How to Handle Your Personal Statement - Interview w/ Don Osborne of INQUARTA

Leonardo: Welcome back to the Cambridge Learning Center and the second part of our three-part series on the whole process of medical school admissions. We’re here again with Don Osborne, who has made some more time for us to give us some in-depth information on personal statements and other intangibles. So Don, why don’t you tell us a little bit about the personal statement?

Don: Ya, I would love to. So the personal statement in the online AMCAS application or TMDSAS or AADSAS or the AACOMAS for DO schools, so no matter which of the allied health applications you’re working on, the process is kinda the same. In other words, if you take a look at AMCAS, the first thing that you’re going to see is biographical information - name, address, city, state, zip - and then immediately after that you’re going to see grades and MCAT scores and then after that are experiences and then the very last thing that the reader sees in the sort-of pagination of your AMCAS is your personal statement. So literally you can tell by the structure of how the AMCAS application lays out that the first 7, 8, 9 pages is all this hard data about you and it’s only until you get to the personal statement that you’re actually able to say much of anything about who you are and what you stand for and why medicine is right for you. Unfortunately, a lot of students take the personal statement on as a way of sort of summarizing, capturing their past. And they sort of revisit a lot of the experiences, and by the way these are experiences that are already in other parts of the application and they sort of annotate them a bit more and they lay them out a little bit in order to get some, I think they’re trying to get some credibility without really realizing that they’re repeating themselves. They’re trying to just demonstrate that their experiences are credible and that they’re therefore a worthy applicant, a worthy candidate for medical school. So that’s what I think most students do and that results, unfortunately, in this sort of looking in the mirror, looking backwards perspective. So what I would like to suggest is that, if you’re premed and you’re supposed to be this hope-filled, ambitious, enthusiastic, highly qualified candidate for medicine and medical school, I would love for you to be forward-looking and forward-thinking at least in part of your personal statement so medical schools can understand your reason why you’re interested in being a doctor and it needs to be, of course, something more than you want to become a doctor because you want to help people or more than you want to be a doctor because you love science or more than you want to be a doctor because maybe a relative of yours has been a doctor and you were influenced that way. It really has to be more than that. So I’m suggesting that you pick a pretty ambitious life-long career plan or career path that you can then use as sort-of the structure, the skeleton, to hang your experiences and your motivations in medicine on to.

Leonardo: Very interesting.

Don: You know there’s an example. Pick an illness or pick a condition. I want to be the doctor who delivers 50,000 healthy babies and cares for the babies and their moms up through the first 6 months of life. Now that’s a very ambitious and achievable goal, but what a beautiful long term perspective to have. If I’m an admissions committee member and I read that, it will certainly stand out compared to, you know, I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was little, I went to shadow this person at this hospital, and in high school I was an Eagle Scout, and you know I have all these accolades, these sort-of badges right but I don’t really have the language to say why I want to do medicine. So the why you want to do medicine, the more specific you can make it, the better off you’re going to be.

Leonardo: That’s really interesting because I’ve noticed in talking to students when they’re writing their personal statements, what they’re really doing is trumpeting their achievements rather than looking forward. And I think that’s a really unique and very effective approach. When I was at Harvard I was on one of the admissions committees for one of the graduate schools and one of the things I noticed was, as a reader of essays, you read so many application portfolios and everybody’s qualified, everybody’s got grades, and it’s that personal statement that really separates everybody. It’s that personal statement that really comes alive and really where you read that personal statement and you literally take it to the admissions committee meeting and say, “Hey, look at this one. This is really interesting”

Don: Ya, exactly. I mean let’s pretend that both you and I are applying to a graduate school. You’re going to have a standardized test score, so will I. They’ll probably be relatively similar. You’re going to have experiences, so will I. They’ll be different but they’ll be roughly, arguably, parallel. It’s only until the personal statement shows up that your personality is able to shine and my personality is able to shine and we’re able to be individuals.

Leonardo: Precisely. I mean that’s really great advice. One of the things I want to talk to you about but we’re running out of time now is the whole overview of the timeline for medical school admissions because I know it’s some of the other conversations that you and I have had, that whole strategy of timing and when the best time to apply is can be absolutely critical. So if you’ve got the time we’d like to do another video just specializing on that.

Don: Ya I would love to and let me also, if I could, just offer to any student who’s watching this video, I actually have a course on how to write your medical school personal statement.

Leonardo: Outstanding.

Don: And I would love to offer that. I’ll send you a link so you can put it in the description at the bottom of this video and students can get a special offer to access that course where I go into a lot more detail about how to write your medical school personal statement.

Leonardo: Outstanding. We’ll make sure that’s at the bottom of the page right after this interview is over. So again Don, as always, thank you for your time. It’s always valuable and it’s always a benefit, certainly to me, and I know to our students. So we’ll see you at the next visit.


Click here to access the personal statement resource mentioned in the interview: