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.
6.Q.1. The Problem
6.Q.2. The Intervention
6.Q.3. Case Study
6.Q.1. The Problem
Achieving high levels of member satisfaction requires two ingredients:
- A deep knowledge of what constitutes high quality service from the perspective of your members and patients.
- Service standards that clearly tell your staff what is expected of them in their interactions with members and patients.
However, while most of the accrediting organizations require such standards in their regulations, most health care organizations do not have a well-defined process for developing effective standards. One barrier is that setting standards takes time, although experts in this area argue that the absence of standards necessitates spending time on far more unpleasant activities, such as responding to complaints and managing unsatisfactory staff behavior.
Another problem with developing standards is that some of the behaviors are hard to describe. It can be challenging to describe what good and excellent service look like. Setting standards is also fundamentally about being accountable to high standards of service on a daily basis. That is a challenge in health care systems that are often deeply grounded in a culture of professional autonomy.
Return to Contents
6.Q.2. The Intervention
Customer service standards are already embedded in many of the CAHPS survey questions. These questions were selected because they measure processes of care that patients and members use to define a "quality experience." However, that does not mean it will be easy to translate the questions into standards that your staff can measure and evaluate.
In some respects, standards are similar to "service guarantees"—a concept that frightens many health care employees because they do not trust that the systems they need to meet "guarantees" are in place. Organizations that maintain their focus on service often find that the standards evolve over time. As the organization gets better and better at meeting the needs of its patients, the staff are willing to raise the standards they commit to and trust that they will be able to deliver.
Examples of standards that some plans or groups have implemented include the following:
- 90 percent of patients who call for an appointment will receive one for the same day.
- Patients will wait 10 minutes or less in the reception area before being placed in an exam room.
- All telephone calls will be answered within three rings.
- All test results will be communicated in writing to the patient after an ambulatory care visit.
The box below provides an example of service standards for a pharmacy.
Example of Service Standards for a Pharmacy Department: Kaiser Permanente, Washington DC
Our department will abide by the following standards to guarantee caring and quality service is provided to our members and in-house customers.
Service Standards for our Members
- We will greet our members in a courteous and professional manner.
- We will listen effectively to our members' requests and promptly take the necessary actions to assist them.
- We will keep our members informed of unexpected delays in service.
- We will not engage in personal conversations while providing service to our members.
- We will call our members by name and will verify identity by means of address and/or ID card.
- We will inform our members of specific departmental procedures (e.g., refill line, last refill, mail order) to help them maximize pharmacy services.
- We will finish our encounters with our members in a courteous and professional way.
- We will respect our members' privacy and will not discuss member-related information in public.
Service Standards for our In-House Customers
- We will interact with our co-workers and company staff in a courteous and professional way.
- We will not discuss staff, organizational policies, problems, or medical care in public areas.
- We will be considerate, and we will cooperate and assist co-workers, staff, and other departments to guarantee quality service.
- We will answer the phone within four rings.
- We will provide our center location, our name, and our department and politely ask: "How may I help you?"
- We will listen to the caller's request and assist accordingly.
- We will direct the call to the person, department, or service needed to assist the caller.
- We will obtain the caller's permission before placing the caller on hold.
- We will end the call in a courteous and professional way.
- We will omit personal phone calls while on duty.
Leebov et al. describe a step-by step process to help set standards that everyone can abide by.1 The steps are as follows:
- Work with staff and managers to resolve any mixed feelings or uncertainty about setting high standards and holding staff accountable.
- Help your team to commit to aiming high and setting ambitious goals.
- Engage your customers and staff in identifying basic service behaviors that reflect impressive customer service.
- Use these guidelines to identify job-specific behaviors.
- Crystallize these behaviors into scripts and protocols. (Read about the use of talking points.)
- Design and institute measurable service standards that you expect your people to meet regularly. (Read an example of service standards.)
- Set service targets—stretch goals—that will have a significant impact on customer satisfaction and that can become standards.
- Monitor performance.
- Hold yourself and your team accountable.
Although this process may require a big change in an organization's culture, it is very valuable. Without these kinds of standards in place, most organizations cannot sustain a meaningful focus on patient-centered improvements.
Learn more at: Leebov W, Scott G, Olson L. Achieving impressive customer service: 7 strategies for the health care manager. San Francisco: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2012.
