How to Select Your Three “Most Significant” Activities on Your AMCAS Work & Activities Section

A cartoon of a young, attractive medical school applicant wearing a white coat, levitating five bubbles. Each bubble contains an object representing a different aspect of their medical journey: a microscope for research, a beaker for science, a trophy for leadership, a stethoscope for clinical care, and a heart symbolizing their desire to become a doctor. The scene is colorful and whimsical.
Selecting your most compelling activities to highlight in your AMCAS takes thought

Medical school applicants often worry about which activities to select as their “most significant” on their AMCAS Work & Activities section. Over the last 17 years, Gurufi editors have helped hundreds of successful applicants craft this vital part of their medical school applications, including providing insights into which activities they should highlight. Since you can only select three, you should invest careful consideration into which accomplishments you elect to emphasize and showcase. When done thoughtfully, the right three activities can round out your application nicely and showcase the breadth and depth of your background.

 

Since every application is different, there is no simple and easy formula for selecting the ideal three, but there are some basic principles you should follow. Here’s how to choose your “Most Significant” activities thoughtfully.

 

Integrate with Your Personal Statement

Your personal statement and Work & Activities section should complement each other, creating a cohesive narrative about who you are and why you want to pursue medicine. If the personal statement provides depth, character, and nuance into one or two pivotal moments in your life, then the W&A should complement through breadth of experience. Thus, when selecting your “Most Significant” activities, ensure they add depth to your story without duplicating content from your personal statement. If your personal statement focuses on a specific event or life experience, use your “Most Significant” activities to shed light on other dimensions of your journey.

 

Highlight Leadership, Service, and Commitment to Social Justice

Medical schools value applicants who demonstrate leadership, a strong sense of service, and a commitment to social justice. Indeed, the revised formatting of the W&A section makes clear that this is a priority. When choosing your “Most Significant” activities, consider those that showcase these qualities. Did you lead a project, organize an event, or serve as a mentor? Did you volunteer extensively or work with underserved communities? These experiences not only highlight your skills but also reflect your commitment to making a difference, an essential trait for future physicians.

 

Focus on Long-Term Involvement and Growth

Activities that demonstrate sustained commitment and personal growth are highly valued. Prioritize those that span a significant period, where you gained new skills, earned promotions, or took on increased responsibilities. These experiences show your ability to commit and evolve, which is crucial for a successful medical career. Consider including activities where you played a long-term role in research, led a team, or made a lasting impact through community service.

 

Link Activities to Your Aspiring Medical Career

If possible, choose activities that connect with your aspirations as a future doctor. For example, if you aim to specialize in pediatrics, highlight your work with children. If you’re interested in medical research, discuss your research projects and their outcomes. By linking your “Most Significant” activities to your future career goals, you demonstrate a clear vision and purpose, qualities that medical schools seek in applicants.

 

Fill in the Gaps

Think of your application as a series of buckets to fill: science/research, service, your “origin story” explaining “why medicine?”, leadership, and clinical experiences. Your personal statement should not cover all five; it should focus on one key aspect. Use your “Most Significant” activities to fill in the gaps. If your personal statement primarily discusses your origin story, use this section to highlight your leadership or research experiences. This approach ensures a well-rounded application that captures various facets of your journey.

 

Tell a Compelling Story

With an additional 1,325 characters, you have the opportunity to share a compelling story about each “Most Significant” activity. Think about moments that had a profound impact on you or others, challenges you overcame, or lessons you learned. Craft a narrative that captures the essence of the experience and its relevance to your medical journey. By telling a captivating story, you engage the admissions committee and leave a lasting impression.

 

Selecting your “Most Significant” activities for the Work & Activities section of your AMCAS application is a strategic process. Focus on experiences that complement your personal statement, demonstrate leadership, service, and social justice, and showcase long-term involvement and growth. By linking these activities to your future aspirations in medicine and filling in the gaps, you’ll create a compelling narrative that reflects your readiness for medical school and beyond.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Important Changes to This Year’s AMCAS Application

Two medical school applicants, one male and one female, navigate an obstacle course wearing white coats, stethoscopes, sneakers, shorts, and gym socks. They carry piles of applications while sweating, facing various hurdles, climbing walls, and balancing beams
Know the new obstacles AMCAS has erected!

With the AMCAS portal opening May 1, many medical school applicants have already begun this process in earnest. Of all the graduate and professional schools, medical school has the most intense, time-consuming, and onerous application, and changes to it can send shivers of panic up the collective spines of aspiring physicians. Not to worry, at Gurufi, we have nearly 15 years of experience helping applicants earn admission to their top choice medical schools. We’re here to help!

         Here are some of the changes to this year’s AMCAS that you need to be aware of. These changes reflect a broader shift toward a more holistic review process. As such, in addition to noting specific things you should be aware of, also note how these changes are strong indicators of how much admissions committees care more and more about whether applicants have demonstrated leadership, care about public health, and have a service-oriented mindset when it comes to medicine as a career. Thus, these changes aim to capture a wider array of applicant experiences, providing admissions committees with a deeper understanding of candidates’ backgrounds, experiences, and motivations.

  1. 1. Social Justice/Advocacy Experience Type

One of the most notable additions to the AMCAS application is the new Social Justice/Advocacy experience type in the Work & Activities section. This category allows applicants to highlight their involvement in social justice or advocacy efforts, demonstrating their commitment to advancing the rights, privileges, or opportunities of a person, group, or cause. Examples of activities that fall under this category include registering people to vote, advocating for civil rights, reducing health inequities, addressing food deserts, or advocating for vulnerable populations such as children or the homeless.

         Note that this doesn’t necessarily have to be healthcare-related social justice work, as the above list indicates. Medical schools recognize that doctors must be prepared to work with diverse populations and advocate for health equity. By including this experience type, the AMCAS application aligns with the values of medical schools that seek to produce physicians who are not only clinically competent but also socially conscious and dedicated to addressing systemic issues.

Practical Advice: considering using one of your “Most Significant” entries so that you can have an additional 1325 characters to explain, at length, what you did, why it was important to you, what you learned, and perhaps how you think this work has given you an important perspective on the kind of doctor you aspire to become.

  1. Replacement of the “Disadvantaged Status” Question with “Other Impactful Experiences”

The second major change to the AMCAS application is the replacement of the Disadvantaged Status question with the Other Impactful Experiences question. This new question aims to promote a holistic review by allowing applicants to provide additional context about the challenges they may have experienced in their lives. The Other Impactful Experiences question is designed for applicants who have faced or overcome challenges in various areas, such as family background, financial circumstances, community setting, education, religion, or other life experiences.

This change provides a broader scope for applicants to share their unique stories and backgrounds, allowing admissions committees to better understand the hurdles they may have overcome. It also reduces the stigma associated with the term “disadvantaged” and offers a more inclusive platform for applicants to express their personal journeys and resilience.

Practical Advice: Any time you are discussing status, you want to make sure that you go beyond describing the status. Ultimately, the idea that you hope to convey is that a particular status is connected to experiences, worldviews, certain kinds of empathies, and connections to causes or problems that are personal to you. This is partly a function of wanting to make sure you convey yourself as a compelling candidate and partly a function of schools wanting to make sure that they remain on the right side of the law vis-à-vis new affirmative action rulings by the US Supreme Court.

  1. Addition of Drop-Down Categories for the Institutional Action Question

The third change involves the Institutional Action question, where applicants must report any disciplinary or academic issues they faced during their undergraduate education. Previously, this question was open-ended, but the new format includes a drop-down menu allowing applicants to select “Conduct,” “Academic,” or “Both.” This change aims to provide a more comprehensive view of any institutional action and allows applicants to categorize the nature of the issues they encountered.

The addition of drop-down categories provides more clarity and context for admissions committees. It helps them better understand the type of institutional action, reducing ambiguity and promoting a fairer assessment of applicants with disciplinary or academic histories.

Practical advice: We have written extensively about how to address missteps in your medical school applications. Check out these shorts, here, here, and here (this was done for MBA applicants, but the ideas are the same!):

  1. Optional Field for AAMC PREview® Exam Registration Date

The final change to the AMCAS application is the inclusion of an optional field to indicate an upcoming AAMC PREview® exam registration date. This addition allows applicants to indicate their intention to take the PREview exam, providing medical schools with information on when they can expect the score .

The AAMC PREview® exam assesses applicants’ pre-professional competencies and is designed to help admissions committees evaluate candidates’ readiness for medical school. By including this optional field, the AMCAS application aligns with the growing importance of the PREview exam in the admissions process, allowing schools to plan accordingly for the evaluation of these scores.

Remember, though these changes are important, the underlying components of a strong application remain the same. Take these changes into account as you craft your personal statement, Work & Activities, and secondaries. And, if you need help with these vital documents, Gurufi’s editors collectively have more than 50 years of experience helping students earn admission into the top medical schools in the country! Check us out today.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

A Partner’s Guide to Surviging Medical School & Residency

Cartoon of a supportive husband comforting his exhausted wife, a medical school student, at her desk filled with textbooks and an open laptop. He stands behind her, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder and offering a cup of coffee, symbolizing encouragement and care in her journey to becoming a doctor.
Be a good partner through the hard times.

Next week, we’ll be releasing our course on putting together your medical school personal statement. Before we began, though, I wanted to provide the additional perspective of somebody married to a doctor. When we first met, my wife was a medical student, so I’ve been with her through the process of medical school, residency, fellowship, and the first stages of her career. I’ve helped her mentees and classmates with their essays and admission / matching processes, and I understand what a partner of a physician and aspiring physician faces.

I won’t offend doctors by claiming it’s as hard as medical school, but being the partner of a doctor is a difficult road, so I wanted to write two brief little snippets on what you should be prepared for, how you can help, and how you can position yourself personal and as a couple for long-term success.

Next week, I’ll go back to providing insights and advice for medical school applications and personal statements, but first: how should a spouse think about medical school?

As the spouse or partner of a future medical student, you are about to embark on a unique and challenging journey. Medical school can be a demanding and stressful time, but with the right support, it can also be an incredibly rewarding experience. Here are some tips to help you survive and thrive during this exciting time.

  1. Understand the demands of medical school: Medical school is a rigorous and demanding program that requires a significant amount of time and effort. It is important to understand the demands of the program and be prepared to support your partner as they navigate the challenges ahead. Be aware of the long hours, intensive studying, and clinical rotations that will be a part of their daily routine.

During medical school, there were long stretches where my wife wasn’t around much, because she was studying or doing rotations. That obviously became much more protracted and intense when her residency began. I was finishing my Ph.D., so I had things to do, but I also knew that the physical, mental, and emotional intensity of medical school was on a whole other level, so I did what I could to empathize and make her life a little easier.

  1. Communicate openly and honestly: Good communication is key to a healthy and supportive relationship, especially during the challenges of medical school. Make sure to have regular, open, and honest conversations with your partner about their experiences and how you can support them. Be an active listener and offer encouragement and support when needed. Understand that many conversations will occur when your partner is exhausted, so don’t choose those times to start arguments. In fact, one of the best things you can do to support your partner through this process is to improve their sleep situation. Blackout windows, a cooling mattress, white noise machine, and keeping a silent house will be immensely appreciated!
  2. Be flexible and understanding: Medical school can be demanding and stressful, and it may require significant changes to your normal routine. Be flexible and understanding of your partner’s needs and try to make changes that will help both of you balance your priorities. This may include adjusting your work schedule, rearranging household responsibilities, or making other modifications to your daily routine.
  3. Get involved in the medical school community: Joining the medical school community can help you stay informed about what’s happening and provide opportunities to meet other partners and spouses. This can include attending events, participating in clubs and organizations, or volunteering for events and initiatives. And, understand that when medical school students, residents, or doctors get together, they basically only talk about medicine. So having some non-doctors around in those social settings will help keep you sane.
  4. Maintain your own interests and hobbies: It is important to maintain your own interests and hobbies. Most weeks, my wife had one (maybe two) day off, and when she was ‘on’ she was basically gone from before sunrise until late into the night. As such, I had to find ways to entertain myself. I went to a ton of Red Sox games, worked out, binged documentaries, and got a dog.

Make time for the activities that bring you joy and fulfillment, and consider taking on new challenges and experiences that will help you grow and develop.

  1. Encourage self-care and stress management: Medical school can be a stressful time for both you and your partner. Encourage your partner to prioritize self-care and stress management, including exercise, healthy eating habits, and time for relaxation and rejuvenation. It can be hard to hit the gym hard after the fifth day of 19-hour shifts, but when you have a chance, find opportunities to do things together that will make you both happy.
  2. Offer support during high-stakes times: Medical school is full of high-stakes moments, such as exams, clinical rotations, and residency interviews. Offer your support and encouragement during these times, and be there to celebrate your partner’s successes and provide comfort during setbacks. These don’t have to be grand gestures. I always made a point of having coffee brewed, keeping leftovers in the fridge for when she came home, and keeping stocked with her favorite snacks: Whole Foods mango slices.

