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Bryan's Personal Statement With Commentary

I vividly remember driving up the entrance to Gustavus Adolphus College. It was freshmen year and upperclassmen, appropriately coined “Gustie Greeters,” vibrantly welcomed my family and I to campus. Starting college was an unnerving, yet welcomed adventure. Little did I know this special community would engrain three core values, full effort, positive attitude, and empathy, all the while revealing the intimacy between medicine and the human condition. My mission was clear then and continues to be reaffirmed as a scribe at Twin Cities Orthopedics (TCO). I want to become a physician because it is a unique way of serving people, as well as sharing my three guiding life philosophies.  


I begin with the hook, describing my welcoming experience at Gustavus Adolphus. I choose this hook because this was a special community that truly shaped me as a person, engraining the mentioned three core values. Organization is crucial in a personal statement. That is why I introduce my three core values here, as well as my experience at Twin Cities Orthopedics, all of which become standalone body paragraphs. Moreover, I touch on how these core values illuminated the unique nature of medicine. This preludes into my thesis, which answers two important questions. First, why do I want to be a doctor? Because it is a unique way of serving people. Second, why will I thrive in this field? By sharing my three guiding life philosophies. 


The Gustavus tennis coaches helped instill my first core value, full effort. They demanded focus every second, which translated to the unparalleled opportunity for improvement. Our team adopted this philosophy, pushing each other toward our greatest potential. This was best exemplified by fitness, which we viewed as a healthy intra-team competition. I brought this attitude into all aspects of my life. As a chemistry tutor, full effort was essential. My students had a variety of needs, but one stands out. She struggled most with the laboratory component. One night, we spent three hours combing over a complex experiment. She left our session not only comprehending the lab, but also with a renewed vigor to tackle next week’s experiment. In short, full effort entails inspiration of others. This is certainly appropriate within medicine, where patients are in trying situations. As a physician, I will inspire my patients to their greatest potential through full effort.  


The thesis is truly the roadmap for the personal statement. That is why the ideas introduced there become the body paragraphs. My first core value was full effort, thus this paragraph is about full effort. I discuss where it was fine-tuned, the tennis court, and then delve into an example of utilizing it elsewhere. I often say show, don’t tell in my critiques. Here is what I mean by that. I show my full effort with my student, spending hours with her, as well as the positive impact this had. It is much more powerful than merely saying I am hard working. Last, I relate full effort back to medicine, discussing how I will inspire future patients. This is something that is often left out with closing sentences to body paragraphs. Don’t forget to bring everything full circle! 


Positive attitude, my second core value, was best exemplified by Steve Wilkinson, one of my tennis coaches who recently succumbed to metastatic cancer. From the onset of his terminal diagnosis, he sported an ear-to-ear grin and palpable optimism. Only minutes in his presence would lift anyone’s spirits. Living far beyond his six month prognosis, he is a reminder of the power of medicine in preserving life, but also the devastation of disease. Steve was never unrealistic about his health, but eternal positivity allowed him to live in the moment for his final years.  Inspired by Steve, I have used this mindset countless times. On one occasion, friends rushed my girlfriend to the local ER due to her life threatening food allergy. I quickly followed. Nora was almost unrecognizable, covered from head to toe in red, blotchy hives. She was panicking, and given her already labored breathing I knew I had to try and calm her down. I grabbed her puffy hand and watched her slowly relax as I reiterated that she was in very capable hands. Experiencing medicine from this perspective has taught me to never underestimate the power of positivity. I am excited to be a beacon of positive energy within the lives of my future patients.


The second element of my thesis, positive attitude, becomes the second paragraph. Another critique I find myself writing when reviewing personal statements is to utilize active examples, not passive examples. An active example highlights you doing something spectacular or a particular trait native to you! Passive examples are where you watch someone else being great. They are not as powerful and do not do as much to make you stand out as an applicant. Passive examples are fine, but should be followed up with an active example, showing that you internalized the trait. That is what I did here. I talk about learning the power of positivity from my coach and then how I embodied this when my girlfriend (now wife J) wound up in the emergency room. Again, I close the paragraph by relating this to medicine, how I will embody this for future patients as well. 


Empathy, my final core value, was built upon by Dr. Koepke, an ER physician I shadowed for several years. An ER is the first line of defense against trauma and illness. Well aware of this, Dr. Koepke proceeded with boundless compassion when one gentleman fell off a ladder and severely dislocated his shoulder. Despite pain medication, he was in agony. Dr. Koepke caringly and reassuringly grasped his good shoulder, telling him everything was going to be okay. Ease washed over the patient’s face and relocation alleviated much of his pain. Working in the memory care unit of a local nursing home as a CNA, empathy was essential. Each shift I was responsible for up to ten residents. I devotedly mastered their care plans, embedded with idiosyncrasies. I knew that Carol preferred a different lotion brand on certain body parts, while Evelyn desired her stuffed animal to receive grooming before herself. Incorporating these details, I darted from resident to resident the duration of my shift. As a physician, I will care for my future patients in this manner. 


You have no doubt glimpsed the pattern here. This third paragraph is devoted to my third core value, the third idea laid forth in my thesis. Similar to the second paragraph, I lead with a passive example, viewing Dr. Koepke’s empathy first hand, but then switch gears with an active example. 


Working for physicians as a scribe at TCO has given me further insight into the profession. For instance, the full effort of physicians encompasses their role as educators. Working with Dr. Riggi, a Gustavus graduate himself, I have observed him meticulously explain diagnoses with models, staying in the room until certain patients and family understand. Furthermore, I have seen how a physician’s positive attitude can have a tremendous impact on a patient’s recovery. Dr. Johnson, another physician I work with, certainly realizes this and inspires his patients to their full potential. Finally, trusting doctor-patient relationships begin with compassion. Since the physicians are immediately privy to intimate details, perhaps not even knowing the patient, empathy is vital to earning his or her trust. Numerous TCO physicians I work for internalize this, building rewarding dynamics with their patients. I aspire to deliver the same standards of care.


The final idea in my thesis was how working at Twin Cities Orthopedics reaffirmed my desire to pursue medicine. Therefore, it becomes my fourth paragraph. Unfortunately working as a scribe did not offer the opportunity for much direct patient care, thus I did not have any active examples to fall back on. Nonetheless, I thought it was very powerful that I saw my own core values being practiced by physicians on a daily basis. Therefore, I thought it was fitting to close with this body paragraph. 


My experiences continue to cement my desire to become a physician. I know medicine is my calling because of its vigor in treating physical ailments, but also its special role as a medium for emotional care, namely through my core values: full effort, positive attitude, and empathy. As a provider, my care will center around these, one patient at a time.


The concluding paragraph should be the easiest to write. You do not need to introduce any new ideas, simply touch on everything that has been put forth already. I loop back around to my core values, restating my thesis with the second sentence. 

Nora's Personal Statement With Commentary

“This is it,” I thought as I stared blankly at the freckles on my knees. I lay crouched against my parents’ parked car on an unfamiliar street in Coronado, California. I swallowed hard as the painful swelling in my throat and tongue began to overwhelm my entire airway. “Relax, deep breaths,” I repeated to myself as I firmly pressed an EpiPen into my thigh for the second time that afternoon. I was seventeen years old on a family vacation. I had begged my mother to allow me to eat a “vegan” chocolate cake – which, unfortunately, was not vegan enough; sending me into the worst anaphylactic shock I had ever experienced. Luckily, medicine prevailed. 

Unlike my own personal statement introduction, which was a bit blander, this one really captivates the reader. It is important to note that you do not have to begin your personal statement with a medically enthralling anecdote. If you choose to go this route though, make sure it is something relevant and pertinent to your application. Obviously, this anecdote is highly personal, delving into a very traumatic life-threatening experience. If the relevance to you as an applicant is not apparent to the reader, then the introduction will fall short, no matter how well written. 

Growing up with life-threatening food allergies has provided me with a unique exposure to medicine. This personal experience, combined with opportunities to conduct research, shadow physicians, volunteer, and participate in collegiate athletics has given me important insight into the intimate connection medicine forms between scientific endeavors and humanity. 

This second introductory paragraph clearly states the relevance of the anecdote that drew the reader in. Nora’s experience with life-threatening food allergies gave her unique insight into medicine. Then, she rounds out the thesis with various opportunities, including research, shadowing, volunteering, and collegiate athletics that have furthered her insight into medicine, specifically its intimacy with science and humanity. Ultimately, this is a nice example of a solid two-sentence thesis statement. The reader now has an idea of what is to follow, as the argument has been clearly laid out here. 

“What can this possibly have to do with medicine?” I found myself wondering as I scribbled down reactions in my high school chemistry class. Thus far, my experience with health care consisted purely of the humanistic side; I could not understand how these seemingly cold, scientific facts fit into the equation. Consequently, when I was asked to lead a chemical research project in college, I was initially skeptical; however, my fondness for chemistry and respect for my mentor, Dr. Gardner, triumphed, and I accepted. The aim of the project was to synthesize a polymer with the potential for uses in medicine and nanotechnology. Dr. Gardner and I spent long hours and weekends trying and trying again, until finally, we had a breakthrough. We had synthesized a vital intermediate with an incredible, and yet-to-be reported, yield. I realized that many important medical breakthroughs, like the Epipen, started in the lab. I could now understand what I failed to see in high school: the bigger picture. I am passionate about research because I realize that science has humanistic implications that are much larger than simply cold, hard, scientific facts. 

Stemming from the thesis, we know this first body paragraph will be about research, moreover its link to medicine. She begins flashing back to high school. We always mention that high school experiences are irrelevant, but they are totally appropriate if utilized to lay groundwork for future experiences, as done here. When she discusses her basic science research, it is important to note how she does not delve into the nuts and bolts. That is not the point of this body paragraph and will likely be lost on most readers. Instead, she highlights the big picture application, which anybody reading this can sink their teeth into. Finally, bringing this paragraph full circle, since the point is to connect research to monumental medical breakthroughs, she mentions how the EpiPen (which saved her life) started similarly in a basic science laboratory. 

I also discovered, through extensive time shadowing physicians, that it is the human interactions that separate clinics from laboratories. I had the experience of observing open heart surgery at the Aspirus Wausau Hospital. My own heart skipped a beat as I stood next to Dr. Miles while he repaired a man’s mitral valve. The procedure was breathtaking. Equally striking was what I observed in the office. Dr. Miles’ ability to explain procedures without complex medical jargon, commitment to never letting his patients feel rushed, and overall compassionate demeanor undoubtedly contributed to the adoration I saw from his patients. It was evident that he treats people as just that: people, not maladies to fix. 

Now it is time to discuss shadowing. This paragraph is a passive experience, as all shadowing is. This is fine though, since the active internalization of it follows in the subsequent paragraph. Also, the insights she mentions, explaining procedures without convoluted medical jargon, never letting patients feel rushed during visits, and overall compassion, were actively arrived at. Therefore, when discussing passive examples, it is imperative that you highlight what you learned, somewhat rendering it an active experience. In this case, it is the unrivalled bedside manner of Dr. Miles. 


After shadowing, I decided to take a more active role in medicine. I became a volunteer in the Emergency Department at the Mayo Clinic Health System-Mankato. My main duty is to improve the patient experience. One of my most memorable experiences occurred on my usual Sunday night shift from eight to midnight. I entered seven-year-old Emily’s room to see if I could be of any assistance. Tears were streaming down her face as the doctor examined her wounded foot. She had stepped on a large amount of glass, and having it removed was going to be painful. I slipped out of her room and when I returned, pulled a teddy bear out from behind my back. “This teddy bear is only for very brave patients,” I told her. “So you, Ms. Emily,” I insisted, “must be very brave.” She looked down at the teddy bear and beamed, her foot forgotten. My experience at Mayo has taught me that, in medicine, sometimes having all of the answers does not solve all of the problems. Often, people also need the comfort of another person. 


And now we have the active internalization of what Nora witnessed while spending time with Dr. Miles. You can see here how she delves into a particular story that highlights the difference she made while volunteering. This is the most powerful way to convince the reader of your impact. 


From Coronado, California, to a front-row seat in the OR, I have continually been inspired by the commitment, dedication, and teamwork I have witnessed in medicine. As a three-sport varsity athlete at Gustavus, these invaluable notions have become quite familiar to me. I learned commitment by continually pounding the pavement day after day in cross-country. I learned dedication by pushing past the pain in every 800-meter race I ran in track. I learned the necessity of teamwork through my 16 years of playing soccer. Athletics have enabled me to live a healthy lifestyle, develop communication skills, and learn the discipline that I believe will be vital in my future career.

Next in line are her collegiate athletics. The values she highlights –commitment, dedication, and teamwork –are all linked to respective sports. Moreover, she has an example, such as pounding the pavement in cross country. This evokes imagery and further convinces the reader, as opposed to simply saying commitment was ingrained through cross country. 

My initial exposure to medicine through my allergies has given me a deep appreciation for physicians. As I lay on that unfamiliar street in Coronado, California, I thought that I might die, but thanks to medical assistance I did not. It turned out to be a pivotal event for me, giving rise to my passion for pursuing a career as a physician. My subsequent experiences conducting research, shadowing, volunteering and competing in varsity collegiate athletics have shown me the importance of compassion, teamwork and dedication. It is my highest aspiration to utilize these attributes to improve peoples’ lives as a physician, while giving back to the community that has given me so much. 

Now we come full circle. An option is to return to the anecdote mentioned initially, as the writer does here. Then she reiterates everything that has been discussed in the body paragraphs, including research, shadowing, volunteering, and collegiate athletics. Finally, she closes on a very heart-warming note, wanting to give back to the medical community that truly saved her life. 

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