Nothing can top this experience I thought to myself. Little did I know that an even greater and more rewarding challenge lay ahead in medical school.
The first two years were the hardest of my life, but it was there that I met my favorite class: Pathophysiology, but the best and most adventurous year of my life happened-third year. My love for pathophysiology met its perfect fit in internal medicine. The spectacular dance and partnership between the heart and the kidney, the liver and intestines, indeed the whole body that weaves into a balance of health. I love the connectedness of the body systems. I remember being barely conscious as I drove that long road to the county hospital. It was just before dawn and I was really tired. When I bumble into the hospital a transformation took place the moment my feet hit the pavement. Energy infused my tired body because I am genuinely excited about the day; the patients I would encounter, the things I would learn, the team that partnered together and pushed me to my full potential. The antagonists for internal medicine have said that it is mundane, but to me it is anything but ordinary. Internal medicine is marvelous and elegant, allowing people to bring their unique story while grounding treatments in evidence-based practice.
My decision to pursue a life dedicated to Medicine has come as a surprise to some. I graduated with a degree in Communications before immersing myself in medical school. Everyone that knew me was amazed at my desire to go into a science-based field because of my flair for the Humanities. However, I am a believer in medicine as an Art, and as such, I bring strength to the human component of medicine. I communicate effectively with even the more cantankerous patients. The need for good communication is not limited to patient-physician interactions but must extend across the systems of medicine to be the most effective. I am not only a team player, but also a team builder. I am good at pointing out the strengths of my teammates and verbally affirming what is being done well.
When on my general surgery rotation, I had an Attending that was notorious for her high expectations and short fuse. Students were terrified of being verbally gutted during rounds. I went into a low anterior resection with her and sustained 12 hours of brutal inquisition. After the surgery, I approached her in her office and asked to have a quick word. With all the courage I could muster, I sat down and said, “My success is your success. I am on your side here.” There was a breakthrough in our working relationship and I was able to learn a lot more from that point on. I go where most people do not venture. I rise to the challenge of life with an unquenchable curiosity and vitality. I will bring that energy to your residency. I do not think it is possible for me to see the world without seeing Beauty. I stand in awe of the human body and the incredible sacredness of the whole person. Like Antarctica, residency is a challenging but inspiring journey and I will rise to the challenging but inspiring journey, and I will rise to the challenge with the same wonder and excitement that fuels who I am as a person.
Comments: You feel the adventurous spirit of this writer with a love of her specialty blending into an exciting story that shows her desire for diversity. Her excitement of patients is infectious. She brings energy and fearlessness to a program.
Life is the pursuit of happiness. Every conscious act performed in the history of mankind is rooted in this basic desire. Whether the act is dying as a martyr, kissing a loved one, slapping an unfaithful one, or committing suicide, in each scenario the actor hopes to obtain some satisfaction or pleasure. His actions stem from an outpouring of his will, which demands that he loves what pleases him and that he be pleased by what he loves. With this love of happiness, he is human.
There are those whose love of happiness is confined strictly to the self-they delight in their hobbies and their daily activities without considering the happiness of others. Then there are those whose love of happiness is limited to spherules around themselves. I would define a perfect love as this: that love which has encompassed all things, that seeks for the good of all, and that urges others to be like itself. My aim in life is to be constantly moving toward this ideal, becoming more aware of the people around me and expanding my sphere.
Some experiences have moved me more in this direction than others. My medical trip to China between my freshman and sophomore years in medical school was one such experience. That summer I moved from a land of plenty where everyday luxuries are taken for granted to a land where people walk barefoot across dirty farmland and children play in rivers with run-off from latrines. As I was providing healthcare to these people I was struck by their humanity: their loves, hopes, anxieties, and fears. They weren't just a collection of problems to solve and hurdles to overcome, as I was becoming accustomed to thinking in my clinic back at home. In my third year of medical school I went on a medical trip to Haiti after the earthquake in January. I helped out in every way I could, from staffing the ER to arranging transportation for volunteers and obtaining funds for Haitian workers. Again my mind was jolted awake to the humanity around me and I felt a sense of purpose urging me to devote my energy and resources toward helping their needs. I find that the more I am aware of our common human nature, the more my sphere enlarges. The effects of these experiences and others in medical school permeate my life, changing each day from monotonous repetition to an exploration of the human experience.