Also, doctors likely deal with heavy matters of life and death, and when they break down or want to talk about them, accept that you probably won’t have any answers, and maybe can’t provide any comfort, but they will appreciate your willingness to listen and provide sympathy.

  1. Be a sounding board: Medical school can be a time of intense self-reflection and growth, and it is important for you to be a sounding board for your partner. Listen to their ideas and provide a supportive environment in which they can explore their thoughts and goals.
  2. Build a network of your own: Building a network of friends and colleagues inside and outside of medicine can help you stay connected and informed during medical school. Seek out opportunities to connect with other partners and spouses, and consider joining clubs and organizations that align with your interests.
  3. Plan for the future: Medical school is an investment in your partner’s future, and it is important to plan for the changes and opportunities that may come with a new degree. Consider your long-term goals and aspirations, and have open and honest conversations about how the MD degree will impact your shared future.

If you can make it through medical school and residency, the rest of your life is gravy. Embrace the idea that you’re both undertaking something really hard, but intensely meaningful. I used to joke that being married to a medical resident was like having a flight attendant as a roommate: they’re not around much, but when they come back they have interesting stories.

In a relationship that lasts a lifetime, different partners will need support at different times, and frankly during this phase your med school partner will probably need more from you than they can give back. Share their burden and appreciate the role you can play in the life you’re building together!

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

What to Include AND NOT INCLUDE In Your AMCAS Personal Statement

Cartoon of a female medical school applicant surrounded by thought bubbles representing clinical experience, lab work, excellent grades, leadership, and volunteering with the homeless

         As the May 2nd AMCAS release date approaches, many applicants have begun planning their applications and personal statements. After nearly 20 years of helping people get into top medical schools, I have seen, over and over, how the best applications feature a focused personal statement complemented by Work/Activities sections that provide breadth and complementarity. This is a tricky task, and in putting together your AMCAS application package, it’s crucial to understand the difference between “box-checking” and “ differentiators.” All applicants will, no doubt, possess the necessary prerequisites, but how you present these alongside your unique experiences can set you apart in the competitive medical school admissions process.

Understanding “Box-Checking”

Box-checking activities are essential components of any medical school application. These are the basic qualifications that admissions committees expect every applicant to possess. Generally, these include:

  • Clinical Experience/Exposure: Demonstrating hands-on patient interaction and an understanding of the healthcare environment.
  • Sufficient Scientific Training: Evidence of rigorous scientific education, typically highlighted by coursework and lab experiences.
  • Service-Mindedness: Engagement in activities that show a commitment to helping others, often through volunteering or community service.
  • Leadership: Doctors are leaders of healthcare teams, so the ability to lead is crucial. Thus, admissions committees prize situations (academic, athletic, personal, professional) that demonstrate leadership.

While these elements are critical, they do not usually distinguish one candidate from another because almost all applicants will meet these criteria.

 

The Role of Differentiators

Your application’s most precious “real estate”—particularly your personal statement—should be dedicated to what makes your journey to medicine unique. The easy rule of thumb is that “the personal statement is about depth; everything else is about breadth.” That is, use your personal statement to tell 1-3 compelling stories, but tell them well and with relevant detail. These differentiators are what make your application memorable and can significantly enhance your appeal to an admissions committee.

What kinds of things work well as differentiators?

 

Identifying Your Unique Elements

First, it’s important to note that every candidate will have different differentiators, depending on their interests, backgrounds, and career goals. For example:

  • MD/PhD Candidates: If you’re aiming for a dual-degree program, emphasizing your research experience and long-term investigative goals could be your differentiator.
  • Aspiring Medical Researchers: Highlight any unique research projects, particularly those where you played a pivotal role or contributed to meaningful outcomes.
  • Leaders in Healthcare: If you’ve held significant leadership roles, either in healthcare settings or in community organizations, these experiences showcase your potential to lead in the medical field. Don’t be afraid to feature something that is ostensibly non-medical. Working on Capitol Hill, doing GOTV, your time as an elite NCAA athlete… these can all be tied into a narrative that supports your medical school aspirations.

