You may spend days, even weeks, developing the perfect personal statement for osteopathic medical school. However, the committee members only spend a mere 3 to 10 minutes looking over it. For this reason, it is crucial that you make an impact right from the start. Your personal statement is your first impression, and you only get once shot at making it a good one. Find out the secrets to writing a flawless, impeccable personal statement for your entry into this prestigious field.
Understand the Philosophy of Osteopathic Medicine
Osteopathic medicine is one branch of the healthcare profession in the United States and Canada, as well as fifty-five other countries. Founded in the 19th century as a reaction to prevailing medical thought, osteopathic medicine focuses on manipulation of bones and joints for the treatment of illnesses. Today, this field of medicine more resembles mainstream medicine, and the training of osteopathic physicians is similar to that of those who choose a traditional medical school.
An osteopathic physician (also called a Doctor of Osteopathy or a “DO”) uses the same evidence-based practice as a medical doctor (MD). Qualified applicants from DO programs gain entry into residency programs throughout the United States, just as MDs do. Osteopathic medicine has a philosophy that is holistic, and patients accept the core principles of osteopathy as sound medical practice. It is crucial that you understand the unique DO philosophy.
Understand Why the Personal Statement is Important
As many as 50% of osteopathic medical school applicants do not get accepted to programs of their choice. Most of these applicants have better than average scores on the MCAT, as well as remarkable undergraduate grades. However, grades are not all there is to this process. Recommendations from physicians and college professors play a large part in the decision process. In the end, however, it is the personal statement that gives you the edge over other applicants. Osteopath school committee members do not want to fill the coveted spots with mediocre candidates. Instead, they prefer to place candidates that will likely succeed in the osteopathic profession, and that success involves hard work and perseverance.
Consider Your Reason to Attend
Although a liberal arts graduate who scores well in science courses has an equal chance of acceptance when compared with “pre-med” college graduates, osteopathic medical schools want to see evidence of a genuine interest in this unique profession. A real interest in osteopathic medicine is often due to a real interest in people, as DOs are on the front row seat of the drama of life. Oftentimes, altruism motivates DO school applicants. There is always the consideration of job security, but no one really goes through this kind of program these days to become rich. There are easier ways to make money, like investment banking or computer programming. Make sure your reason for attending osteopathic medical school is the right reason.
Convey What Led You to Pursue Osteopathic Medicine
Before you begin to write your personal statement, realize that you are telling your audience why being a DO is your life’s pursuit. This is a very important question, and you should make note of every reason that comes to mind. Often, the decision to pursue osteopathic medicine is due to a combination of things, and your essay can reflect the various factors. Your statement creates an impact if you explain the multiple reasons in detail, emphasizing specific life experiences and incidents of your past. You want the reader to comprehend and relate to these factors.
Make Sure You Want to Do This
If you do not know what led you to pursue osteopathic medicine, or you find that the healthcare profession is not that compelling, you should stop here. Osteopathic school and post-graduate training is an arduous path, and if you are attending just to please your parents or to deal with some external pressure, you will not be happy in your career. Make sure your choice to attend is your own and not another person’s. Hopefully, after careful consideration, you only apply once you are sure it is right for you.
Ask Yourself These Questions Before you Begin
You need to sit down and think about some things before you begin the writing process. Before you start your personal statement, answer some questions that will give insight about your personal choices and decisions. Some questions that are relevant include:
– Why osteopathic medicine?
– Why a Doctor of Osteopath (DO) and not a Medical Doctor (MD)?
– What inspires me to work toward this particular goal?
– What experiences will help me in a career that is focused upon helping others?
– What personal experiences allow me to put my patients first?
– Who is my role model as a physician, and what qualities in him do I admire?
– Who is my role model in general, and why do I admire that person?
– What people do I admire, and what qualities do they share with me?
– Why do I stand out as a potential DO student?
- Do start early – Be sure you begin writing at least a month or so before you plan to submit your statement. You don’t want to rush and make mistakes.