Family medicine, with its broad scope and ability to handle the majority of health problems, is the most appropriate vehicle to accomplish my goals. It is the side of medicine most deeply involved in the community. I look specifically to caring for the indigent and making frequent mission trips abroad. Because of my medical knowledge, management skills, and my desire to master medicine, I am confident that I will bring stability to the residency program.
I am motivated in my work by love and for the happiness of all people, not by a sense of duty.
Comments: He expresses a genuine love for life and humanity with his experiences you feel his involvement and commitment.
II. Same Old Same Old: (So So)
One of my first clinical experiences in medical school was an afternoon of following a family physician. Our last patient was an elderly woman with extremely dry skin. After the doctor recommended Crisco as moisturizer, we proceeded to begin a complete exam. As she began peeling off her layers and layers of garment like a fruit roll-up, she totally broke out of her shy and embarrassed shell which she manifested by shaking out the afore-mentioned article of clothing with gusto and vigor as the remnants of her epidermis showered the air in a cloud of dust. This incident may have turned off many aspiring clinicians. But as I stood there holding my breath, I realized something important. My original desire to do Family Practice remained. At that moment, I knew my journey would be exciting and would require determination and a positive attitude.
Family Practice has always appealed to me. My childhood memories of visiting the doctor are pleasant even those where I received injections or stitches. I think this is because I trusted my doctor. It was easy to admire him and I was inspired to be like him. Over the years, my childish notions of what I wanted to be when I grew up slowly evolved into solid goals for my career. Upon entering my third year medical school, my goal was to keep an open mind. Doing just that, I soon found that each area of medicine I rotated through had exciting aspects. But Family Practice stood out for its variety and versatility.
Relationships with patients and continuity are what I thrive on. I love knowing each person’s story and evaluating them as whole persons instead of a heart murmur or a chronic cough. Empowering patients with the knowledge of their problems, to make them a partner, is especially rewarding. It amazes me to see a diabetic takes control of their disease with only a simple understanding of how nutrition and blood sugar affect their health.
I enjoy caring for a vast array of presenting problems. During my neurology rotation, I evaluated a patient for headaches. As her history unfolded, I picked up clues for depression and anxiety. I remember feeling limited because these were not neurological issues. I felt pressure to spend limited “specialty time” on neurology instead of straying into the psychiatric abyss. Treating a broad spectrum of patients from psychosocial to hospice is both challenging and exciting.
Family Practice is like the open road. I can envision myself anywhere from small-town “Doc” in Louisville, Kentucky seeing snakebites and back strains to big city practitioner in San Diego treating HIV/AIDS and domestic violence. I find providing medical care to the underserved populations is extremely rewarding. While serving the Hispanic population of Southern California or the people of Zimbabwe Africa I feel a great sense of satisfaction when fulfilling their palpable needs and receiving their heartfelt appreciation. No matter where I go, I want to serve those in need.
When I am not basking under the fluorescent lights of the wards, I enjoy catching some UV rays, with sunscreen of course, at San Luis State Beach while surfing in search of the best wave of the day with classmates and friends. With my varied interests and love for people, I am confident that Family Practice will be the perfect fit for my career.
Comments: This piece is nicely written but says too much about his specialty and not as much about him. More than half of his personal statement is about family medicine and his patient in the clinic. I want to know more of the qualities and depth of this person as he expressed his care of patients.
My personality and life experiences have led and prepared me for a career in family medicine. Being a caring and relational person, I am excited by meeting new people, relating with others, and listening to their life stories. I am also excited by travel and interacting with people of different backgrounds and cultures. Through my international travels, I have seen significant medical needs. I aspire to address these needs and make a difference in the lives of the sick, by offering my medical expertise. Seeing overwhelming medical needs and a lack of medical care in less privileged communities, I developed compassion for medically underserved people and a strong desire to become an advocate for them. I believe I will be most effective in this capacity if I am able to medically care for people of all ages and a diversity of medical conditions. Family medicine is the specialty that best encompasses the relational person that I am and my hopes as a physician.
