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The Personal Statement The Analysis

The Personal Statement:

From the time I was 10 years old, I spent my summers at overnight camp. While baseball and canoeing were fun, I spent my free time in the camp radio station. Sitting at the microphone, my imagination ran wild as I made stories come alive, weaving characters in and out of danger, delivering punch lines, injecting irony. My fingers flew over the controls, pushing buttons, pulling levers at just the right times. I thrived on the creativity and precision it took to sound good on the air.

As I grew older, my exposure to the media expanded. My first job out of college was with CNN's Larry King Live, where I spent three exciting years. While the job had its thrills, it became an unsatisfying way to make a living for someone who was taught to work hard for the under-served, think carefully about life's priorities, and live by them everyday. I longed to feed my intellectual curiosity. I wanted to work with my hands and remain involved with people. I was mature enough to work hard for what I wanted.

I quit my job at CNN and began taking Pre-Med courses and volunteering in a hospital. I moved from my two-bedroom apartment to a small efficiency. Black-tie affairs with celebrities became TV dinners over a chemistry book. My life was changed. One year later, I continue to donate my time as an Emergency Medical Technician in the Georgetown Emergency Room, and I play my guitar and sing with sick kids in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

Volunteering has confirmed what I thought - that medicine is where I belong. Even in my limited capacity as a volunteer, bringing a cold patient a blanket or putting a reassuring hand on her shoulder is deeply rewarding. Watching a child smile as we sing Old McDonald, and knowing that, even for a moment, he is thinking about something besides his sick body, keeps me coming back every week. And learning about why our bodies work the way they do has even greater rewards, for a slightly different reason.

When I was 13 years old, my mother died after battling liver cancer for a year and a half. I remember very well the first few months after the disease took hold. We tried different drugs and therapies in various doses. I recall the uncertainty - was the chemotherapy working? Could we beat this cancer? Some days it seemed like we could, other days not. A year later the cancer was winning, but Mom continued to fight. She wasn't a quitter.

A few months before her death, though, it was clear we had been defeated. Our profound loss came in March of 1988.

Along with unspeakable grief, I was left with myriad questions. Why us? How did it happen? Why couldn't she be saved? Should we have done something differently?

Most of the more ambiguous questions I have stopped asking. I don't know why me. Nobody does. I don't know why a disease so deadly struck a woman of such heart, humility and grace. I've decided, at least for now, that those questions don't really have good answers. But there are questions that have explanations. What causes a cell to divide out of control? How can we prevent that? What should we do when it happens? These are the answers I am looking for. And that search is why I left TV to be an MD.

My mother's death left me with a keener perspective about what we can control in life and what we cannot. I am eager to use science and medicine to treat those ailments over which we hold the reins. But I know that there are times when a doctor's resources, no matter how plenty, will not be enough. It is at those times, that I will draw on the greatest gifts my mother left me - my compassion and empathy - to treat the wounds we cannot suture.

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The Analysis:

Overall: well written, comes across as honest, sincere. How can we make improvements?

(1) There is one sentence missing which is critical. There is nothing wrong with changing directions in your carreer pursuits but the onus is on you to unambiguously convince the admissions committee of the importance of your most recent direction: medicine. 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..."

(2) Your compassion? empathy? your interest in the science of medicine? the human body? I thought you answered these important questions relatively well. However, illustrating a specific 1:1 encounter with a patient through volunteer work is of greater value than statements which are a combination of personal and impersonal (i.e. para 4).

(3) "Self-directed learning" is essential at most modern med-schools and you have probably done it often (para 1, 2 and 8). 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 working at CNN? Leadership, working as a team, working with not above or against, cooperation, reacting calmly in stressful situations, etc. You don't have to mention "doctor" in order to demonstrate important skills required to be a doctor (the admissions committee will make the correct inference).

(5) Minor technical: (a) don't use contractions in formal writing; (b) replace "under-served" (para 2); (c) equivocal : "kids" to "children" (para 3); (d) usage: "with a myriad of questions" (para 7)

(6) General: one underlying problem is that the letter could be better organized (this is discussed elsewhere in this website). You start off with what seems to be a chronological letter (age 10 to CNN to ER and ICU) but half way through we are back at age 13. As a result there is a hole between para 2 and 3. Why suddenly take premed courses when there are so many other fields which can feed your "intellectual curiousity"? You have done a very good job and you have the time to make it excellent. By the way, great ending (bias: I am a surgeon!).

Good luck! - BF, MD

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