Sample Medical School Essays
This section contains two sample medical school essays
- Medical School Sample Essay One
- Medical School Sample Essay Two
Medical School Essay One
Prompt: What makes you an excellent candidate for medical school? Why do you want to become a physician?
When I was twelve years old, a drunk driver hit the car my mother was driving while I was in the backseat. I have very few memories of the accident, but I do faintly recall a serious but calming face as I was gently lifted out of the car. The paramedic held my hand as we traveled to the hospital. I was in the hospital for several weeks and that same paramedic came to visit me almost every day. During my stay, I also got to know the various doctors and nurses in the hospital on a personal level. I remember feeling anxiety about my condition, but not sadness or even fear. It seemed to me that those around me, particularly my family, were more fearful of what might happen to me than I was. I don’t believe it was innocence or ignorance, but rather a trust in the abilities of my doctors. It was as if my doctors and I had a silent bond. Now that I’m older I fear death and sickness in a more intense way than I remember experiencing it as a child. My experience as a child sparked a keen interest in how we approach pediatric care, especially as it relates to our psychological and emotional support of children facing serious medical conditions. It was here that I experienced first-hand the power and compassion of medicine, not only in healing but also in bringing unlikely individuals together, such as adults and children, in uncommon yet profound ways. And it was here that I began to take seriously the possibility of becoming a pediatric surgeon.
My interest was sparked even more when, as an undergraduate, I was asked to assist in a study one of my professors was conducting on how children experience and process fear and the prospect of death. This professor was not in the medical field; rather, her background is in cultural anthropology. I was very honored to be part of this project at such an early stage of my career. During the study, we discovered that children face death in extremely different ways than adults do. We found that children facing fatal illnesses are very aware of their condition, even when it hasn’t been fully explained to them, and on the whole were willing to fight their illnesses, but were also more accepting of their potential fate than many adults facing similar diagnoses. We concluded our study by asking whether and to what extent this discovery should impact the type of care given to children in contrast to adults. I am eager to continue this sort of research as I pursue my medical career. The intersection of medicine, psychology, and socialization or culture (in this case, the social variables differentiating adults from children) is quite fascinating and is a field that is in need of better research.
Although much headway has been made in this area in the past twenty or so years, I feel there is a still a tendency in medicine to treat diseases the same way no matter who the patient is. We are slowly learning that procedures and drugs are not always universally effective. Not only must we alter our care of patients depending upon these cultural and social factors, we may also need to alter our entire emotional and psychological approach to them as well.
It is for this reason that I’m applying to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, as it has one of the top programs for pediatric surgery in the country, as well as several renowned researchers delving into the social, generational, and cultural questions in which I’m interested. My approach to medicine will be multidisciplinary, which is evidenced by the fact that I’m already double-majoring in early childhood psychology and pre-med, with a minor in cultural anthropology. This is the type of extraordinary care that I received as a child—care that seemed to approach my injuries with a much larger and deeper picture than that which pure medicine cannot offer—and it is this sort of care I want to provide my future patients. I turned what might have been a debilitating event in my life—a devastating car accident—into the inspiration that has shaped my life since. I am driven and passionate. And while I know that the pediatric surgery program at Johns Hopkins will likely be the second biggest challenge I will face in my life, I know that I am up for it. I am ready to be challenged and prove to myself what I’ve been telling myself since that fateful car accident: I will be a doctor.
Medical School Essay Two
Prompt: Where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?
If you had told me ten years ago that I would be writing this essay and planning for yet another ten years into the future, part of me would have been surprised. I am a planner and a maker of to-do lists, and it has always been my plan to follow in the steps of my father and become a physician. This plan was derailed when I was called to active duty to serve in Iraq as part of the War on Terror.
I joined the National Guard before graduating high school and continued my service when I began college. My goal was to receive training that would be valuable for my future medical career, as I was working in the field of emergency health care. It was also a way to help me pay for college. When I was called to active duty in Iraq for my first deployment, I was forced to withdraw from school, and my deployment was subsequently extended. I spent a total of 24 months deployed overseas, where I provided in-the-field medical support to our combat troops. While the experience was invaluable not only in terms of my future medical career but also in terms of developing leadership and creative thinking skills, it put my undergraduate studies on hold for over two years. Consequently, my carefully-planned journey towards medical school and a medical career was thrown off course. Thus, while ten-year plans are valuable, I have learned from experience how easily such plans can dissolve in situations that are beyond one’s control, as well as the value of perseverance and flexibility.
Eventually, I returned to school. Despite my best efforts to graduate within two years, it took me another three years, as I suffered greatly from post-traumatic stress disorder following my time in Iraq. I considered abandoning my dream of becoming a physician altogether, since I was several years behind my peers with whom I had taken biology and chemistry classes before my deployment. Thanks to the unceasing encouragement of my academic advisor, who even stayed in contact with me when I was overseas, I gathered my strength and courage and began studying for the MCAT. To my surprise, my score was beyond satisfactory and while I am several years behind my original ten-year plan, I am now applying to Brown University’s School of Medicine.
I can describe my new ten-year plan, but I will do so with both optimism and also caution, knowing that I will inevitably face unforeseen complications and will need to adapt appropriately. One of the many insights I gained as a member of the National Guard and by serving in war-time was the incredible creativity medical specialists in the Armed Forces employ to deliver health care services to our wounded soldiers on the ground. I was part of a team that was saving lives under incredibly difficult circumstances—sometimes while under heavy fire and with only the most basic of resources. I am now interested in how I can use these skills to deliver health care in similar circumstances where basic medical infrastructure is lacking. While there is seemingly little in common between the deserts of Fallujah and rural Wyoming, where I’m currently working as a volunteer first responder in a small town located more than 60 miles from the nearest hospital, I see a lot of potential uses for the skills that I gained as a National Guardsman. As I learned from my father, who worked with Doctors Without Borders for a number of years, there is quite a bit in common between my field of knowledge from the military and working in post-conflict zones. I feel I have a unique experience from which to draw as I embark on my medical school journey, experiences that can be applied both here and abroad.
In ten years’ time, I hope to be trained in the field of emergency medicine, which, surprisingly, is a specialization that is actually lacking here in the United States as compared to similarly developed countries. I hope to conduct research in the field of health care infrastructure and work with government agencies and legislators to find creative solutions to improving access to emergency facilities in currently underserved areas of the United States, with an aim towards providing comprehensive policy reports and recommendations on how the US can once again be the world leader in health outcomes. While the problems inherent in our health care system are not one-dimensional and require a dynamic approach, one of the solutions as I see it is to think less in terms of state-of-the-art facilities and more in terms of access to primary care. Much of the care that I provide as a first responder and volunteer is extremely effective and also relatively cheap. More money is always helpful when facing a complex social and political problem, but we must think of solutions above and beyond more money and more taxes. In ten years I want to be a key player in the health care debate in this country and offering innovative solutions to delivering high quality and cost-effective health care to all our nation’s citizens, especially to those in rural and otherwise underserved areas.
Of course, my policy interests do not replace my passion for helping others and delivering emergency medicine. As a doctor, I hope to continue serving in areas of the country that, for one reason or another, are lagging behind in basic health care infrastructure. Eventually, I would also like to take my knowledge and talents abroad and serve in the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders.
In short, I see the role of physicians in society as multifunctional: they are not only doctors who heal, they are also leaders, innovators, social scientists, and patriots. Although my path to medical school has not always been the most direct, my varied and circuitous journey has given me a set of skills and experiences that many otherwise qualified applicants lack. I have no doubt that the next ten years will be similarly unpredictable, but I can assure you that no matter what obstacles I face, my goal will remain the same. I sincerely hope to begin the next phase of my journey at Brown University. Thank you for your kind attention.
To learn more about what to expect from the study of medicine, check out our Study Medicine in the US section.
Tips for a Successful Medical School Essay
- If you’re applying through AMCAS, remember to keep your essay more general rather than tailored to a specific medical school, because your essay will be seen by multiple schools.
- AMCAS essays are limited to 5300 characters—not words! This includes spaces.
- Make sure the information you include in your essay doesn't conflict with the information in your other application materials.
- In general, provide additional information that isn’t found in your other application materials. Look at the essay as an opportunity to tell your story rather than a burden.
- Keep the interview in mind as you write. You will most likely be asked questions regarding your essay during the interview, so think about the experiences you want to talk about.
- When you are copying and pasting from a word processor to the AMCAS application online, formatting and font will be lost. Don’t waste your time making it look nice. Be sure to look through the essay once you’ve copied it into AMCAS and edit appropriately for any odd characters that result from pasting.
- Avoid overly controversial topics. While it is fine to take a position and back up your position with evidence, you don’t want to sound narrow-minded.
- Revise, revise, revise. Have multiple readers look at your essay and make suggestions. Go over your essay yourself many times and rewrite it several times until you feel that it communicates your message effectively and creatively.
- Make the opening sentence memorable. Admissions officers will read dozens of personal statements in a day. You must say something at the very beginning to catch their attention, encourage them to read the essay in detail, and make yourself stand out from the crowd.
- Character traits to portray in your essay include: maturity, intellect, critical thinking skills, leadership, tolerance, perseverance, and sincerity.
Additional Tips for a Successful Medical School Essay
- Regardless of the prompt, you should always address the question of why you want to go to medical school in your essay.
- Try to always give concrete examples rather than make general statements. If you say that you have perseverance, describe an event in your life that demonstrates perseverance.
- There should be an overall message or theme in your essay. In the example above, the theme is overcoming unexpected obstacles.
- Make sure you check and recheck for spelling and grammar!
- Unless you’re very sure you can pull it off, it is usually not a good idea to use humor or to employ the skills you learned in creative writing class in your personal statement. While you want to paint a picture, you don’t want to be too poetic or literary.
- Turn potential weaknesses into positives. As in the example above, address any potential weaknesses in your application and make them strengths, if possible. If you have low MCAT scores or something else that can’t be easily explained or turned into a positive, simply don’t mention it.
The power of expectation
Geoff N Masters
Australian Council for Educational Research
Nobody rises to low expectations. Calvin Lloyd
Success in most fields of endeavour depends on an ability to visualise success. It has long been known that elite athletes mentally rehearse each performance prior to its execution. Advances in neuroscience show why this may be so important: the neurological processes involved in visualising a performance are almost identical to those involved in the performance itself. Indeed, simply watching somebody else perform activates ‘mirror’ neurons in the observer paralleling neuronal activity in the performer.[i ] The ability to visualise success and an accompanying belief that success is possible appear to be prerequisites for most forms of human achievement.
It also is clear that the development of self-efficacy is strongly influenced by the attitudes and beliefs of others. In schools, high achievement tends to be correlated with high parental and cultural expectations. Parents, in particular, are powerful inculcators of values and aspirations. Highly influential teachers also are commonly described as individuals who communicate a ‘belief’ in their students and who build self-confidence through high expectations. However, just as some students live up to high expectations, so others live down to the low expectations held for them. In education, low expectations are the equivalent of bone pointing; all too often they become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Not surprisingly, students develop differing beliefs about their own abilities to learn. Some students appear to view ability as ‘fixed’ and something over which they have little control. Students who believe they have low fixed abilities tend to believe that effort will make no difference. Those who believe they have high abilities often underestimate the importance of effort. On the other hand, students with an ‘incremental’ view of ability have a deep belief that success is related to effort. Rather than interpreting past failures as indicators of a lack of ability, these students are more likely to explain failure in terms of a lack of effort.[ii] Interestingly, research has identified cultural differences in these beliefs. East Asian students tend to have more incremental views of their abilities than students of European origin.[iii]
Given its importance to ongoing learning and achievement, few outcomes of schooling are more important than the development of a belief in one’s own capacity to learn. Because teachers and schools are in powerful positions to shape this belief – both positively and negatively – vigilance is required to ensure that educational practices do not unintentionally communicate and institutionalise low expectations of some learners.
One way in which educational practices can institutionalise low expectations is bytreating excellence as a limited resource. There is general acceptance in society that not everybody can excel. Not everybody can be an Olympic athlete, just as not everybody can be tall. Indeed, if to ‘excel’ means to stand out from the crowd, then by definition, only some can excel. By analogy, it is argued, not everybody can (or even should) achieve excellence in the learning of mathematics or languages or science. Excellence in school achievement is a scarce resource available to only a few.
It seems likely that this deeply seated belief is driven in part by notions of intelligence. Beginning with Francis Galton in the mid-nineteenth century, it became common to identify and label varying levels of human intelligence, with each level representing an IQ range and a percentage of the population under the normal (bell) curve. A small percentage of ‘geniuses’ were at one extreme and small percentages of ‘imbeciles’ and ‘idiots’ were at the other. It was a small step from concluding that high intelligence was scarce to expecting excellence in school achievement also to be scarce.
One of the clearest illustrations of the rationing of excellence is the process known as ‘grading on the curve’. Under this process, the percentage of students achieving each available performance grade is pre-determined. For example, a decision might be made ahead of time to award the top ten per cent of students an ‘A’, and the next 15 per cent of students a ‘B’, regardless of their absolute levels of achievement. This practice, common in some higher education institutions, is intended to counter the possibility of ‘grade inflation’ (that is, an increasing percentage of students being awarded high grades with no accompanying increase in absolute levels of achievement). The rationing of top grades to fixed percentages of students sends a clear message that excellence in educational achievement is expected of only a few. There are many other, more subtle, ways in which educational institutions communicate the same message.
However, educational achievement is not pre-determined in the way that attributes such as height are pre-determined. Achievement is strongly influenced by the quality of teaching, parental support and expectations, and student effort. Educational achievement also is not a competition with limited spoils for the winners. Just as levels of health, wealth and educational participation have increased in the general population over time, there is no reason why the percentage of students achieving excellence also should not increase. In reality, there appears to have been a decline in absolute levels of performance in subjects such as mathematics and science in Australia over the past two decades.[iv]
The possibility of significantly larger numbers of students achieving excellence is made clear in international studies such as the IEA’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). In reading, mathematics and science, between 10 and 15 per cent of Australian students perform at ‘advanced’ international levels. Under the belief that excellence is a scarce resource, this percentage of advanced performers may seem about right. However, in East Asian countries between 35 and 50 percent of students perform at the same ‘advanced’ levels.
A second way in which low expectations can be institutionalised in educational practice is by placing ceilings on learning. It is well known that students are more likely to learn successfully when engaged and motivated and when provided with learning opportunities appropriate to their current levels of achievement and learning needs. Students are less likely to learn when given work that is much too easy or much too difficult for them, meaning that ‘differentiated’ teaching is important when students are at widely varying levels of achievement. However, expectations are lowered for students when they are assigned to classes or streams that place a ceiling on what they are able to learn or how far they are able to progress. In an effort to provide ‘relevant’ learning experiences appropriate to students’ abilities and interests, educational courses often protect participants from intellectual rigour and limit what they are able to learn.
For example, in mathematics – which often labours under the belief that it is inherently difficult, obscure and of limited relevance for many students – it is common to create easier streams for less able students. But these easier streams, with their focus on low-level, applied learning often have low expectations of the quality and quantity of mathematics learning and deny students access to the essence and beauty of this subject. Recent growth in secondary school completion rates in Australia has been accompanied by increases in the numbers of students taking lower level courses of this kind. Since the mid-1990s, the percentage of Year 12 students taking elementary mathematics has grown by 30 per cent while the percentages taking intermediate and advanced mathematics have declined by 22 and 27 per cent respectively.[v]
A third way in which low expectations can be institutionalised is through theprejudging of students’ capabilities based on their group membership. When students are grouped according to demographic characteristics, it is clear that some student groups have higher average levels of achievement than others. For example, students living in rural and remote areas tend to have lower average achievement levels than students living in urban areas. Girls tend to outperform boys, particularly in language-rich subjects. Non-Indigenous students outperform Indigenous students, and students from high socioeconomic backgrounds outperform students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. In some cases, these gaps are the equivalent of two or more years of school. The problem arises when expectations of individuals are then lowered on the basis of the group/s to which they belong.
In educational practice, there is often a small step from observing a correlation – for example between socioeconomic background and achievement – to treating this observation as an ‘explanation’. Low socioeconomic status is regularly invoked as an explanation for low achievement, despite the fact that some students from low socioeconomic backgrounds can be found among the highest achievers in our schools and universities, and some students from high socioeconomic backgrounds can be found among our lowest achievers. And from ‘explanation’, it is another small step to ‘expectation’ and beyond that to ‘excuse’. School principals who have led significant improvements in low socioeconomic areas often report that their first challenge was to confront low staff expectations. In these schools, teachers had come to expect low achievement on the basis of students’ backgrounds.
