5 pitfalls of the personal statement: Don’t be the PB&J

August 09, 2020

Boiling yourself down to one page may seem impossible, or maybe even a little depressing. It doesn’t have to be that way–in fact, it shouldn’t be that way.

The personal statement is a chance to connect all of the dots. It’s an opportunity to explain your interest in medicine–and your value to it–better than a Step 1 score. Medical schools typically offer some guidance on developing your personal statement, at least in the form of a few examples or templates. As much as you like, though, it doesn’t really boil down to a step-by-step, paint-by-numbers guide. AMSA alum, Dr. Daniel H. Gouger, says your personal statement is the product of your unique experiences and what you’ve internalized from those experiences.

To that end, we won’t tell you what to do in your personal statement. But here are some don’ts:

1. Don’t rush.

Your perspective will change over time, especially as you take time to decompress and introspect along the way and after new experiences. “You should spend months on it,” Dr. Gouger says, emphasizing that one of the worst things you could do is get to the point of applying to medical school as a premed student or applying to residency to then only spend a couple of weeks and feel rushed on creating this ‘one lense into who you are.’ The result can be something very generic, or…vanilla, as he calls it. And you don’t want to be “the PB&J” of personal statements (not that there’s anything wrong with PB&J).

2. Don’t just turn your CV into a bunch of paragraphs.

Your CV is there for a reason. “Give yourself more credit,” says Dr. Gouger. “You are much more deep, and interesting, and credible, and incredible, than what may be portrayed in a superficial document that details all of the jobs and extracurriculars that you’ve done. We are not just our jobs and extracurriculars; we’re people. And your personal statement is the opportunity for you to illustrate that.” Define a deliverable take-home message in the beginning and end, and let that message evolve in the middle.

Hear Dr. Gouger’s last three tips below: