Get accepted to your top choice medical school with your compelling essay.
We’ve compiled samples to give you ideas for your own essay.
Pay close attention to the consistent format of these effective personal statements:
ENGAGING INTRODUCTION / UNIFYING THEME / COMPELLING CONCLUSION
Give the admissions committee (adcom) readers a clear picture of you as an individual, a student, and a future medical professional. Make them want to meet you after they finish reading your essay.
You plan to become a physician, a highly respected professional who will have great responsibility over the health and well being of your future patients. How can you prove to the admissions committee that you have the intelligence, the maturity, the compassion, and the dedication needed to succeed in your goal?
The sample essays below are all arguments in favor of top med schools accepting these applicants. And they worked. They show a variety of experiences and thought processes that all led to the same outcome. However, while the paths to this decision point vary widely, these winning essays share several things in common.
As you read them, take note of how the stories are built sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, adding to the evidence that the writer is worthy of acceptance. This evidence includes showing a sustained focus, mature self-reflection, and professional and educational experiences that have helped prepare the applicant to succeed.
As you write your essay, include your most compelling, memorable and meaningful experiences that are relevant to your decision to become a doctor. Each sentence should add to the reader’s understanding of who you are, what your strengths are, and why you will make an outstanding physician. Your resulting essay will help the adcom appreciate your intellectual and psychological strengths as well as your motivations, and conclude that you are worthy of acceptance into a top medical school.
Here are the elements these essays all have in common:
Now let’s explore what you can learn from some of these outstanding sample med school essays:
"Call 911!" I shouted to my friend as I sprinted down the street. The young Caucasian male had been thrown fifteen yards from the site of impact and surprisingly was still conscious upon my arrival. "My name is Michael. Can you tell me your name?" In his late twenties, he gasped in response as his eyes searched desperately in every direction for help, for comfort, for assurance, for loved ones, for death, until his eyes met mine. "Flail chest", I thought to myself as I unbuttoned his shirt and placed my backpack upon his right side. "Pulse 98, respiration 28 short and quick. Help is on the way. Hang in there buddy." I urged. After assessing the patient, the gravity of the situation struck me with sobriety. The adrenaline was no longer running through my veins — this was real. His right leg was mangled with a compound fracture, and his left leg was also obviously broken. The tow-truck that had hit him looked as though it had run into a telephone pole. Traffic had ceased on the six-lane road, and a large crowd had gathered. However, no one was by my side to help. "Get me some blankets from that motel!" I yelled to a bystander and three people immediately fled. I was in charge. The patient was no longer conscious; his pulse was faint and respiration was low. "Stay with me, man!" I yelled. "15 to 1, 15 to 1", I thought as I rehearsed CPR in my mind. Suddenly he stopped breathing. Without hesitation, I removed my T-shirt and created a makeshift barrier between his mouth and mine through which I proceeded to administer two breaths. No response. And furthermore, there was no pulse. I began CPR. I continued for approximately five minutes until the paramedics arrived, but it was too late. I had lost my first patient.
Medicine. I had always imagined it as saving lives, curing ailments, alleviating pain, overall making life better for everyone. However, as I watched the paramedics pull the sheets over the victim's head, I began to tremble. I had learned my first lesson of medicine: for all its power, medicine cannot always prevail. I had experienced one of the most disheartening and demoralizing aspects of medicine and faced it. I also demonstrated then that I know how to cope with a life and death emergency with confidence, a confidence instilled in me by my certification as an Emergency Medical Technician, a confidence that I had the ability to take charge of a desperate situation and help someone in critical need. This pivotal incident confirmed my decision to pursue medicine as a career.
Of course healing, curing and saving is much more rewarding than trying and failing. As an EMT I was exposed to these satisfying aspects of medicine in a setting very new to me — urban medicine. I spent most of a summer doing ride-a-longs with the Ambulance Company in Houston. Every call we received dealt with Latino patients either speaking only Spanish or very little broken English. I suddenly realized the importance of understanding a foreign culture and language in the practice of medicine, particularly when serving an under-served majority. In transporting patients from the field to the hospitals I saw the community’s reduced access to medical care due to a lack of physicians able to communicate with and understand their patients. I decided to minor in Spanish. Having almost completed my minor, I have not only expanded my academic horizons, I have gained a cultural awareness I feel is indispensable in today's diverse society.
Throughout my undergraduate years at Berkeley I have combined my scientific interests with my passion for the Hispanic culture and language. I have even blended the two with my interests in medicine. During my sophomore year I volunteered at a medical clinic in the rural town of Chacala, Mexico. In Mexico for one month I shadowed a doctor in the clinic and was concurrently enrolled in classes for medical Spanish. It was in Chacala, hundreds of miles away from home, that I witnessed medicine practiced as I imagined it should be. Seeing the doctor treat his patients with skill and compassion as fellow human beings rather than simply diseases to be outsmarted, I realized he was truly helping the people of Chacala in a manner unique to medicine. Fascinated by this exposure to clinical medicine, I saw medicine’s ability to make a difference in people’s lives. For me the disciplines of Spanish and science have become inseparable, and I plan to pursue a career in urban medicine that allows me to integrate them.
Having seen medicine’s different sides, I view medicine as a multi-faceted profession. I have witnessed its power as a healing agent in rural Chacala, and I have seen its weakness when I met death face-to-face as an EMT. Inspired by the Latino community of Houston, I realize the benefits of viewing it from a holistic, culturally aware perspective. And whatever the outcome of the cry, "Call 911!" I look forward as a physician to experiencing the satisfaction of saving lives, curing ailments, alleviating pain, and overall making life better for my patients.
What makes this essay work:
This paragraph is unusually long as an opener, but it is both dramatic and lays out the high-stakes situation where the writer is desperately trying to save the life of a young man. As an EMT, the writer is safe in sharing so much detail, because he establishes his bona fides as medically knowledgeable. From the urgent opening sentence of “Call 911!” to the sad final sentence, “I had lost my first patient,” the writer has bookended a particularly transformative experience, one that confirmed his goal of becoming a doctor.
The theme of a med school essay in which the applicant first deals with the inevitable reality of seeing a patient die can become hackneyed through overuse. This essay is saved from that fate because after acknowledging the pain of this reality check, he immediately commits to expanding his knowledge and skills to better serve the Hispanic community where he lives. While this is not an extraordinary story for an EMT, the substance, self-awareness and focus the writer brings to the topic makes it a compelling read.
This applicant is already a certified EMT, evidence of a serious interest in a medical career. Through going on ambulance ride-alongs, he realizes the barrier in communication between many doctors and their Spanish-speaking patients and takes steps to both learn medical Spanish and to shadow a doctor working in a Mexican clinic. These concrete steps affirm that this applicant has serious intent.
Here an older applicant takes advantage of his experience and maturity. Note how this engineer demonstrates his sensitivity and addresses possible stereotypes about engineers' lack of communications skills.
Modest one-room houses lay scattered across the desert landscape. Their rooftops a seemingly helpless shield against the intense heat generated by the mid-July sun. The steel security bars that guarded the windows and doors of every house seemed to belie the large welcome sign at the entrance to the ABC Indian Reservation. As a young civil engineer employed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I was far removed from my cubical in downtown Los Angeles. However, I felt I was well-prepared to conduct my first project proposal. The project involved a $500,000 repair of an earthen levee surrounding an active Native American burial site. A fairly inexpensive and straightforward job by federal standards, but nonetheless I could hardly contain my excitement. Strict federal construction guidelines laden with a generous portion of technical jargon danced through my head as I stepped up to the podium to greet the twelve tribal council members. My premature confidence quickly disappeared as they confronted me with a troubled ancient gaze. Their faces revealed centuries of distrust and broken government promises. Suddenly, from a design based solely upon abstract engineering principles an additional human dimension emerged — one for which I had not prepared. The calculations I had crunched over the past several months and the abstract engineering principles simply no longer applied. Their potential impact on this community was clearly evident in the faces before me. With perspiration forming on my brow, I decided I would need to take a new approach to salvage this meeting. So I discarded my rehearsed speech, stepped out from behind the safety of the podium, and began to solicit the council members' questions and concerns. By the end of the afternoon, our efforts to establish a cooperative working relationship had resulted in a distinct shift in the mood of the meeting. Although I am not saying we erased centuries of mistrust in a single day, I feel certain our steps towards improved relations and trust produced a successful project.
I found this opportunity to humanize my engineering project both personally and professionally rewarding. Unfortunately, experiences like it were not common. I realized early in my career that I needed a profession where I can more frequently incorporate human interaction and my interests in science. After two years of working as a civil engineer, I enrolled in night school to explore a medical career and test my aptitude for pre-medical classes. I found my classes fascinating and became a more effective student. Today, I am proud of the 3.7 post-baccalaureate grade point average I have achieved in such competitive courses as organic chemistry, biochemistry, and genetics.
Confident of my ability to succeed in the classroom, I proceeded to volunteer in the Preceptorship Program at the Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Center. I acquired an understanding of the emotional demands and time commitment required of physicians by watching them schedule their personal lives around the needs of their patients. I also soon observed that the rewards of medicine stem from serving the needs of these same patients. I too found it personally gratifying to provide individuals with emotional support by holding an elderly woman's hand as a physician drew a blood sample or befriending frightened patients with a smile and conversation.
To test my aptitude for a medical career further, I began a research project under the supervision of Dr. John Doe from the Orthopedic Department at Big University. The focus of my study was to determine the fate of abstracts presented at the American Society for Surgery of the Hand annual meeting. As primary author, I reported the results in an article for the Journal of Hand Surgery, a peer-reviewed publication. My contribution to medicine, albeit small, gave me much satisfaction. In the future I would like to pursue an active role in scientific research.
My preparation of a career as a medical doctor started, ironically with my work as a professional engineer. From my experiences at the ABC Indian Reservation I realized I need more direct personal interaction than engineering offers. The rewarding experiences I have had in my research, my volunteer work at the Los Angeles County Hospital, and my post-bac studies have focused my energies and prepared me for the new challenges and responsibilities that lie ahead in medicine.
What works well in this essay:
I could hardly keep myself from staring at the girl: the right side of her face was misshapen and bigger than the left. Only later did I notice that Cheryl, about nine at the time, had light brown hair, lively brown eyes, and a captivating smile. When she walked into the candy shop where I worked six years ago, Cheryl told me she was a student of my former fourth grade teacher with whom I had kept in contact. We talked then and spent time talking each time she visited. She became a very special friend of mine, one whom I admire greatly. At the time we met, I was taking honors and AP classes, working about twenty hours a week, and feeling sorry for myself. Cheryl's outgoing confidence and good cheer put my situation in perspective. Cheryl was strong, kind, and surprisingly hopeful. She never focused on her facial deformities, but always on the anticipated improvement in her appearance. Her ability to find strength within herself inspired me to become a stronger person. It motivated me to pursue a career where I could help those like Cheryl attain the strength that she possesses.
At the time, my initial interest turned toward psychology. Impressed with Cheryl's outlook, I overlooked the source of her strength: she knew that treatment will improve her appearance. Focusing on the emotional aspects of her illness, I volunteered at the Neuropsychiatric Institute. There, I supervised the daily activities of pre-adolescents, played with them, and assisted them in getting dressed. I worked with crack babies, autistic children, and children who had severe behavioral problems. I enjoyed interacting with the children, but I often became frustrated that I was not able to help them. For instance, a young autistic boy frequently hit himself. No one was permitted to stop this child. We had to turn away and allow him to continually strike and hurt himself until he tired.
I was increasingly disappointed with the lack of progress I saw in my volunteer work at NPI, but my job again pushed me in the right direction. During the fall quarter of my junior year in college, I left the candy shop where I had worked for nearly five and a half years, and I began working as a senior clerk in the Anesthesiology Residency Program. Ironically work, which frequently made study difficult, helped me find the right path. There I learned about the oral and maxillo-facial specialty, which will allow me to help people like Cheryl.
To explore my interest in dentistry, I volunteered as a dental assistant in Dr. Miller's dental office. Dr. Miller introduced me to various dental techniques. Although I was mainly an observer, I had the opportunity to interact with the patients. I came in contact with a diverse patient population with different problems and dental needs. I observed as Dr. Miller dealt with each patient individually and treated each one to the best of his ability. He familiarized me with strategies for oral health promotion and disease prevention. I learned a great deal from him, and as a result, my interest in dentistry grew.
I choose to pursue a career in dentistry after following a circuitous path. My friendship with Cheryl motivated me to enter a field where I can help the severely disfigured cope with their condition. Although I initially turned to psychology, I found my work at the Neuropsychiatric Institute to be frustrating and was searching for a different way to achieve my goal. Ironically, Cheryl had told me all along the source of her strength: the knowledge that her condition was treatable and improving. Through maxillo-facial dentistry I will help others with serious facial deformities have the same knowledge and source of strength.
What makes this essay work:
Note how the author reveals a lot about herself without overtly saying "I am this and I am that." She is obviously hard working and disciplined, probably compassionate and kind. Interested in dentistry for a long time, she has clearly considered other options. And she tells a good story. Our experts can help you tell your story just as effectively -- check out our AASDAS application packages here.
On the first day that I walked into the Church Nursing Home, I was unsure of what to expect. A jumble of questions ran through my mind simultaneously: Is this the right job for me? Will I be capable of aiding the elderly residents? Will I enjoy what I do? A couple of hours later, these questions were largely forgotten as I slowly cut chicken pieces and fed them to Frau Meyer. Soon afterwards, I was strolling through the garden with Herr Schmidt, listening to him tell of his tour of duty in World War II. By the end of the day, I realized how much I enjoyed the whole experience and at the same time smiled at the irony of it all. I needed to travel to Heidelberg, Germany to confirm my interest in clinical medicine.
Experiences like my volunteer work in the German nursing home illustrate the decisive role travel has played in my life. For instance, I had volunteered at a local hospital in New York but was not satisfied. Dreams of watching doctors in the ER or obstetricians in the maternity ward were soon replaced with the reality of carrying urine and feces samples to the lab. With virtually no patient contact, my exposure to clinical medicine in this setting was unenlightening and uninspiring. However, in Heidelberg, despite the fact that I frequently change diapers for the incontinent and deal with occasionally cantankerous elderly, I love my twice weekly visits to the nursing home. Here, I feel that I am needed and wanted. That rewarding feeling of fulfillment attracts me to the practice of medicine.
My year abroad in Germany also enriched and diversified my experience with research. Although I had a tremendously valuable exposure to research as a summer intern investigating chemotherapeutic resistance in human carcinomas, I found disconcerting the constant cost-benefit analysis required in applied biomedical research. In contrast, my work at the University of Heidelberg gave me a broader view of basic research and demonstrated how it can expand knowledge -- even without the promise of immediate profit. I am currently attempting to characterize the role of an enzyme during neural development. Even though the benefit of such research is not yet apparent, it will ultimately contribute to a vast body of information which will further medical science.
My different reactions to research and medicine just exemplify the intrinsically broadening impact of travel. For example, on a recent trip to Egypt I visited a small village on the banks of the Nile. This impoverished hamlet boasted a large textile factory in its center where many children worked in clean, bright, and cheerful conditions weaving carpets and rugs. After a discussion with the foreman of the plant, I discovered that the children of the village learned trades at a young age to prepare them to enter the job market and to support their families. If I had just heard about this factory, I would have recoiled in horror with visions of sweat shops running through my head. However, watching the skill and precision each child displayed, in addition to his or her endless creativity, soon made me realize that it is impossible to judge this country’s attempts to deal with its poverty using American standards and experience.
Travel has not only had a formative and decisive impact on my decision to pursue a career in medicine; it has also broadened my horizons -- whether in a prosperous city on the Rhine or an impoverished village on the Nile. In dealing with patients or addressing research puzzles, I intend to bring the inquiring mind fostered in school, lab, and volunteer experiences. But above all, I intend to bring the open mind formed through travel.
This applicant effectively links the expansive benefits of travel to his medical ambitions. Sharing vivid anecdotes from these experiences, his reflections allow the reader to easily imagine him as a talented physician in the future.
What makes this essay work:
Crayfish tails in tarragon butter, galantine of rabbit with foie gras, oxtail in red wine, and apple tartelettes. The patient had this rich meal and complained of "liver upset" (crise de foie). Why a liver ache? I always associate indigestion with a stomach ache. In studying French culture in my Evolutionary Psychology class, I learned that when experiencing discomfort after a rich meal, the French assume their liver is the culprit. Understanding and dealing with the minor — sometimes major — cultural differences is a necessity in our shrinking world and diverse American society. Anthropology has prepared me to effectively communicate with an ethnically diverse population. My science classes, research, and clinical experience have prepared me to meet the demands of medical school.
I first became aware of the valuable service that physicians provide when I observed my father, a surgeon, working in his office. I gained practical experience assisting him and his staff perform various procedures in his out-patient center. This exposure increased my admiration for the restorative, technological, and artistic aspects of surgery. I also saw that the application of medical knowledge was most effective when combined with compassion and empathy from the health care provider.
While admiring my father's role as a head and neck surgeon helping people after severe accidents, I also found a way to help those suffering from debilitating ailments. Working as a certified physical trainer, I became aware of the powerful recuperative effects of exercise. I was able to apply this knowledge in the case of Sharon, a forty-three-year-old client suffering from lupus. She reported a 200% increase in her strength tests after I trained her. This meant she could once again perform simple tasks like carrying groceries into her house. Unfortunately, this glimpse of improvement was followed by a further deterioration in her condition. On one occasion, she broke down and cried about her declining health and growing fears. It was then that I learned no physical prowess or application of kinesiology would alleviate her pain. I helped reduce her anxiety with a comforting embrace. Compassion and understanding were the only remedies available, temporary though they were.
To confirm that medicine is the best way for me to help others, I assisted a research team in the Emergency Room at University Medical Center (UMC). This experience brought me in direct contact with clinical care and provided me with the opportunity to witness and participate in the "behind-the-scenes" hospital operations. Specifically, we analyzed the therapeutic effects of two new drugs — Drug A and Drug B — in patients suffering from acute ischemic stroke. The purpose of this trial was to determine the efficacy and safety of these agents in improving functional outcome in patients who had sustained an acute cerebral infarction. My duties centered around the role of patient-physician liaison, determining patients' eligibility, monitoring their conditions, and conducting patient histories.
I continued to advance my research experience at the VA Non-Human Primate Center. During the past year, I have been conducting independent research in endocrinology and biological aspects of anthropology. For this project, I am examining the correlation between captive vervet monkeys' adrenal and androgen levels with age, gender, and various behavioral measures across different stress-level environments. I enjoy the discipline and responsibility which research requires, and I hope to incorporate it into my career.
Anthropology is the study of humans; medicine is the science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease in humans. From my work at UMC and my observation of my father’s practice, I know medicine will allow me to pursue an art and science that is tremendously gratifying and contributes to the welfare of those around me. My anthropology classes have taught me to appreciate cross-cultural perspectives and their relationship to pathology and its etiology. First hand experience with exercise therapy and nutrition has taught me the invaluable role of prevention. Medical school will now provide me with the technical knowledge to alleviate a crise de foie.
With a diverse background that includes anthropology studies, work as a certified physical trainer, and experience in clinical medical research, this applicant builds a strong case for her logical and dedicated choice of a medical career.
What makes this essay work:
I heard the familiar sound of the back door closing gently. My father was returning from driving his dirty, green John Deere tractor in one of our fields. Although he begins his day at 5:00 a.m. every morning, he usually returns at around 7:00 p.m. I never really questioned his schedule when I was a child, but as I entered high school I wondered how my dad could work so hard every day of the week and still enjoy what he does. He works long hours, becomes filthy from dirt, oil, and mud, and worst of all, can watch all his hard work go to waste if one day of bad weather wipes out our crop. There have been many years when our raisins were rained on, our cherries were hailed on and our apples were literally baked by the sun. The uncertainties of farming are so great and so challenging. It never ceases to amaze me when my father wakes up every morning to start work, that he does so with gusto. The life of a farmer can be laborious and stressful, yet my father continues to do his work with passionate enthusiasm. His dedication and pride mystified me throughout high school. Only after I entered Big U, did I start to understand how he can persevere and face the challenges of farming.
I entered Big U like a small child wandering through a park. Never in my life had I been exposed to anything so grandiose and dominating. Born and raised in a rural town of 3000 people, I wasn't ready for the fast-paced life and crowds of Chicago. I eventually grew into its lifestyle and learned to adapt to my new environment. I found my bio-ethics class, in which we discussed major issues in health care, especially interesting. The physician’s dilemma particularly intrigued me: Doing everything to provide the best health care possible, but constrained by limited resources when the funds just are not available.
These frustrating situations place a huge strain on physicians, and yet they persevere and continue to work long hours in hospitals, clinics and HMOs providing the best care they can.* While thoroughly aware of the long hours a physician must work and the challenges he or she faces, I am choosing medicine because of the unique satisfaction it provides — the rewards of helping a sick human being. As I think about a physician’s life, I also think of the many times I have watched my father sit silently at the dinner table, deep in thought, contemplating his options when our farm is not earning any income and the bills continue to arrive. We don't hear him complain; we only hear him leave early in the morning.
I also saw determination and tenacity in another setting while at BIG U: Dr. Steve Jones neurophysiology laboratory. In collaboration with Dr. Jack Smith Jr. at Big U II, I performed immunohistochemistry experiments to label metabotropic glutamate receptors. Research is intrinsically laborious and painstaking, but through my experience with Dr. Smith, I saw the stress, frustration, and uncertainty involved in obtaining grants. Yet he continues his pursuit of knowledge. Despite limited resources, he, like my father and the clinical physician, tries everyday to do his best to achieve his goals. I used similar drive in my research projects and am co-author of an article resulting from my research. Inspired by Dr. Smith, I will harness that determination in medicine. He showed me what it means to really enjoy a career. I can have that same enjoyment through practicing medicine — the same type of enjoyment my father has from tending to his fields.
Becoming a physician is a goal aspired to by many. As a farmer’s son, I have wakened early and returned home late from the fields after long days with my father. I have been able to experience uncertainties, challenges, and plain old hard work similar to that faced by physicians. But like the doctors in the hospitals and Dr. Smith in his lab, I can find happiness and satisfaction in helping people through medicine. Despite all the hardship doctors face, I want to help people every day. Practicing medicine is something worth stress and long hours. I finally understand my father. I now know how he can wake up every morning at 5:00 a.m. and drive his dirty, green tractor until 7:00 p.m.
*I would recommend that the writer insert a brief, specific example from his clinical experiences here.
This applicant sets herself apart by emphasizing a hobby that she loves and accounts for a dip in her grades caused by illness.