Incorporating "Talking Points" Into Everyday Interactions
Talking points or scripts ensure that everyone in the organization is delivering a positive message in a consistent way to your members and patients. These messages make sure that you are meeting your service standards and build these behaviors into predictable, daily routines. Work with your staff to develop the talking points and to help them understand that scripts are not intended to turn your staff into robots. Rather, they are reminders of the minimum that staff can do to create a positive experience for members and patients.
Once people become familiar with the design and intent of talking points, they often realize how helpful they are when dealing with frightened or upset patients. Simply put, scripting:
- Conveys the message of your culture: "This is how we do business around here."
- Puts words to your behaviors.
- Sets clear expectations for what is supposed to happen in encounters.
Here are some examples of how scripts can help to change communications:
|"No, I don’t have the time."||"Yes! I can help you in five minutes."|
|"We're short-staffed."||"We may be busy, but we're never too busy to help you!"|
|"I don't know."||"I think I can help you find the answer."|
|"It's the doctor's fault and I can't believe that happened."||"I'm sorry that happened. What can I do to help?"|
Adapted from Best Practice Series: Scripting, Baptist Healthcare Leadership Institute; 2003.
Other examples of common and powerful talking points are:
- "How can I help you? I have the time."
- "How can I make this better for you?"
- "I'd like you to meet (Jane Doe), your doctor, nurse, etc. She will take excellent care of you."
When staff are resistant to using scripting, remind them that their personalities will always come through, yet they will be delivering a consistent message that reflects your organization's high standards. Reward employees who use scripting effectively and make it easy for people to remember the most common and important messages by putting them on the back of name badges or other convenient places.
Learn more: Best Practice Series: Scripting. Pensacola, FL: Baptist Healthcare Leadership Institute; 2003.
Return to Contents
6.Q.3. Case Study
Based on an analysis of CAHPS data as well as other data, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care designed a set of interventions aimed at improving telephone access as measured by Average Speed to Answer (ASA) and Call Abandonment Rates. Some of the interventions also improved the consistency, clarity, and timeliness of responses to member inquiries and the availability of written member materials.
The plan implemented two types of interventions.
Interventions aimed at increasing self-service options for members:
The purpose of these interventions was to improve access and reduce call volume to Customer Service Representatives.
- Installed an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system to enable members to get quick answers to the most frequently asked questions and to place the most common requests (e.g., new identification (ID) card, change of address, change of primary care provider (PCP)) without the intervention of a service rep. This system operates all day, every day. Through focus groups, members helped to design the IVR, which has been evaluated and fine-tuned over time.
- Installed an after-hours voice-mailbox so that members could leave an inquiry in the evening or over a weekend and receive a call back from a Customer Service Representative in the morning of the following business day.
- Developed and implemented Web-based FAQ (frequently asked questions) materials, downloadable member materials (e.g., benefit plan descriptions), online service requests (new ID cards, address and PCP changes), and email inquiries. The materials and requests are available around the clock, with service and inquiry responses within 24 hours.
- Developed a broader range of self-service options (e.g., change own address or PCP, see claims status, view prescription history, etc.).
- Implemented financial incentive program for Customer Service Representatives to promote the self-service options to members.
Interventions aimed at increasing the efficiency and responsiveness of Customer Service Representatives:
- Simplified and standardized product offerings and benefit policies.
- Installed an intranet-based reference system for service representatives to assure quick and consistent responses to member inquiries: fine-tuned it over time to provide quick links to frequently viewed pages.
- Increased manager and staff training and improved and streamlined staff resource materials.
- Improved internal communication and workflow between Customer Service and Claims departments to resolve members' inquiries about claims.
- Expanded hours of operation to 7:30 PM on Mondays and Wednesdays (peak volume days).
- Implemented a series of performance incentive programs for Customer Service Representatives that were tied to the goals of reducing ASA and Call Abandonment Rates.
Table 6Q-1. Results of Interventions at Harvard Pilgrim: Performance on Internal Metrics
|Current Goal||Q4 2000||Q4 2001||Q4 2002|
|Average speed to answer||30 seconds or less||67 seconds||47 seconds||28 seconds|
|Call Abandonment Rate||3% or less||5.6%||2.8%||1.5%|
Figure 6Q-1. Results of Interventions at Harvard Pilgrim: Performance on CAHPS Measures
CAHPS Item (from Health Plan Survey 3.0): In the last 12 months, how much of a problem was it to get the help you needed when you called your health plan's customer service?
Return to Contents
- Leebov W, Scott G, Olson L. Achieving impressive customer service: 7 strategies for healthcare managers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; 1998.