Robert Siegel
August 25, 1988 revision 3/97

Hints for Applying to Medical School

+ The Personal Statement
+ Letters of Recommendation
+ The MCAT
+ Visiting Medical Schools
+ The Interview
+ Preparing for Med School
+ Where to apply
+ Taking time off before applying to Med School
+ Contacts at various medical schools
+ Feedback from students

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The Personal Statement


There is no correct way to write a personal statement (statement of purpose.)
There is no formula.

Please use those bits of advice which ring true to you and discard the rest.
I would like to get back a critique of this pamphlet. You may just write you comments in the margins. Please include comments, corrections, and additions. Thanks.
Good luck.

Types of statements

Dry and information
Your statement (Something between the two)

Some basic principles:

The best statements in the world are stylized statements.
It is better to have a dry, informative statement than a stylized which does not fly.
Most stylized statements do not fly.
Be honest. (Sincerity comes through.)
Be sophisticated. (Don't be a hick.) ( e.g. "This was my first visit to the East Coast. I saw and had direct contact with so many different people and the hurried pace of the New Yorkers.")
Remember why you are writing the statement. (It is certainly not for the purpose of getting something off your chest.)
Remember who is reading your statement.
1) They know something about medicine.
2) They are very busy.
a) They are not going to take the time to try to "Figure our what you wanted to say."
Be sure that you can converse at some length regarding anything you include in your statement. (Otherwise your interviewer is sure to ask you about it.)

Things to include:

+ Emphasize specific experiences that qualify you to study and practice medicine.
+ Include names and places.
+ Include specifics
+ Include annecdotes

Things to avoid:

+Avoid complicated sentences.
+Avoid long sentences.
+Avoid contractions
+Avoid the passive tense
+Avoid abbreviations
+ Avoid adjectives like exciting, interesting, fascinating
+ Avoid phrases like "I think", "I feel", "I hope", "I intend", "It seems", It appears"
+ Avoid feelings
+ Avoid empty phrases (those that do not convey information)
+ Avoid directly insulting the person who is reading your statement (e.g. "Today's physicians are incapable of empathizing with their patients.")
+ Avoid religion (You may offend someone important)...unless it is an inextricable part of your experience as a volunteer (e.g. you were on a Mormon mission to the Sudan)
+ Avoid relatively minor experiences as a patient (more on this below)
+ Favorite phrases are usually to be avoided. They frequently cause one to use awkward phraseology or to forsake content in order to insure the inclusion of the phrase.

Medical encounters:

Experiences as a patient or as a relative or friend of a patient do not necessarily qualify you to practice medicine. Despite the intensity of these experiences, they often take up valuable space that could be better devoted to addressing your qualifications for the practice of medicine. They should only be included if they are extraordinary or integral. (e.g. You have had cancer or you have a devastating genetic disease and you plan to practice medicine pertinent to those fields.)

Things to do:

+ Rewrite yours statement at least 4 times.
(But don't drag it out forever.)
+ Many people find it quite useful to rapidly write (in one evening) two statements: one dry statement that merely states the facts; and one very stylized statement, complete with thoughts and feelings, which tells the reader about the things that are important to you even if they may not be important to the admissions committee. This will help get certain things out of your system. Ideally your final statement will be a synthesis of these initial statements.
+ Put your name and date and phone number on rough drafts of your statement.
(Put your name on everything.)
+ Give copies of other people's statement of purpose, especially those who have gotten into good schools.

Advice and Criticism

Have LOTS of people read you statement.
Ruby Mason and other CDC counselors
Verity Powell
Professors and students of English
Although you do not have to incorporate their comments, at least you will have that option.
Do not equate criticisms of your personal statement with indictments about your self-worth.
Encourage people to be critical. Let them know that they will not hurt your feelings or self-esteem.
Until the advice you get from various people starts to contradict itself, you have not have enough people criticize your statement.

Letters of Recommendation

You should make it as easy as possible for your writer to write you a good letter of rec.
This means supplying as much information as possible.
***You should put your name and phone number on all material.
Here are some things you may want to include:
1) copy of AMCAS application (may obviate some of the other items)
2) statement of purpose
3) resume listing other activities, employment, vital data
4) letters describing what particular things you would like the writer to emphasize. Also note other things that are not found elsewhere
5) You may want to schedule an appointment after the writer has had time to look over your materials
6) Grades or test scores if they are especially good, if they show they range of classes you have taken, etc.
(If appropriate, please refer to my additional instruction sheet regarding recommendations.)


(Comments pertain to old version of MCAT, since I have not take the newer version.)

Stanley Kaplan is quite useful but not necessary.
It provides a wealth of materials and a great source of exogenous motivation.
Verisimilitude tests are harder than the actual MCAT.
Try to take the MCAT in the spring or summer before you intend to apply.
Questions are always 101 level material. Do not read too deeply into questions.
Practice tests are invaluable, especially for concentration and time pacing.
It is essential that you obtain a copy of the sample test.
This is exactly the same level as the actual test.
Some of the questions may even be the same.
Organic Chemistry
There is a reality paucity of organic chemistry questions.
Most of the OC questions are about organic acids and bases.

Visiting Medical Schools

Take the formal tour.
Take the informal tour.
Ask the same questions to different people.
Make sure you talk to some of the students who are not part of the admissions committee.
Attend at least one class.
Make sure you stay in the area long enough to know if it is where you want to spend you next four years.