 

Strategic Placement of Information

It’s essential to strategically place information about box-checking and differentiators across different parts of your application:

 

  • Personal Statement: This should be primarily reserved for telling your unique story. How have your experiences and ambitions shaped your desire to pursue medicine? Focus on moments that highlight your unique insights, challenges overcome, and personal growth. Don’t weigh your essay down with box-checking. Remember, you’ll have additional chances to show your full range of accomplishments, BUT the best way to ensure that the reader doesn’t give your W/A, reccos, etc. a full reading is to write a boring and rote personal statement. On the other hand, if your reader’s interest is piqued, then they’ll really dig into all parts of your application.
  • Work & Activities Section (AMCAS): Utilize this section to detail your box-checking activities. Use the “Most Significant” activity descriptions to expand on experiences that have prepared you for medical school but are more common among applicants.
  • Secondary Essays: These can also be a valuable space to discuss aspects of your candidacy that you didn’t explore fully in your personal statement, including additional differentiators or significant box-checking activities. That said, beware: don’t leave important / featured parts of your life / application for your secondaries for two reasons: (1) not every school will ask you a question that allows you to bring up this important accomplishment, and (2) if something is a needle-mover, don’t put it in a part of your application that might not come (because you don’t a secondary) or that will be so late in your package that your reader is already sort of made up their mind.

 

Why Differentiators Matter More Than Ever

 

Medical schools increasingly value well-rounded candidates who bring diverse perspectives and skills to their programs. Indeed, it’s such a point of emphasis that the Work/Activities section has a new Social Justice and Advocacy experience type. This shift means that admissions committees are looking for more than just academic and clinical excellence; they want individuals who can contribute uniquely to the medical community through:

  • Policy Work and Public Health: Experience in these areas can demonstrate an understanding of the broader factors that impact healthcare systems and patient care.
  • Innovative Research or Unique Clinical Experiences: Especially those that break new ground or address significant challenges in medicine.
  • Personal Stories: Compelling personal narratives that connect your life experiences to your medical aspirations can be powerful differentiators.

 

Crafting Your Narrative

When writing your personal statement, consider where your narrative fits best. If your experience is common, such as working in a lab doing routine tasks, it might be better placed in the AMCAS section, unless there is a compelling story or unique challenge associated with it. Always aim to tell a story that only you can tell, focusing on what sets you apart from the crowd.

 

While box-checking is necessary, it’s not sufficient for standing out in a pool of highly qualified applicants. Consider your application as a holistic, complementary package and that each section does something different for you. Your differentiators are what imbue your application with color and personality, making you memorable to the admissions committee, so make sure to feature them prominently. As you prepare your application, carefully consider how to balance these elements to present a compelling picture of who you are and what you will bring to the field of medicine. Remember, in the competitive arena of medical school admissions, it’s not just about checking the boxes—it’s about drawing outside of them.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

How to Approach Medical School Interview (Start EARLY!)

A cartoon of a young, attractive blonde woman dressed in a professional business suit, confidently participating in a medical school interview. She appears calm and prepared, sitting across from an interviewer in a modern, minimalistic interview room.

When most people think about medical school interviews, they assume that they’re something they’ll deal with at the very end of the application process. After all, as our consultant at Gurufi know well, applicants first have to complete their MCAT, AMCAS package, personal statement, Work & Activities, and a flood (hopefully) of secondaries. In a technical sense, they’re right: interviews are the end of a lengthy journey.

 

But, it is worth it to spend some time going and over and thinking about the most common interview questions and thinking about what your responses would be. There are two reasons. First, if these are the questions that the doctors, administrators, and (sometimes) medical students tend to ask in interviews, isn’t this a good insight into what they tend to look for? As such, having worked out your responses to them beforehand could provide some useful background guidance or content for your personal statements and secondaries. Second, there is value in reading through these questions early, exposing them to your brain, and letting your mind work through them over the course of months so that you can slowly -almost as a background process- develop nuanced, personal, and authentic answers to these questions so that if/when you get to the interview stage, you’re ready to go!

 

Indeed, I would urge you to get a notebook and do 10 minutes of writing and outlining / brainstorming for each one. Sketch out your initial ideas. As you do, you should hopefully began to get ideas for your personal statement or, later, secondaries.

 

  1. Why do you want to pursue a career in medicine? This question is often one of the first asked and is an opportunity for you to express your passion and motivation for the field of medicine. Be clear and concise in your answer, and highlight specific experiences or events that inspired your interest in medicine.
  2. What is your understanding of the role of a physician? This question is an opportunity for you to show your understanding of the responsibilities and duties of a physician. Highlight your understanding of the importance of compassion, dedication, and professionalism in the field of medicine. It also provides an excellent opportunity to talk about role models or doctors whose approach you admire.
  3. Can you discuss a specific experience that influenced your decision to pursue medicine? This question is a chance for you to highlight a meaningful experience that has shaped your decision to pursue a career in medicine. Be specific and share details about what you learned from the experience and how it has influenced your goals and aspirations.
  4. Can you discuss a time when you had to overcome a challenge? This question is asking about your problem-solving skills and how you handle difficult situations. Be honest and provide a specific example of a challenge you faced and how you overcame it. Often, this might end up being a moment where you failed. That’s fine! As we have discussed in other contexts, a thoughtful and genuine (non “humble-brag”) reflection on a failure can be a valuable part of your interview / application.
  5. What interests you most about the medical school you are applying to? This question is an opportunity for you to show your interest in the specific medical school you are applying to and why it is a good fit for you. Be sure to research the school ahead of time and highlight specific programs, opportunities, or resources that appeal to you.
  6. Can you discuss a time when you had to work with a difficult team member? This question is asking about your ability to work with others and handle conflict in a team setting. Provide a specific example and talk about what you learned from the experience.
  7. What are your long-term career goals? This question is asking about your future plans and what you hope to achieve in your career. Be clear and concise in your answer and show how your goals align with the mission and values of the medical school you are applying to.
  8. Can you discuss a time when you had to make a difficult ethical decision? This question is asking about your ethical principles and how you handle challenging ethical situations. Be specific in your answer and talk about what you learned from the experience.
  9. Can you discuss a time when you had to learn something new quickly? This question is asking about your adaptability and ability to learn new information quickly. Provide a specific example and talk about what you learned from the experience.
  10. Can you tell us about a healthcare issue that you are passionate about? This question is an opportunity for you to show your interest in and knowledge of healthcare issues. Choose an issue that you are passionate about and be sure to explain why it is important to you.

When it comes time to actually interview, you should revisit your responses to these questions and perhaps expand on them, noting information you’ve gleaned from the following steps:

  1. Research the medical school ahead of time and be familiar with their mission and values.
  2. Work you’ve done to make your answers more concise and specific.
  3. Moments from your life that display your passion and motivation for the field of medicine.

 

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our medical school personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top med schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements and refining Work & Activities sections and secondaries in ways that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Five Topics to Avoid in Your Medical School Personal Statement

 

Two cartoon medical school applicants in white coats cross a rickety wooden bridge over a river of lava, where playful monsters representing topics like alcohol use, religion, and politics emerge. The applicants hold their application papers and look anxiously towards a stylized medical school building in the distance. The scene is light-hearted and colorful, set in a fantastical landscape.
Steering Clear of Pitfalls: These Medical School Applicants Navigate the Perilous Path to Admission, Humorously Avoiding Topics Like Politics and Alcohol Use

We’re deep into April, and as medical school applicants begin thinking about their personal statements in earnest, we at Gurufi are putting the final touches on our medical school application video series. Every year, we help scores of applicants earn admission into top medical schools and residency programs.

In a recent post, I talked about the worst topic to use as your medical school personal statement introduction. Though I think that some topics are more complicated and fraught than others, I don’t usually give clients hard “no-go” topics. Rather, it’s about thinking about framing, context, and delivery. Another way to think about it is that these aren’t “banned” topics, per se; they’re just topics that have higher degrees of difficulty. Here are some topics to think twice about as you approach your personal statement.

  • Religion and politics. Don’t ever proselytize or make assumptions about what the reader’s politics are. Faith can be a vital part of many applicants’ lives, but to the extent that you bring it up, do it in a way that isn’t gratuitous, and make sure that you embrace a spirit of inclusivity. Similarly, it’s becoming increasingly common for people with backgrounds in politics, policy, or advocacy to transition into medical careers. As you talk about your political engagements, focus on what you hope to accomplish and avoid denigrating other political positions.

 

I have noticed that applicants with policy and politics backgrounds are becoming increasingly common in medical school applications, and they’re having a lot of success in their applications! Indeed, having helped many people write personal statements that emphasize the intersection of policy and medicine, I would note that the best essays focus on issues and policy, and don’t make sweeping statements about partisanship. What’s the difference? Well, advocating for, for example, better public health initiatives, protection of abortion rights, or better recognition of LGBTQ issues within healthcare spaces are all instances of health policy advocacy, whereas saying something like, “the Trump administration…” is a focus on partisanship.