My experiences during medical school further developed and ingrained characteristics into me that will be of great value in my medical career. Being one of the only medical authorities on a medical trip to South Africa, I was forced to complete physician responsibilities and fulfill that leadership role to the best of my ability. The majority of what I did was women's health education, breast exams, nutrition education, and medical counseling. Although challenging, I also grew from it by building leadership skills, taking initiative, and confidently making decisions. My passion for teaching and educating was confirmed.
My medical school rotations further confirmed my decision to be a family physician. Whether it was helping bring a new baby into the world, supporting a terminally ill patient at the end of his/her life, giving acute care to the trauma patient, or doing routine medical screening and prevention, I recognized by appreciation for and exhilaration from variety. During these rotations, I also realized my need and desire for patient interaction. I was dissatisfied with the lack of follow up and limited patient relationships in the Emergency Department. During surgery, I found myself frustrated that the majority of my time was spent in the operating room instead of interacting with the patients.
Treating the whole person is essential to my satisfaction. After completing a preceptor-ship that taught how to give whole person care in medical healing, I decided to incorporate this into how I practice medicine. Ever since, I have excelled in my ability to care for patients by addressing their spiritual and emotional needs, taking time to communicate and listen, and expressing empathy and compassion. I believe that building rapport and relationships with patients, as well as addressing their needs and concerns, is vital to practicing whole person care. I desire to be patients' advocates by hearing their goals and hopes and helping to achieve them. To me, healthy physician-patient relationships and continuity of care is vital in being medically effective and seeing positive results over time.
These are some of the many life experiences that have led me to pursue a career in family medicine. I am confident that this specialty will bring me the most enjoyment and best encompass the relational and caring person that I am, along with my aspirations to be an advocate for medically underserved people. To achieve these goals, I have high expectations for my residency program. In order to develop the clinical skills that are crucial in becoming an exceptional family physician, I must train at an institution dedicated to academic excellence and superior patient care. I am looking forward with optimism and excitement to the privilege of serving humanity as a family physician.
Comments: This student has had a great deal of altruistic experiences but again says too much about her specialty and reasons for not going into other specialties. The opening paragraph is mundane and overused.
Example 7 (only part of the statement):
Nothing would make him smile. All that came from his mouth were one-word answers. Who could blame him? Stage IV Glioblastoma silences even those who have lived a fulfilling life. This was no party, but a parade that had been rained on long ago. He was a prisoner of the state, and life as well. This man had “hopeless” written across his face. I came to see him daily, but always received the same pat answers. I requested that he be put on an antidepressant, for none had been added to his daily pharmacotherapy. Gradually, single words became statements, and statements became full sentences. All he wanted was someone to listen, to give him lotion for his flaking skin and Vaseline for his chapped lips. I did my best to make him comfortable, not knowing if I made any difference at all. One day all he was doing was complaining about pain and how he felt so ignored by all, I shared with him my experience as a patient and what it was like for me to be ignored. I wanted him to be happy, but did not know what would do it. A nurse and I tried to joke with him; we got him to raise the corners of his mouth just a little, but that wasn’t good enough for me. Before I left, I smiled really big, quite sarcastically, and there it came sparkling, ear to ear the biggest grin. To my astonishment, the light of day had come to this darkened prison cell. In full affect, he thanked me and said, “you keep on doing what you’re doing, and you’ll be a wonderful doctor someday.”
Comments: Over half of this student’s personal statement is relating a story about a patient. Sometimes, you can describe a short incident involving a patient that demonstrates your warmth, ability to relate, or excitement in patient care. Try to blend but not monopolize its use.
Example 8 (only part of the statement):
Malignant Stage IV lung cancer was the diagnosis given to the patient assigned to me on my first rotation. Through a careful explanation of the disease pathogeneses and prognosis, I began a relationship with Ms. B. Motivated to learn every detail of the case, I began to pour myself into knowing her story. Talking through her emotions about the disease and feelings about her care was only the beginning as I remained her confidant through multiple chest tube insertions, failed trails of steroids, and finally helping her make the life altering decision to pursue hospice. I was challenged by the daily changes in mood from despair about her condition to anger and medical care to concern for her children. My emotions mounted the day I said goodbye to a person I learned to care deeply about, one who changed me. Ms. B. was more than “our 60 y/o cancer patient” she was a wife, mother, and friend who modeled to me the importance of knowing the whole person I was treating.
Comments: This is another example of leading with a medical story and not a grabbing feature of you the fascinating person in the “personal statement story”. The first draft was almost 1 1/2 pages long.