Pounding, rushing footsteps started to close in on me. The roar of the crowd echoed, as I extended my hand to receive the baton that signaled my turn to run. As I tightly wrapped my fingers around it, I felt the wind rush around me, and my tired legs started to carry me faster than I ever dreamed possible. As I rounded the final stretch of track I remember battling fatigue by contemplating two paths: slow down and give up my chance of winning to gain momentary comfort, or push myself even harder and give up momentary comfort to receive greater rewards later. I chose the second path and later held a trophy that represented my perseverance and hard work. The years of running — consistently choosing the second path — have taught me discipline and perseverance. These qualities will help me cross a different finish line and achieve a new goal: becoming a doctor.
I have had to learn to budget my time to meet the demands of school, training programs, and volunteer activities. Although I trained and ran at least thirty miles a week throughout college, I also served as a big sister to Kelly, an abused child, and worked in a hospital trauma unit and as a medical assistant in an OB/GYN clinic. My most satisfying volunteer activity, however, was participating in mission work in Mexico City.
In Mexico City I continually saw young children whose suffering was overwhelming. These children had never received vaccinations, were lice-infested, and suffered from malnutrition. They also frequently had infections that antibiotics can easily treat, but due to poverty were left untreated. For a week our team worked feverishly to see as many children as possible and treat them to the best of our abilities. I will never forget the feeling of complete fulfillment after a long day of using my talents for the betterment of others. The desire to replicate this feeling strengthens my commitment to becoming a physician.
Isaac Asimov once said, "It has been my philosophy on life that difficulties vanish when faced boldly." Difficulties have tested my commitment. In September 1992, at the beginning of the running season I developed a severe case of mono. My doctors advised me to drop out of school for a semester and not run for at least four months. Though devastated, I refused to give up. I managed to keep up with all my classes, even when I came down with pneumonia on top of mono in early November. I resumed training in the beginning of December, two months earlier than doctors originally thought possible. Today I am preparing for the LA Marathon in May.
This test helped shape my attitude towards the work that I am now doing in Dr. Lee's molecular biology research lab. In searching for a cure for colon cancer, the work can become tedious, and the project progresses very slowly. Many just give up, feeling that the answers they seek are buried too deep and require too much effort to find. But my training and the battles I have fought with illness have taught me persistence. I realize that many times progress plateaus, or even declines before I find the results I seek. Most of all, I know that the more hard work I invest, the more exciting, overwhelming, and fulfilling are the later rewards.
As a result of my efforts I have been able to experience the joy of breaking through the tape of a finish line, having my name on a journal article in press, seeing the smile on Kelly's face as I walk with her, and hearing the sincere expressions of gratitude from homeless children who have just received a humble roof over their heads and the medical attention they so desperately need. I hope to cross the finish line in the LA marathon and enter medical school this year.
This essay is one of our favorites. The applicant tells a story and weaves a lot of information about his background and interests into it. Note how the lead grabs attention and the conclusion ties everything together.
The AIDS hospice reeked from disease and neglect. On my first day there, after an hour of "training," I met Paul, a tall, emaciated, forty-year-old AIDS victim who was recovering from a stroke that had severely affected his speech. I took him to General Hospital for a long-overdue appointment. It had been weeks since he had been outside. After waiting for two and a half hours, he was called in and then needed to wait another two hours for his prescription. Hungry, I suggested we go and get some lunch. At first Paul resisted; he didn’t want to accept the lunch offer. Estranged from his family and seemingly ignored by his friends, he wasn’t used to anyone being kind to him — even though I was only talking about a Big Mac. When it arrived, Paul took his first bite. Suddenly, his face lit up with the biggest, most radiant smile. He was on top of the world because somebody bought him a hamburger. Amazing. So little bought so much. While elated that I had literally made Paul’s day, the neglect and emotional isolation from which he suffered disgusted me. This was a harsh side of medicine I had not seen before. Right then and there, I wondered, "Do I really want to go into medicine?"
What had so upset me about my day with Paul? Before then nothing in my personal, academic, or volunteer experiences had shaken my single-minded commitment to medicine. Why was I so unprepared for what I saw? Was it the proximity of death, knowing Paul was terminal? No it couldn’t have been. As a young boy in gutted Beirut I had experienced death time and time again. Was it the financial hardship of the hospice residents, the living from day to day? No, I dealt with that myself as a new immigrant and had even worked full-time during my first two years of college. Financial difficulty was no stranger to me. Neither financial distress nor the sight of death had deterred me. Before the day in the hospice, I only wanted to be a doctor.
My interest in medicine had started out with an enjoyment of science. From general biology to advanced cellular/behavioral neuroscience, the study of the biological systems, especially the most complex of them all, the human body, has been a delightful journey with new discoveries in each new class. Research with Dr. Smith on neurodegenerative diseases further stimulated my curiosity. Equally satisfying is my investigation with Dr. Jones of the relevance of endogenous opiates to drug therapies for schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s chorea, and drug abuse. I love research. Looking at the results of an experiment for the first time and knowing that my data, this newly found piece of information, is furthering our knowledge in a small area of science is an indescribable experience. I have so enjoyed it that I am currently enrolled in two Departmental Honors programs, both requiring an Honors Thesis. I will graduate next year with two majors — Neuroscience and Biological Sciences. While I want to incorporate research into my career, after meeting Paul I realized that the lab’s distant analytical approach wouldn’t help me show compassion to my patients. Even worse, it could contribute to the emotional neglect I found so repulsive.
Dr. Nelson, the general practitioner for whom I volunteered for two and a half years, had always told me that the desire to become a doctor must come from deep within. In his office, I took patients’ vital signs and helped them feel more comfortable. I also spent a significant amount of time with Dr. Nelson learning about the physician’s role. He became my mentor. I learned of the physician’s many responsibilities — personal integrity, an endless love of learning, and the awareness that throughout his or her career every physician is a student and a teacher. I also realized that in medicine many decisions are based on clinical approximation, as opposed to the precision of the lab. Still after two and a half years in his Park Avenue office, I was unprepared for the AIDS hospice in a blue-collar neighborhood, and my experience with Paul.
Even my work at the Family Clinic, which serves a large poor and homeless population, failed to prepare me for Paul. In the clinic, I worked a lot with children and interacted with their families. I recall an episode when the parents of a twelve-year-old girl brought her to the clinic. They were nervous and frightened. Their daughter had a hard time breathing because of a sore throat and had not been able to sleep the previous night. I took her vital signs, inquired about her chief complaint, and put her chart in the priority box. After she was seen by the physician, I assured her parents that her illness was not serious — she had the flu, and the sore throat was merely a symptom. The relief in the parents’ faces and the realization that I had made them feel a little bit more comfortable was most fulfilling. During my stay at the clinic, I thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with patients and dealing with a different socio-economic group than I found in Dr. Nelson’s office. But while I was aware of their poverty, I was not aware if they suffered from emotional isolation and neglect.
The abandonment that caused Paul’s loneliness nauseated me. But after I thought about it, I understood that meeting Paul and working in the hospice gave me an opportunity, however painful, for accomplishment and personal growth. And medicine offers a lifetime of such opportunities. I didn’t turn my back on Paul or medicine. I’m glad I met Paul. He and I were friends until he died, about eight months after I first started working at the AIDS hospice. I visited him and others in the hospice at least once a week and frequently more often. My experience with Paul and other AIDS patients led me to re-commit to a career as a physician — the only career I want to pursue — but a physician who will always have a minute to comfort. Yes, my research is exciting and important. Yes, medicine involves problem solving and analysis of symptoms as I learned at the Family Clinic. And yes, medicine frequently involves clinical approximation as Dr. Nelson taught me. But more than any of the above, as I learned at the AIDS hospice, medicine requires compassion and caring — and sometimes a Big Mac.
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