The Interview

Make sure you arrive early.
Look nice. Everyone knows it is a game. However, it should respect for your interviewer.
Cut your hair if necessary.
Take your earrings out (if male).
Know your application backwards and forwards. Be able to discourse at length on any topic.
Be prepared to ASK questions.
Don't bullshit.
Don't ramble. Don't say too much. The likelihood of sticking your foot in your mouth increases exponentially with the length on an answer.
Be specific.
Do not hesitate to tell anecdotes.
It is O.K. to talk about nonmedical/nonbiological things is your interviewer brings them up.
Do not hesitate to tell the interviewer about your strongest suit if she/he has not mentioned it by the end of the interview.
Relax. Refrain from Hyperventilation.

A Sampler of Interview Questions

Why do you want to go to medical school - standard question, though not necessarily easy.
Why do you really want to go to medical school? - the hostile interviewer
One student was asked to do half of her interview in Spanish.
Tell me about your research.
Tell me about your volunteer work.
Tell me about your family.
Tell me about your childhood.
Is health care a right or a privilege?
What do you think of Jack Kevorkian?
What do you think of euthanasia? (I think every ethnicity has the right to have children - Sorry, bad joke)
What do you think of abortion?
What was your favorite class?
I don't believe that AIDS education is very effective - What do you think?
You are given the following scenario: Attending says don't bother him unless it is an absolute necessity. At 3 am, Nurse calls you and says patient is showing signs of infection and needs antibiotics. She has written up the order and asks if you would please authorize it. The patient is allergic and rapidly dies of anaphylaxis. What are you going to tell the parents?
Why do you think MD/Ph.D. will work for you?
Describe yourself in the third person.
What didn't you like about that question?
Do you think this whole process is bullshit?
If you could be anything else what would you be?
Tell me something about your home life.
What is something bad about you?
What book outside of medicine have you read lately?
What do you see yourself doing in ten years?
What clinical experience have you had?
"My second [interview] just kind of flowed from topic to topic. We discussed some of the problems that the medical field faces today - why some physicians are feeling disillusioned, et. He shared a lot of his own opinions with me. We also spent some time talking about primary care. Then he also asked me 'Where would you live outside of the United States?' ...I viewed the whole experience much more like an interactive discussion, rather than as an interview." LL
Generally, I think it is good to read an abstract or two from your interviewer if you can find out their name ahead of time (especially at research oriented schools like Stanford). This will often given you more to talk about and will get the interviewer interested and talking. This backfired in one interview where the interviewee did not seem to know much about his own paper.

Comments from a University of Iowa interview
"It was a strange interview. They had nine pre-selected questions, and interviewers were not allowed to ask any additional questions." - AD

Questions included the following:
1. Why do you wish to pursue a career in medicine?
2. Why have you chosen to apply to the University of Iowa?
3. What single trait of yours best prepares you to be a doctor?
4. Medical school is very stressful .... How do you cope with stress?
5. Identify a significant event in your life in the past year ... what was the impact that it had on you?
6. What impact do you think the changes in the medical field will have on your practice as a doctor?

Some Questions You Might Want to Ask

What is the nature of the grading system?
What sorts of early clinical experiences are available?
Is there anything unusual about the sequence of preclinical classes?
Are there any teaching or research opportunities?
How many students are admitted each year?
Describe the hospitals in which students do their clinical rotations?
What is the typical student make-up of the classes?
What are the particular clinical emphases of this school?
What are the particular strengths and weaknesses of this school?
What is the summer schedule?
Is there any opportunity for fourth year clerkships abroad?

Preparing for Medical School

"Here is one quick thought about med school. I found it really interesting how most of my undergraduate prepared me exceedingly well for med school, except in one area. I would HIGHLY recommend that undergrads take a histology class before going to med school. Not simply on cellular structure and function, but one that gets you behind the microscope as well. There were a handful of kids here who had a histo class before med school and it seemed to help them out quite a bit."
Kevin Madden, Feb 4, 1997

Where to apply

Taking time off before applying to medical school

Contacts at various medical schools


+ University of Arizona
Aaron Lehman, HB class of 1996


+ Stanford
Former "HumBio types"
Nick Dement (now doing a residency in Arizona)
Carla Sanchez-Palacios
Karyn Goodman
Jeannie Chang
Keith Heinzerling
Steven Chen
Cindy Osmanian
Peter Peng
Ying Ying Goh
Meredith Heller
Una Lee
Others, especially med school TAs
Emma Morton-Bours
Ted Huey

Al Liu
Pei Pei Mark
Belinda Fu
Tai-Ho Chen (graduated - now in Hawaii)
Michael McCullough (graduated - now at Stanford)
Sandy Ramirez (graduated - now at Stanford)
Ann Cho

Risa Hoffman
Amal Trivedi

Lorri Leard - graduated
Justin Goodman
Christina Hong

Caitlin Pickart - beginning fall 1999


+ Harvard
Allison Walsh
Amy Kostashak
Michael Yeh
Fidencio Saldana
Elizabeth Spring

New York

Jeremy Moss - MSTP


+ Case Western Reserve
David Blossom (1995)


+ University of Pennsylvania
Robin Norris

+ University of South Dakota
Nisha Vyas

+ University of Vermont
Prudence Lam


Thank you so much for all your help in my medical school appplication process. Every interviewer I had commmented on your great letter of recommendation, and I know it helped me get into the schools! I appreciate you writing it, as well as all your other advice, encouragement, and support. Before every interview, I would read your web page of suggested questions for interviewers, and I ended up using many of them--when I did, I often got comments like, "What a great question!" I really appreciate all you have done, and please let any future advisees know that they can contact me for information about the application process, about decision-making, or about UCI!
CP, 1999

| Return to top of page | The Personal Statement | Letters of Recommendation |
| The MCAT | Visiting Medical Schools | The Interview | Preparing for Med School |
| Contacts at various medical schools | Feedback from students |
| Return to advising page | Return to Bob's Home Page |

Last modified: July 5, 2009