  • Personal tragedy. Again, this is a topic that can be an important and effective part of a personal statement, if done properly. If done poorly, it can weigh the essay down in negativity. As a general rule, I urge clients to eventually bring their stories around to a forward-looking and optimistic vision. Tragedies either inspire you to become better, urged you to fight for a solution, or somehow teach you vital insights that will make you a better doctor. What you do NOT want is to include a sad story because you’re seeking emotionality for its own sake. Remember your purpose: to convince the reader that you’re a prepared, interesting, qualified, and mature candidate. Overcoming hardship can show that; a sad-sack story about life grinding you down that doesn’t end on an optimistic note will not.

  1. Your personal setbacks. Everybody makes mistakes, and if the AdCom will know about your setback, you HAVE to talk about it. I’ve made several videos about how to do this. Heck, I even did a full-length detailed course for MBA applicants on how to do this (the same basic rules apply). So what are the basic rules?

 Be clear about what your setback was. Don’t be vague or use euphemism.

 Own it. Accept responsibility and state directly that you fell short of your standards.

 Explain what you learned AND how you’ve improved since.

 If you can point to subsequent examples of success, do so.

 Move on. Take an optimistic tone about the future and embrace the fact that you’ve learned and grown since.

  1. Talking about your use of drugs or alcohol in a personal statement for medical school is typically not a smart idea. Discussions about past substance misuse may not be consistent with the admissions committee’s expectation of candidates who are responsible and dedicated to upholding a professional image. If, though, you have a conviction for some alcohol-related crime, you MUST address it at some point, so use the guidelines laid out above for how to address missteps thoughtfully.
  2. In general, it’s not a good idea to mention that you want to become a doctor only for the money or the status. Admissions committees are searching for applicants who are passionate about medicine and truly want to assist others.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

 

Here are some additional resources for this topic:

  1. “Medical School Personal Statement Dos and Don’ts.” Kaplan Test Prep, Kaplan, Inc., www.kaptest.com/medical/medical-school/medical-school-personal-statement-dos-and-donts.
  2. “5 Things to Avoid in Your Personal Statement.” Association of American Medical Colleges, www.aamc.org/students/applying/amcas/personalstatement/5things.
  3. “5 Things to Avoid in Your Personal Statement.” Association of American Medical Colleges, www.aamc.org/students/applying/amcas/personalstatement/5things.
  4. “Medical School Personal Statement Dos and Don’ts.” Kaplan Test Prep, Kaplan, Inc., www.kaptest.com/medical/medical-school/medical-school-personal-statement-dos-and-donts.
  5. “5 Things to Avoid in Your Personal Statement.” Association of American Medical Colleges, www.aamc.org/students/applying/amcas/personalstatement/5things.

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Part 1 of Our “Interview With a Doctor” Series.

In our “Interview With a Doctor” series, we talk to doctors about their journey to medicine, medical school admissions, what they wished they had known when they started this process, and what they see as the rewards and challenges of being a doctor. Today is Part 1 of our interview with Dr. Aloysius Fobi, who is a board-certified emergency medicine physician, professor of medicine at Oregon Health Science University, and attending physician at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon.

If you have questions about medical school admissions, please check us out at Gurufi.com or email us directly at service@gurufi.com. The editors and consultants at Gurufi have helped hundreds of motivated aspiring physicians get into their dream medical schools. We hope that you can be the next one!

Advice from Doctors on Medical School Admissions & Life As a Doctor

As part of our ongoing series on medical school admissions, life as a doctor, and the challenges of life in medicine, today we interview Dr. Aloysius Fobi, MD and Dr. Rachel Pilliod, MD. Dr. Fobi is a board-certified Emergency Medicine physician and professor of Emergency Medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University. Dr. Pilliod is a Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist and ObGyn who trained at Massachusetts General Hospital / Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, and currently is an attending physician at Oregon Health Sciences University.
Today, they talk about persistence in the medical school process, how to differentiate yourself from other qualified doctors, and what committing to medicine means on a practical level.

If you need help with your medical school applications, please check us out at FourthWrite.com/medical or email us at info@fourthwrite.com

Tips for Medical School Secondary Essays

For med school applicants, writing your AMCAS Personal Statement can be hell. You spend weeks perfecting every sentence. Then… secondaries come. Maybe even dozens of them. It can feel overwhelming. Here are some tips for how to think about this process.

A Great Breakdown of the Medical School Admissions Process

This is a really useful overview. I’d recommend anyone applying print this out and upload its details into their calendars!