Writing can be daunting for all of us. “What do I write about?” is the most common question that comes to mind when contemplating medical school personal statements or secondary essays. When writing these essays, organization is crucial. The thought of writing an essay up to 5300 characters long for AMCAS or several pages long for secondary essay prompts can feel like a Herculean task. Furthermore, these compositions can be the end of your application if not approached correctly. To help with organizing your essays, I have broken down the process into sixteen R’s.
OK. Let’s get started!
- Relax: Writing is challenging enough, but when you are tense and stressed, it feels impossible. Listen to soothing music, do a favorite exercise before you sit down to write, or try a little yoga. Getting into a relaxed mindset can help you think about all the experiences that brought you to your decision to pursue medicine.
- Recreational: Make your essay writing recreational or fun. “Fun?” you may ask. How can essay writing be fun? Well, I think the beloved fictional character Mary Poppins was not too far off the mark when she said, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.” Since you will be spending a significant amount of time writing your medical school essays, making them as fun as possible is indispensable. Pretending that you are a famous physician in an interview on the news or a celebrity looking back on your life and writing your memoirs can help bring your creative thoughts to mind.
- Remember all the experiences that shaped your road to medicine. Jot down all the formal and informal experiences that were instrumental in your decision. And remember, sometimes it is the simplest of gestures that may have significantly impacted a student you mentored or a patient you worked with, so don’t forget these experiences. This is your chance to write your memoirs, so remembering everything is crucial. Also, don’t forget to give any students or patients you worked with pseudonyms to protect their confidentiality. Furthermore, remember to stay within the designated length limits of your medical school essays.
- Recite, Rehearse, and Record: “Where do I start?” is another common question. Describing your thoughts aloud and reciting and rehearsing them before you put them down on paper can help a great deal to get those “creative juices flowing.” You don’t need anything fancy to record your thoughts—your smartphone will work perfectly well. If it helps, have some soft, pensive music playing in the background as long as it is not distracting. And remember that how you express yourself doesn’t need to be perfect because the only person that will hear the recording is you. This is just an exercise to help you get those thoughts flowing before putting them down on paper. You’ll be surprised at how helpful listening to your recording is to jump-start your writing.
- Readable: Your essay should capture the reader’s attention from the opening sentence and maintain that interest throughout the text. Try to make the reader feel as if they are there with you, experiencing what you felt.
- Rich: You should use rich, descriptive language so that you take the reader on your “expedition.” Let the reader feel like they are “traveling” with you and experiencing what you experienced.
- Retell: In addition, your essay should elaborate on critical details in your story; if your essay has not elaborated on these details, retell your story and expand upon the important events so that the reader has a perfect picture in their mind of what took place. By doing so, you will put the reader in your story and make it come alive for them.
- Rhythm: Your essay should have rhythm—it should be well organized both within and between paragraphs, and each section should be well connected to the others with smooth transitions.
- Relevance: Given the character limits of your medical school essays, every word and sentence should be relevant. Don’t waste critical character space on sentences that are not pertinent to your story. In the case of secondary essays, make sure your answer is relevant to the question asked and the school you are applying to.
- Relate and Reply: For both the personal statement and each secondary essay, the experiences you write about in your body paragraphs should relate to each other in some way so that you have an over-arching theme for your essay. Find the common denominator between your experiences to help find your theme. For your secondary essays, you must reply to the specific question posed.
- Research: When writing your secondary essays, make sure you research the schools to ensure that your goals are a good match for their guiding principles.
- Reveal: Furthermore, your writing should reveal different qualities that will make you an outstanding physician. The best essays are heartfelt and evoke emotion.
- Reflective: Perhaps, the most necessary characteristic of your essay is to be reflective. Your essay should reflect on the meaningful experiences that were pivotal in your decision to pursue medicine or apply to specific medical schools. Ask yourself why a particular experience made you feel as you did and how you will assimilate the spirit of what you learned from the experience into your future career. Why is it significant to you?
- Refine: Another essential step in your essay writing is to refine your language. For our first draft, don’t worry about style. But after you write that first draft, review it and aim for a tone and style that shows you’re already a professional. Write your essay with a professional writing style and avoid slang or colloquial sayings. This is not social media.
- Return, Refer, and Remind: Coming to the home stretch, you should return to the introduction in your essay’s conclusion and refer back to the introductory paragraph in some way to end your essay on a powerful note and remind the reader of the significance of the opening paragraph in your decision to become a physician.
- Review: The final step in writing your essay is to review your essay several times once you finish it. Review, review, review should become your essay writing slogan. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to review your essay multiple times for spelling, grammatical, and writing errors. For secondaries, make sure you have the correct school’s name everywhere. Finally, if at all possible, put a little time between your last revision and your proof. And make sure that you are alert when you check your essay if you really want to catch all errors.
If you follow the above steps, you are on your way to writing a truly remarkable essay. (Yes, remarkable is my final “R”.)
Best of luck and have fun writing!
Are you ready to apply the 16 R’s to your med school application essays? Accepted’s expert consultants know just how to help you highlight your strengths and craft an application that will help you get accepted to your top choice medical school. Check out our one-on-one admissions services so you can ace your application and GET ACCEPTED!Dr. Elena Nawfel acquired her B.A. at Harvard, earned her MD at the University of Massachusetts, did her residency at the Lahey Clinic, where she also served on the Lahey Clinic Internal Medicine Residency Recruitment Committee, and trained in Medical Oncology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. After completing her medical studies, she was a Fulbright scholar in Medical Ethics. Dr. Nawfel is a former Accepted admissions consultant. Want an admissions expert to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!