III. Cohesive: Tying the beginning and the ending together
I am a mixed breed. As the daughter of a Palestinian father and a Mexican mother, I have grown up knowing the best of both cultures. Over the years these culture traits blended easily and brought our family closer together. Traditions such as Arabic singing and dancing, piñatas, and both enchiladas and grape leave on the table have defined who I am and identified the direction to my vocation. The relational variety of my life experiences has prepared me for a career in family medicine.
While still deciding on a career path, my Mexican heritage encouraged me to help build houses for the homeless in Mexico. I was shocked while there by the discrepancy I saw between the many diseases and the lack of medical care to treat the sufferers. Wanting to change this discrepancy, I was later impelled to go on a medical trip to an impoverished village in Honduras. On this trip my primary task was to fit eyeglasses for the visually impaired. Although it was rewarding to restore vision to those who would otherwise remain in the dark, I noticed that across the courtyard another physician was treating and educating women about the health risks presented by living in their dangerous squalor. I wanted to be more involved in saving lives through such preventative and personal methods; so from afar I wished to be that doctor.
A few years later, while serving with a family physician in Nicaragua, a young father of two, walked into our clinic. At the age of twenty-two, he was the sole provider for his family, but a life-threatening case of cellulitis required immediate medical treatment. His timid black eyes were fearful as the doctor insisted that he go to the hospital to receive an IV antibiotic. I was privileged to administer an intramuscular injection and provide care for some one so much in need.
Recently, my husband and I traveled to South Africa with a small team to provide medical care and education. Finally, after so many medical trips of merely shadowing, I had the opportunity to function as the medical authority on this team. As I performed breast exams, assessed abdominal pains, spider bites and infections, and taught patients in basic good nutrition and HIV prevention, I felt at last that I could make confident medical decisions about a variety of conditions. As the Africans smilingly thanked me for the medical care I gave, I realized that this was the culmination of the dream that began so many years ago in Mexico, and fueled my desire to do even more.
All of these experiences have diversified my mixed breed even more. Each of these increasingly more confident and various interactions has confirmed my choice to pursue a career in family medicine, because it will best encompass the relational person that I am, along with my aspirations to be an advocate for medically underserved people. Although I have become comfortable in the midst of the dirty, unsightly, and difficult realities of medical needs, I want to be challenged to further increase my abilities to handle these needs. I am looking forward with excitement to the privilege of serving humanity as a family physician. Everything in my expanding mix of cultures has prepared me for this challenge.
Comments: This student wrote about her experiences in family medicine but smoothly mixed it with her heritage and travels. As a reader you were given a good ideas of her unique personality. Her duel cultures were nicely woven into her story at the beginning and the end.
Stories give life a special flavor. A good story can captivate the imagination, play with emotions, challenge the mind, and unite individuals of different backgrounds. Since I began reading, I have loved stories. Books became my prized possession. I enjoyed imagining the ways in which the world could be and observing the beauty and the variety of human emotions and personalities. This love for stories has helped to color my intellectual background with a variety of interests. English, Spanish literature, and Biology were my favorite subjects in high school. I loved reading and writing but was also fascinated by the life sciences and the stories they told of how life came to be. At Pomona College, I decided to take full advantage of liberal arts education by designing my own major in Religion and Literature as well as by pursuing a variety of science courses. I wrote my senior thesis on Shakespeare (who to me is the master of depicting human emotion and personality) and was fortunate to pursue my research for the project in a semester abroad at Oxford University.
My education has been further enriched by my fascination with other cultures and with my passion for traveling. Being exposed to other languages, ways, and philosophies of life has been invaluable in my desire to understand the world as well as human thought and behavior. Travel stimulates the senses, always refreshing, often tickling my fancy, occasionally repulsive and appalling, but always opening my eyes and enlightening me with appreciation and gratitude. My extensive world travels have allowed me to further my interest and fluency in Spanish language as well as to acquire a basic command of Italian, French, and Mandarin Chinese. Living and practicing in a culturally diverse environment requires the ability to communicate and to share stories in different languages.