- Do use proper grammar and punctuation – You may want to brush up on the basics of writing to gain knowledge of correct use of the English language. You don’t want to turn in a statement that is full of grammatical errors and punctuation mistakes.
- Do structure it correctly –You should format your personal statement in a way that catches your reader’s attention immediately. How can you capture their interest in your first paragraph? This may be your only opportunity.
- Do allow your reader know who you are –If this means revealing personal stories or emotions, then don’t be afraid to do so. The personal statement is your monologue to the admission committee. Tell them who you are and what you are all about.
- Do show your commitment –You know how difficult the path is that lies ahead. The admissions committee members needs to know that you realize years of hard work are ahead, with the actual practice of osteopathic medicine being your only reward. It’s a wonderful gift and privilege. Let the committee know that you realize the academic process is sometimes arduous, but also let them know that, for you, practicing as a DO will be fulfilling. If you think it will not be rewarding, reconsider your application.
- Do relate to your reader –Take original life experiences and relate them to how you hope to advance in this career, and your reasons for doing so. Many students tend to do some sort of activity, either volunteering on a mission trip or working in the local hospital in the summers. Perhaps you even shadowed a DO physician during your college years. That’s great, but don’t talk in generalities about your experience. Pick one great story, and tell it well.
- Do organize your essay –Introduce yourself in the first paragraph, and decide what topic or topics you will cover. Cover them succinctly and conclude each topic paragraph with a strong wrap-up. Your essay should flow easily from theme to theme. Your conclusion should tie the entire essay together smoothly. If you are unable to do that, you may have included too much material and should refocus on a few key points.
- Do proofread –Five times is not too many. Read through your statement a couple of times for content and structure. Have friends and family read your essay, and ask them to offer comments. Have your college English teacher, or someone who is knowledgeable about writing, take a look at your grammar and punctuation. Before you send it to the committee, take a last look at overall content. This is easy to do, and not doing so is disastrous.
- Don’t regurgitate your transcript – Remember, they have already looked at it. Also, they can view it at any time they feel necessary.
- Don’t stray from your topic – Be specific, concise and direct. You have a subject in mind, so don’t stray from telling your story precisely.
- Don’t add filler and unnecessary information –You may feel that you need to add content to your statement to make it longer. This is what writers call “filler”. So, when you are tempted to add filler – DON’T.
- Don’t rush – Give yourself several months, and revisit your essay after completion. Put it in your drawer, and read it again a week so later, when you are rested and have a block of time to sit down and relax. Then, read it as though you are reading about someone else, and judge the essay from that viewpoint. Are you interested in getting to know that person? If not, start again.
- Don’t include academic successes that do not pertain to medicine – If you have achieved some unusual academic success, then it is relevant to your aptitude and desire to attend osteopathic medical school. However, don’t include that salesman of the month award.
- Don’t embellish or use others’ work – Avoid hyperbole and plagiarism. The admissions committee members can see through this, and they always put your essay through a plagiarism program to check for use of others’ work.
- Don’t talk about controversial topics – The personal statement is no place for topics that are of questionable nature. You do not want to alienate someone who has a different perspective than you.
- Don’t discuss emotional experiences – If you relate an emotional experience, assure that you do so in a professional manner. Also, if you do not feel that you can rehash this during your interview, don’t write about that experience.
- Don’t make excuses for anything – Committee reviewers will not be impressed with your excuses, as your excuses do not excuse you.
- Don’t apologize for past mistakes or underachievement – The personal statement is your chance to shine and present your positive aspects. Don’t make the mistake of appearing regretful.
- Don’t use clichés – The reader will view this as a poor attempt to appear entertaining. Clichés are so cliché.
- Don’t talk about money – If that’s why you are entering the osteopathic profession, realize that there are easier ways to earn a living. Medicine is lucrative, but that should not be the reason for quest for entry into the profession.
- Don’t underestimate or overestimate the osteopathic medical profession– Medicine is stressful. Patient care is frustrating. A physician is not GOD. The leaders in the osteopathic medical field pride themselves on discipline, dedication, ability, and humanity. Don’t go into this profession looking for an easy career – you will be in for a real shock!
Now that you understand how to write an effective, interesting personal statement for osteopathic school admission, you will have no trouble creating something intriguing. As always, becoming a doctor (of any kind) is not a decision to be taken lightly. Good luck with your personal statement!
Adelphi College (2013). The purpose of the personal statement is to convince the Admissions Committee members that you belong at their school and, eventually, in their profession.
The American Academy of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (2013). Retrieved from website: http://www.aacom.org/Pages/default.aspx
Writing a Personal Statement?
Ben Frederick M.D.
Learn More About Our Editing Services
Having reviewed thousands of personal statements over the years, admissions committee chairman John T. Pham, DO, has come up with his own rule of thumb.
“When I look at a personal statement, if it doesn’t catch my attention in the first paragraph, then I’m not interested in reading further,” says Dr. Pham, who is the vice chair of the department of family medicine at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest in Lebanon, Oregon.
The personal statement provides an important glimpse of a candidate’s noncognitive traits such as self-awareness, empathy, passion and fortitude. A vivid well-written essay conveying a medical school or residency program applicant’s motivations and aspirations can be a deciding factor in inviting that candidate in for an interview.
“The personal statement is really the only way you can make a memorable mark on admission committee members before you meet them,” says Benjamin K. Frederick, MD, a third-year radiology resident in Columbia, Missouri, who runs an essay-editing service called Edityour.net.
Dr. Pham advises students to have their personal statements critiqued before submitting them to medical schools or residency programs. Applicants should seek feedback on their draft essays from their classmates, physician mentors, college guidance counselors, and friends or family members with strong editorial skills, he says.
Some students take this process a step further by seeking professional help with their statements. Dr. Pham is not opposed to students’ enlisting help from private admissions consultants and essay editors as long as the personal statement reflects the applicant’s own words, insights and experiences.
But Adam Hoverman, DO, who has reviewed many personal statements to assess med school and residency applicants, is concerned that heavily edited, overly polished essays do not accurately portray a candidate’s communication skills.
“Being able to organize your thoughts and write effectively is vital for transmitting knowledge as a physician,” says Dr. Hoverman, an assistant professor of family medicine and global health at the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine in Yakima, Washington. “An essay that reflects someone else’s skill set is misleading.”
But those who provide essay-editing services argue that they help future physicians become better, more reflective communicators. If it weren’t for their help, they maintain, many talented, compassionate individuals would not gain entrance to medical school or competitive residencies.
Medical school candidates often produce personal statements that are superficial and clichéd, says Linda Abraham, the founder of Accepted.com, an admissions consulting and essay-editing firm.
“The applicants will write in very generic terms about how they want to help people, and you don’t see where this comes from,” she says. “They don’t give their background story, and they don’t provide examples.”
When I look at a personal statement, if it doesn’t catch my attention in the first paragraph, then I’m not interested in reading further.
Dr. Frederick notes that many students try to cram too much information into their personal statements, which end up reading like CVs or résumés.
“The personal statement should be a narrative about an experience that led to personal growth in the pursuit of a medical career,” he says.
Vagueness and a lack of illustrative stories are the death knell of many personal statements, says medical school admissions consultant Cynthia Lewis, PhD.
“What I tell my applicants is that only one half of one sentence in a paragraph should be ‘This is what I did.’ The rest needs to be a reflection on why you did something,” says Dr. Lewis, founder of Lewis Associates. “What did you get out of it? How did it change you? How do you think differently about the world as a result of this experience?”
Telling a story
When Dr. Pham reads a personal statement, he wants to be wowed by the applicant’s story. Maybe the candidate decided to pursue medicine because of experiences in the Peace Corps, hardships overcome, a community service project, a family member’s battle with a disease or any other life-changing situation.
“Does the personal statement engage me from the get-go?” Dr. Pham asks himself. “Does it have a good story line and tell me a lot about the person and whether he or she is really dedicated to medicine?”
Being able to organize your thoughts and write effectively is vital for transmitting knowledge as a physician.
Applicants to osteopathic medical school are limited to 4,500 characters (including spaces), roughly 700 words, for their personal statement, so it must be concise and to the point. Dr. Lewis recommends that candidates divide their personal statements into three components. The first part, she says, should be a one-paragraph “uniqueness statement”—something significant the applicant has accomplished, a passionate interest or hobby, or a challenging or deeply moving experience.
She recalls one client who had several stories to choose from. When he was studying abroad in Spain, his wallet was stolen while he was traveling in England and he had to navigate Europe without his passport or any other ID. He also learned how to play flamenco guitar that year.
“You need to pick one key experience or interest and talk about it,” Dr. Lewis says. “This will say a lot about you, what you care about and how you think.”
The second part of the personal statement should describe the applicant’s journey to medicine, she says. The candidate should explain in a couple of paragraphs what initiated his or her interest in becoming a physician, what has sustained that ambition over time, and why he or she feels ready to apply to medical school.
Taking considerable time to self-reflect and write a compelling personal statement is a valuable exercise.
The final part of the essay should explore the candidate’s interest in osteopathic medicine. “Don’t just say, ‘I shadowed an osteopathic physician,’ ” urges Dr. Lewis. “Explain what you learned from the experience and how you might incorporate osteopathic philosophy into your future practice.
“If you are applying to osteopathic medical schools, the people evaluating your application need to see that you have an understanding of the osteopathic approach to care.”
However, warns Dr. Pham, applicants should not try to address all of the osteopathic tenets in the essay, which would seem forced and insincere.
“Applicants should not tell us what they think we want to hear,” he insists. “We know that many students apply to both DO and MD schools. But if a student is strictly applying to osteopathic schools, it’s important to tell us why.”
Unlike personal statements for osteopathic medical school, which are submitted with the application through AACOMAS, those for residency can be customized to the specialty and program, as ERAS permits. But that doesn’t make them any easier to write, says Kim M. Peck, the director of academic and career guidance at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM) in East Lansing.
Residency candidates need to tell the story of how they came to be interested in a particular specialty and what their long-term career goals are, according to Peck. “I advise students to be specific,” she says. “Don’t just say, for instance, that you are good with your hands and would make a great surgeon. Give an example of how you came to realize that, including details. Did an attending compliment you when you assisted with suturing? Was it an interaction with a hospitalized patient that helped you make up your mind?”
MSUCOM’s website includes a list of 14 questions students should ask themselves before they begin writing their first draft, such as “Which course work and clinical experiences have you enjoyed the most and why?” and “What is unique about you and your experiences?”
The process of writing an effective personal statement may take months, not just days or weeks, Peck says.
“Medical students are so busy doing rotations, taking shelf exams, and jumping through all of the hoops that are part of the residency process that they often don’t have time to think about themselves and where they’re going,” she observes. “Taking considerable time to self-reflect and write a compelling personal statement is a valuable exercise that helps ensure that students are making sound, thoughtful career decisions.”
Medical communication: An overlooked skill?
Googling “medical personal statement editing” yields more than 590,000 links to services and informational websites.
“Evidently, these services have arisen because of demand: Students feel they have not been adequately prepared as premeds to write persuasive personal essays,” says Dr. Hoverman, who stresses that educators should be teaching aspiring physicians communication skills alongside biology and chemistry.
“The ability to frame your thoughts in a manner that is productive for a peer, a patient or the community is substantially relevant in all aspects of health care,” he says.
Premeds interested in educating themselves can take electives such as creative writing classes and advanced speech classes. Medical students may consider pursuing writing opportunities on their own, such as starting a blog or writing research papers or articles for medical publications.
Picking up communication skills will help aspiring physicians do much more than write better personal statements, Dr. Hoverman notes.
“Organizing clinical teams, developing treatment plans, engaging in health advocacy—all of these things require physicians to be excellent communicators,” he says. “Consequently, a personal statement should genuinely reflect an applicant’s communication skills.”