And there are other, more subtle, ways in which observed correlations can lead to lowered expectations. For example, it is a small step from comparing schools with statistically similar student intakes to concluding that students in a particular school are performing well ‘given their socioeconomic backgrounds’ or ‘given the proportion of Indigenous students in the school’. Conclusions of this kind border on what is sometimes referred to as the ‘soft bigotry’ of low expectations. Prejudging and ‘prejudice’ have identical etymological origins: both can be the result of ignoring individuality and assigning individuals the presumed characteristics of a group.
There is a long history in school education of observing differences in average group performances and then designing programs and initiatives to address the needs of specific student groups (for example, the needs of boys, Indigenous students or students from low socioeconomic backgrounds). However, there is little evidence that the achievement gaps such programs and initiatives were designed to address have closed significantly in recent decades. More generally, there is a question as to whether emphasising group membership is counterproductive. A preoccupation with demographic distinctions may serve only to highlight existing differences and cement future expectations.
A fourth way in which low expectations can be institutionalised is by prejudging students’ capabilities on the basis of their age or grade. Schools continue to be organised on traditional lines with students grouped and taught in grades based on age. Under this ‘assembly-line’ model, students move in a lock-step fashion from one year to the next, with teachers at each stage delivering the curriculum for that grade.[vi] This model has been strengthened in recent years with the development of explicit grade-based curricula with accompanying assessments to establish how much of the curriculum for their grade students have mastered. This practice is another example of the use of group membership to set expectations for student learning.
The reality in learning areas such as mathematics and reading is that, despite this lock-step model, students in the same grade currently vary in their achievement levels by as much as five or six years of school. As Dylan Wiliam has observed, in practice there is only a loose relationship between educational achievement and age.[vii] If teachers treat all students of the same age as equally ready for the same grade-based curriculum and teach to the middle of the grade, then some lower-achieving students are likely to be left behind. There is evidence that many of these students fall further behind with each year of school. At the same time, expectations are lowered for higher-achieving students when learning is limited to the completion of class work targeted at the middle of the grade. It is not uncommon to hear of classes in which more able students, rather than being challenged and extended, are given ‘free time’ once they have completed set class work.
In spite of limiting beliefs and practices of this kind, many teachers, school leaders and parents share powerful alternative beliefs about student learning. These include beliefs that every individual is capable of learning, with no natural limits on what most individuals can learn; that at any given time, students are at different points in their learning and may be progressing at different rates, but that all are capable of further progress if motivated and if provided with learning opportunities appropriate to their readiness and needs; that individual differences in ability to learn are readily compensated for by effective teaching; that starting points for teaching are best established individually rather than inferred from group membership; and that excellent, ongoing progress is a more appropriate expectation of every learner than the expectation that all students of the same age/grade will be at the same point in their learning at the same time. In situations where teachers, school leaders and parents share beliefs of this kind, expectations are raised and students perform beyond the limits imposed by the rationing of excellence, low-level courses that deny access to high achievement, reduced expectations of particular demographic groups and grade-based assembly lines.
[i ] Rizzolatti G & Fabbri-Destro M (2010). Mirror neurons: from discovery to autism.Experimental Brain Research. 200(3-4):223-37
[ii] Dweck, CS (2000). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality and development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.
[iii] Otsuka, S & Smith, I (2005). Educational applications of the expectancy-value model of achievement motivation, Change: Transformations in Education, 8(1), 91-109.
[iv] Brown, G (2009). Review of Education in Mathematics, Data Science and Quantitative Disciplines. Report to the Group of Eight Universities. Canberra.
[v] Rubinstein, H (2009). A National Strategy for Mathematical Sciences in Australia. Report prepared in consultation with the Australian Council of Heads of Mathematical Sciences. Melbourne.
[vi] Darling-Hammond, L (2004). Standards, accountability, and school reform. Teachers College Record, 106(6), 1047-1085.
[vii] Wiliam, D (2007). Once you know what they’ve learned, what do you do next? Designing curriculum and assessment for growth. In R. Lissitz (Ed.) Assessing and Modeling Cognitive Development in School. Maple Grove: MN: JAM Press.
© Australian Council for Educational Research 2011
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Assessing Student Learning: Why Reform is Overdue (PDF)