Due to my passion for both English and world literature which serendipitously led me to discovering a program in critical thought at USC’s School of Cinema-Television. Based on my fascination with visual story telling, I accepted an invitation to USC without second thought and was thrown into a six-year adventure of the unexpected. Film theory, history, cultural studies, psychology, communications, and multimedia were not just new languages to be mastered, but also challenged ways of thinking and understanding the world.
After being immersed in a variety of media courses, I discovered my niche. I developed an interest in youth cultures and mass media, particularly radio, television, and the Internet. I decided to explore the ways in which these contemporary media forms represent health issues and affect health behaviors of young people in this country. Children and adolescents are a special group of people because of the transitions of identity and of the physical, mental, and spiritual growth involved in that stage of life. My dissertation focused on issues of addiction and self-destructive behaviors, body image and eating disorders. I volunteered my time at various homeless shelters for teens and at the LA Free Clinic in order to better understand that particular patient population.
Physicians specializing in various areas of adolescent medicine with whom I worked on my dissertation research encouraged me to bridge my interests by pursuing medicine. I cannot help being curious even when I am out and about, I enjoy people watching, catching bits of a conversation while passing by, and trying to figure out the stories that make people who they are. Everyone has a story and just as in literature, life has it comedies’, tragedies’, and romances’. I have realized the importance of looking patients in the eye and of forming relationships with them as well as with those who care for them and who are close to them. Trust reassurance, and communication cannot be taken for granted in “doctoring.” Each individual has a story and has something to share and to teach the rest of us. I am excited about the field of Psychiatry and the opportunity to treat the patient as a whole person and not just as a disease process or illness. There are countless opportunities in such a dynamic field to help and to heal, to comfort and to learn, to grow and make peace. As a physician, I hope to be a patient advocate, a teacher, a role model, and a friend. I feel that Psychiatry is a perfect fit with my background. It will allow me the breadth and depth to combine my varied interests and abilities. I am excited about what the future holds and look forward to sharing more stories as I continue to narrate my own.
Comments: The Department of Psychiatry suggests that personal statements for students going into their discipline be longer and in a narrative form. After reading this PS, I would like this person to be my psychiatrist.
Motionless, staring up at the face of a 15 foot Indonesian monster about to crash right on my head, fear takes a hold of me and freezes my limbs. I take a deep breath, and close my eyes, as energy so powerful wraps around my body and rips my surfboard from underneath me. Instantly, I am flung into the depth of the ocean by such a violent and powerful force. As I fight the urges to breathe, my leash pulls on my ankle hard, making every effort to keep me from surfacing. I finally make it to the top, and before I could complete a deep breath of air, a bigger 20-foot wave barrels down on my head. I end up getting washed up on the reef, luckily still in one piece, but my board is broken in half. Feeling defeated, I walk along the beach back to my hut.
While walking back, four local village children jokingly laughed and yelled to me in Indonesian, “Hey doc, I’m hurt, fix me!” I guess word got out that I was a medical student, and now the village was onto me. Another day, a scared Australian surfer from camp came up to me and showed me a painful bright orange rash on his leg. He asked me if there was a neurotoxin in his blood. One other night, someone else complained that he’s been feeling tired, and having fevers every now and then. I told all of them to go see the village doctor.
I visited the local clinic to meet this doctor. I was impressed by the role as the family physician for 10,000 islanders, a place where malaria, diarrhea, tobacco use, and infant mortality is high. I wanted to be the “practical” physician who is able to take care of people from all ages and different cultures, to deal with a wide variety of concerns, and to follow them as they change. I planned the trip out of my own passion for adventure, and to rediscover my Indonesian roots by visiting relatives without realizing that it would also direct me towards family medicine.
Out of my passion for adventure, I took on the responsibility as President for the Wilderness Medicine Student Interest Group (WMSIG). We had a vision to expand WMSIG in terms of the number of its members, its involvement with other schools and local businesses. We also wanted to increase the educational experience for our members. I am happy to say that through our efforts, our group is now around 50 members strong. We organize various lectures with topics ranging from international medicine to wilderness first response. We have a strong partnership with local outdoor outfitters to provide us with equipment for our various outings. During the fall of 2008, I led a group of medical and physical therapy students on a SCUBA dive excursion on Catalina Island, and arranged for the faculty of the US Hyperbaric Chamber Facility to give us a tour and a lecture on dive medicine.
In a way, medicine was once as intimidating to me as that wave was. But I know that through years of diligent work and the guidance of professionals who have gone before me, I will learn the intricacies and techniques to manage the waves that roll my way. What I love about family medicine and surfing is that the learning/adventure never stops. I do not allow defeat to get a hold of me. I plan to face the same Indonesian monster that washed me on the reef again, but this time, I plan to slide and dance along its turquoise face, and even “slap it” occasionally.
Comments: The beginning with the surfing wave was splashed nicely into his closing. You feel his adventuresome spirit with his surfing, traveling to Indonesia to find his roots, and his leadership in the Wilderness Medicine Group.
IV. Too Much God Talk
Example 12 (Only part of the statement):
Following Christ’s footsteps has always been the primary vision in my life. From the time that I was a young child through my years of undergraduate education and medical school I have seen that it is my mission to follow in Christ’s footsteps, to serve the community as a medical doctor, tending to the physical, mental and spiritual welfare of my patients. With my upbringing in a conservative Adventist home to the many lessons my parents showed through example of humility, teamwork, self-sacrifice, dedication, work ethic, and what it takes to be a good Christian, I firmly believe Christ has this purpose for me through His many blessings . . .
My heart and character are that of an Internist even though it is my blessing to desire to work with all ages. I am a determined and principled Christian, who understands and upholds the importance of accountability and responsibility, dedicated to providing the best care for my patients. These are but only a few important factors that I have been blessed with to be a Family Medicine practitioner. My hope is that this residency program will allow me the opportunity to learn from it the practice of Family Medicine as I continue to follow in Christ’s footsteps.
Comments: I did not put the full piece but only the first and last paragraph. The student’s second paragraph mentioned the name of Christ four times.
Example 13 (Only part of the statement):
Ever since I was a child I’ve always wanted to be a medical doctor. The desire to help others has always been a strong point of mine. Being in a Christian Seventh-day Adventist home this strength was one of many that was refined and developed. I have always been conservative at heart being earnest, honest, reliable, and hard working. My character is one that continually seeks to improve and excel, always searching for knowledge and experience. Having a home that cultivated these many strengths was a true blessing for me, along with the many lessons my parents instilled in me in becoming a good Christian.
With much prayer I slowly started to see the new direction Christ was leading me . . .
I am a determined and principled Christian, who understands and upholds the importance of accountability and responsibility, dedicated to providing the best care for my patients.
Comments: A student’s religious fervor is best kept in private and in church. Expressing your religious devotion can frighten some of your interviewers from a secular institution.
These examples will help spark some ideas for your own intimate journey.
Meet Candace Meinen, a woman well on her way to becoming a doctor. She is bright and driven and from the moment she reached out to us we knew we wanted to share her story with you. In recent years, Candace has had a lot on her plate—from the intense medical school application process to a cross-country move for her residency program.
Despite her resounding passion for the field of medicine, Candace didn’t always dream of becoming a physician. As she says, “It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I contemplated the idea of becoming a physician. I fell in love with the complexity and challenge of human physiology.” From that point until now, Candace has grown and learned a great deal. Her current position? Working as a resident physician at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, OR.
We’re thrilled to share Candace’s story today for her insights on everything that medical school entails, from applications to residency. She also shares her thoughts on the field of medicine and advice she has for other women pursuing the profession. Regardless of whether or not you’re studying medicine, we know you’ll love this interview and Candace’s wise words. Read on!
Name: Candace Nicole Meinen
Current Title/Company: Resident physician at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center
Education: Undergraduate Degree, University of Wisconsin; Medical School, Midwestern University—Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine (AZCOM)
What initially drew you to medicine? Did you always know you wanted to pursue a medical career?
I was not one of those people who grew up knowing they wanted to be a doctor; I wanted to be anything from a dolphin trainer to a teacher. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I contemplated the idea of becoming a physician. I fell in love with the complexity and challenge of human physiology. This lead me to job shadowing other physicians, seeing medicine from a different perspective, and ultimately to a passion for learning that drove me onward to medical school.
You transitioned from undergrad to medical school with just a few months in between. Take us through the process of applying to medical school.
Getting into medical school is competitive and an extremely intense process. You need good grades, a good score on the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), and have multiple extracurricular activities that show how serious you are about medicine. I worked hard in college to keep my grades up, studied for seven months for the MCAT (while taking classes), and did organic chemistry research. In my spare time, I worked as a CNA to gain a little bit of medical experience and volunteered with multiple organizations including the Big Brothers Big Sister, hospice services, and the local hospital volunteer team.
The application period was the summer before my senior year. I worked on my application for a month, wrote my personal statement, tidied up my CV, and gathered letters of recommendation. The application is an electronic service that holds all your relevant documents and sends them off to schools you apply to. After you send your initial application the schools that want to know more send you a few essay questions. You complete anywhere from two to six essay questions per school and then wait to see if you’ve made the cut for an interview.
That’s the most terrifying time, waiting for those interview offers. If you get any interviews you travel around the country (depending on where you applied) to interview. Usually within three to six weeks, sometimes longer, you find out if you’ve been accepted, waitlisted, or denied. I ended up attending medical school at Midwestern University—Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine (AZCOM) in Glendale, AZ.
After two years of medical school in Phoenix, you moved to Tucson to complete two years of rotations. How did the first two years differ from the last two years? What were some of the lessons you learned during rotations?
The first two years of medical school consist mainly of didactics with little clinical exposure; it’s almost all classroom learning. The second half of medical school is clinical rotations where you are actually out in the world, seeing medicine as it’s practiced by experienced physicians. For my medical school, we had different “sites” where you could do your clinical training. With the help of my then-fiancé, I picked Tucson for our location. We wanted to experience more of Arizona!
The lessons I learned during those two years are too numerous to count, but one of the most important was how experienced physicians handle the pressures a medical profession can put on a life. Medicine can easily consume your entire life if you let it. Physicians, as a whole, have a 10% to 20% higher divorce rate then the general population and are more than twice as likely as the general population to commit suicide. Suicide rates for female physicians are about four times that of women in the general population.
The constant pressure and zeal for perfection takes a toll on a person. Learning from an experienced physician that it’s OK to cry when a patient dies, how to cope with (sometimes) daily deaths, and that we are just as human as our patients (regardless of what the culture of medicine wants people to believe) were some of the most important lessons I could have learned.
After two years of working directly in the field, did you have a more clear idea of what medical specialty you wanted to pursue?
I thought I did after every rotation! After my OB/GYN rotation I was sure I was going to deliver babies for the rest of my life; after my ER rotation I thought I would treat emergencies forever; after my cardiology rotation all I cared about was the heart and how it was functioning. My life plan literally changed on a monthly basis but I finally settled on internal medicine as a specialty—it allowed me the most options and didn’t ignore any aspects of medicine. And it’s still changing, even in internal medicine, so it allows many options. I have yet to make up my mind on what I “want to be when I grow up.” Check back in a couple of years—by then I’ll have been forced to make a decision!
During your fourth year of medical school, you applied to residency programs across the country. What did this application process entail?
During the final year of medical school I began applying to residency programs in internal medicine for my “final” training experience. This involved a complex application process that led me to 13 different states in two months—all interviewing for a spot in the next year’s residency class. Each interview consisted of a full day of getting to know the program and anywhere from two to four interviews. After you complete interviews you rank all the programs that you liked with number one being the program you liked the best. You then put this list into a website, called the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), which used only for this purpose every year. The NRMP compiles a rank list from every medical student participating in the match and every program with spots open during the match. Every program makes its own rank list and plugs it into the database.
There is then an algorithm called “The Algorithm of Happiness.” More like the algorithm of anxiety-induced nausea, which decides where the best fit for you is by the rank list you submitted and the rank list the hospitals you interviewed at submitted. This all happens in mid-February. They then make you sit and stew for a month. Finally, on a Monday in the middle of March you find out if you matched at a program. But wait, they’re not done torturing you yet.
You find out if you matched but not where you matched. So you hang around for another week all relaxed and calm (yeah, right!) waiting to find out where you’ll spend the next three years. It could be the one you liked the best or the one you liked the least. I definitely drove my husband nuts that week with my constant pacing. Finally, finally, on Friday you find out where you matched and where you will be living for the next three years. I matched into an internal medicine residency program in Portland, OR at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center where I started as an intern physician in June of 2014. So, we packed up our Tucson apartment and made the trek to Portland! (I had a few gastric ulcers that came along too from all that stress!)
