|The Personal Statement||The Analysis|
My palms began to sweat profusely as I sat in the admission's office chair looking down at the white space on the application form asking for my major. This was the moment of truth: I would finally have to reveal to the world that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. At seventeen and with only limited exposure to the medical field, I believed doctors were people in lab coats with test tubes who gave orders and cared only about science and money, not humanity. Becoming a doctor was one of the furthest things from my mind. I peered at the "undecided" box and checked it sheepishly. That action seemed to announce such failure.
All that I was certain of was that one-day I wanted to have a family. At 19, fate stepped in and I was fortunate to meet the right person to marry. We immediately started our family. Then reality hit. Two weeks after our son was born, my husband was "downsized" out of his position. The bills mounted, as we fell deeper in debt. To support us, my husband took a position that required us to move frequently. Every semester I found myself on a new campus, trying to acclimate, transferring as many courses as I could, starting over, determined to get a degree so I could help support my struggling family. Finally, six universities later, I graduated and found a job as an accountant. Slowly, we got on track and out of debt. Our hard work and perseverance had its rewards. Because of the number of moves we had made and my broad academic exposure, I had become very flexible and learned to absorb new concepts very quickly. These strengths combined with my hard work helped me get promoted rapidly. Inside of four years I was a top manager, making good money. However, I had become very aware that I still had not answered the question on my college application of what I wanted to do with my life. While I was good at what I did, at the end of the day, even a good day, I rarely felt like I had accomplished something worthwhile.
Before I could begin to explore any of my alternatives further, tragedy struck. I had a miscarriage. My husband and I were shocked and devastated. Per my HMO, I went to my PCP. He promptly started talking about spontaneous abortion, my malformed fetus and how it was the best thing that could have happened to "it" (my baby), because now I would not have to bare the burden of caring for a deformed child. I was dumbfounded and horrified by his cold, clinical rapport.
He did refer me to my OB/GYN who shifted the whole experience 180 degrees. No one could stop what was happening to me physically, but how I was cared for on a personal level made all the difference in the world. My doctor took the time to explain what was happening and going to happen to me in physical, mental and emotional terms. She talked to me about loss. She was warm and compassionate. I realized how important a doctor is to every patient, every time; whether the doctor heals them physically or not. I became critically aware that doctors are way more than test tubes and lab coats. This was the first step on my road to knowing what I wanted to do.
At the beginning of last year, I went to work for an HMO as Manager of Financial Reporting. Much of my job focused around statistical analysis of the HMO's preventative medicine programs. I was exposed to the true inner workings of the medical world and was completely enthralled with the scientific study and how dramatically science and preventative care could increase the quality of people's lives. Using my analytical skills to work with the doctors on program designs, interacting with the patients on implementation and seeing the effect of a positive outcome were uniquely inspiring. I had taken another step closer to knowing where I belonged.
Unfortunately, the HMO was not financially stable. I took a job at a computer training company that offered an opportunity to get out of number crunching. In the middle of a heated discussion with upper managers about a missed deadline, one of the vice presidents made the statement that what the training company did was not brain surgery. It did not really matter. No one would die. That was the last piece of the puzzle. At that moment I realized that I longed for a career where everyday I would make a difference.
For me the road to completing my application has been a long one. Along the way I have picked up invaluable skills and experiences that will make me a good doctor to every patient, every time, whether I can heal them physically or not. I know what it is like to have lost. I know what it is like to persevere when the odds seem insurmountable. I know what science can do to improve people's lives. As I sat in the admissions office of the University last fall, I was calm. When the receptionist asked what I was there for, I answered easily: I want to be a doctor.
Overall: well written, comes across as honest, sincere. How can we make this very good letter excellent?
(1) Somewhere in the letter words like the following should be present: "I am now convinced that medicine is the right career choice for me" +/- "I am committed to pursue medicine as a career and I have decided against pursuing..." There is nothing wrong about concluding you want to be a Dr. after many years but your challenge is to convince the admissions committee what you might find is obvious: I am serious and I am committed.
(2) Your compassion? empathy? your interest in the science of medicine? the human body? You mention that you respect compassionate people (para 4), but prove that you are that person (usually a brief story about a 1:1 encounter with a patient through volunteer work).
(3) "Self-directed learning" is essential at most modern med-schools and you have probably done it often (para 5 and 6). However, it should be clear whenever you have taught yourself something new, self-directed research, creativity, etc.
(4) What skills, relevant to the study of medicine, did you learn from being a manager? Leadership, working with not above or against, cooperation, reacting calmly in stressful situations, etc.
(5) Minor technical: I agree with Mel's comments including about abbreviations (i.e. PCP). Para 2, line 3 delete 2nd comma. Were you the one who instigated the "heated discussion" in para 2? Consider brief highlights of extracurricular or volunteer activity which demonstrate skills learned which are relevant to the study of medicine (it is not important whether or not you were interested in medicine at that time, what is important is that you acquired the necessary personality traits to be the best md you can be; I know that some of these things are simply listed elsewhere in the AMCAS application).
And finally, you may think it impossible to add more to your essay when the space is so limited. You may recall that George Bernard Shaw once apologized to a friend for having written a long letter; he said he did not have enough time to write a short letter. You have done a very good job and you have the time to make it excellent.
Good luck! - BF, MD