Now tell us about your current role! What are your responsibilities as an internal medicine resident?
My job responsibilities are pretty similar to an everyday physician now: I interview patients and exam them; I decide the course of treatment I would like to take; I tell them my thoughts on their disease process. The only difference is that after all that I check in with my attending physician to make sure they agree (and that there’s nothing I over looked as a new physician). Then I execute my plan with any changes that we decided together. I write all the medical notes for my patients and follow up with them on any of their concerns. That’s the nutshell of the job, anyway!
What is the most rewarding part of your work as a resident?
Actually, the most rewarding part is being an active part of a person’s medical needs. As a medical student, you did everything in order to learn but it never “counted.” If you saw a patient, your preceptor would still have to complete the entire exam. If you wrote a note, you preceptor still had to write a note in order to bill. Now if I think there’s something important that should be added to a patient’s labs, I put it in instead of asking someone else to place the orders. It’s so nice being a useful part of a team again!
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced throughout medical school, rotations, and residency? How have you overcome them?
The biggest challenges I faced were the deaths of both my grandpa and grandma during medical school. Being 1800 miles away from my family during these times of need and suffering was awful. Due to the distance I was unable to say goodbye to either of my grandparents before they passed and this is something that still weighs on me to this day.
Medical training isn’t designed to give “time off” but I had understanding professors who allowed me to make up tests during my grandpa’s funeral and a wonderful preceptor who allowed me to leave in the middle of an appointment to catch a plane to Wisconsin to try to make it in time for my grandma’s passing. These supportive role models helped me overcome any challenges or obstacles along with, of course, the never-ending support of my family during those times!
What advice would you give women seeking a career in medicine?
The best advice I can give is to want it [to be a physician] with every fiber of your being. Half the point of all the hoops medicine makes you jump through is to weed out the people who are not completely dedicated to a career in medicine. Be so passionate about your dreams that no one can doubt the authenticity of them.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Happy and healthy. I’m still uncertain of the direction my life will take at times but the one thing I always strive for in the future is happiness and healthiness. (And my hubby, of course!) If you have those two things everything else doesn’t really matter.
Be so passionate about your dreams that no one can doubt the authenticity of them.
Describe a typical workday. Busy, we’re sure!
This depends on the month since we switch services every 30 days. However, most months consist of a pretty basic schedule:
5-5:30 a.m.—wake up as late as possible in order to make coffee and be on time
6-6:30 a.m.—arrive at the hospital to start reviewing patients
7 a.m.—sign out from the overnight team (which is me one month out of the year)
7:10-8 a.m.—see patients
8-8:50 a.m.—morning report/education
8:50-9:30 a.m.—finish seeing patients and start progress/discharge notes
9:30-10:30 a.m.—round with attending (the most senior physician)
10:30 a.m. until 10 p.m.—finish notes, fix all the problems that come up during the day with patients, admit any new patients, review any new labs/tests/imaging, tidy up for the next day and make sure I’m out of the hospital by 11 p.m. in order to not violate the limit of work hours the ACGME places on first year residents
10:30 (ish) p.m.—home, kiss my husband, brush my teeth, crawl into bed…
Best moment of your career so far?
When my grandma Myrna and my mom hugged me and cried after medical school graduation because they were so proud and happy for me.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Slow down and take time to just stop and enjoy. Do that study aboard year that you never did (even though it would add another year onto an already lengthy education time). Take that year off in between undergrad and medical school to really enjoy life and find yourself. Travel as much as possible before being strapped down to a career with only three weeks of vacation per year. Enjoy every moment and don’t let the momentum of passionate goals completely rule your life.
Candace Meinen is The Everygirl…
Morning or night?
Morning! Most definitely morning. I love waking up to a brand new day!
Best advice you’ve ever received?
“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” I stand by this 125%.
Favorite part about living in Portland?
The breweries and the outdoor lifestyle. (I couldn’t just pick one!)
I wish I knew how to ________.
Sing! In a way that did not make people cringe!
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
I would have lunch with my grandmother, Doris, one more time. She was a huge inspiration to me and passed away a year before I graduated from medical school. And we wouldn’t go out! We’d have her specialty and my absolute favorite meal: homemade waffles and deviled eggs! I grew up thinking deviled eggs were a breakfast food because of this woman!