A finely-crafted Cambridge medicine personal statement could mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. Play your cards wrong, and you might wind up asking yourself the question, “Should I reapply to medical school next year?” If you’re looking for success, you need to put in time, effort, and careful consideration – this is a critical part of your application, after all.
Cambridge University is one of the most prestigious, and competitive, medical schools in the UK, so it is absolutely imperative that you put tremendous effort into your application.
Advice is good, and information is helpful, but both are best used in combination with examples. Your mind learns faster with multiple types of information. So, looking at UCAS personal statement examples will make a big difference with how to make your medical school application stand out. To that end, we will include a statement example in this article as well, to be paired with the advice sections.
In this article, we will see what a personal statement’s purpose is, talk about Cambridge’s medicine personal statement specifically, and go over a sample personal statement. Plus, we will include notes on the sample statement so you know why it should look that way.
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Purpose of a Personal Statement
In the first place, the main thing to do with your personal statement is to, essentially, answer the question, “Why do you want to become a doctor?” This should be the main argument you put forward throughout your personal statement. However, there are nuances to the statement you also should pay attention to.
The nomenclature of that phrase, “personal statement,” is well chosen. Each word tells us something about what is looked for in the object itself.
First, it must be personal. Statements must reveal something of yourself to the application committee. They don’t want you to tell them about anybody else but you, so your statement should be about key aspects of who you are. Anything you write about yourself should be something unique. Go past your test scores, past your a-levels, beyond something you’d just put on your C.V.
What is it about you that makes you special or stand out? Let’s consider some ways your personal history and life’s story can – and should – affect your statement.
Did you grow up in a rural area – a farm, or deep in the country? If so, you have had a unique experience that you can talk about. Conversely, you might have been shaped by growing up in an urban environment. What effects has your urban upbringing had on your life? How has your environment shaped your goals and who you are?
Who are your family? Your family background can provide excellent fuel for your statement.
For example, if your family are first-generation immigrants, you probably have faced a lot of adversity to get where you are, and you have a unique perspective to offer the institution you are applying to. Many colleges have diversity requirements, and Cambridge is no exception.
What about that second word? A statement is something being said – not just said, but affirmed – and you should think of something you’d like to say. We aren’t talking about small talk. Burrow in and put something out there that you can stand behind.
For example: just writing about yourself makes the statement personal, but it doesn’t stand for anything. It’s just a brief biography.
Instead, you should focus on your journey to medicine. What made you take that journey, initially, and what keeps you on that path? What do you want to accomplish? It’s okay to be small or go big.
A big statement might be about finally finding the cure for cancer, or that you are motivated to stop the mind decay of dementia. A small statement might be that you are going to make a profound difference in the lives of your patience – hoping to spread good health and smiling faces through your practice. As long as it is important to you, and is an excellent career goal, it belongs in your statement.
Whatever you choose to say, make sure you answer that crucial question of why it is that you want to enter the medical profession, and connect it to yourself.
Structure of a Cambridge Medicine Personal Statement
A personal statement should have the same structure as an academic essay. The content differs, to some degree, but there is a lot of overlap in terms of how you will construct both a traditional, academic essay and your personal statement. Generally speaking, it follows the same standard used in most personal statements for UK medical school applications.
You don’t need to be recreating the idea of structure itself here. Keep in mind your goal: to introduce yourself to the application committee in such a way that you stand out from other applicants. If you start messing around with structure, your “innovations” might get in the way of your reader understanding what you’re saying and appreciating who you are. Avoid this by sticking to an essay format.
The beginning: start with an opening hook that grabs attention. Saying, “I grew up in the country,” is just a statement, but saying, “I grew up across the street from a sheep that the family named Ned, and far enough away from a city that I didn’t think that was unusual,” is a much better hook. Imagine your reader and give them no alternative but to keep reading. Try to give such a fun opening hook that a person who wasn’t on the admissions committee would want to read this.
Your introduction is a starting point for the rest of your essay, in which you will showcase your most important points and everything they need to hear. Whatever your opening hook is needs to relate to the rest of your essay and set up whatever comes next.
The body of the personal statement needs to contain the bulk of the information about your journey. Select two or three important, personal experiences that have led you to becoming a doctor. Focus on why you want to be a physician.
The conclusion of your essay should wrap up your personal statement, but should also make the reader want to know more about you. If the readers are curious about you and need to meet you, you’re almost certain to get an interview invitation.
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Universal Personal Statement or Specific to Cambridge?
There isn’t much of a difference between writing a Cambridge medical school personal statement and a personal statement for another medical school. You will speak about roughly the same things, emphasizing the same points, and if you can write a personal statement that is only applicable to one institution, then you will find yourself struggle while applying to multiple schools, anyway.
With that said, there is a technical word count you need to pay attention.
UCAS – University and College Admissions Service – is the system used by Cambridge University to apply to their institution, and the personal statement section in UCAS is capped at 4,000 characters and/or 47 lines. That’s roughly 850 words, but very roughly, and of course lines matter.
Keep this in mind while formatting because sometimes you might be tempted to set a line apart for emphasis on a particular paragraph.
But that eats up multiple lines for very little content. Be economical with both your characters and your line usage. Remember that spaces count! Don’t measure your characters without spaces or you’ll wind up with an overlong essay.
You should also consider Cambridge’s specific values while writing your essay. Cambridge is highly competitive, as any look at medical school acceptance rates in the UK will tell you. So you should make sure your statement aligns with Cambridge’s values. They list their core values as freedom of thought and freedom from discrimination. They also promote the encouragement of a questioning spirit; a quality and depth across subjects; and an inter-relationship between teaching, scholarship, and research.
Best Writing Advice for Your Cambridge Medical Personal Statement
However, at the end of the day, your primary consideration should be to worry about the efficacy of your personal statement through these tips:
Reflect on everything you put down. When you write out something in your personal statement, it should be richer than just a fact. Bare facts are sparse and unhelpful. To really make an effective personal statement, you need to expand on those facts.
Reflection means taking those facts and talking about them with a little more depth to make sure a reader knows why they are important to you and your journey. Focus on their importance and relation to you.
Winning an award or contest is a fact. Showing why that win changed you, and how that change moved you to become a doctor is reflecting on that event; that shows a reader how the fact – winning an award – ties in to your message – why you want to become a doctor.
“In high school I took a university-level course in chemistry and another in biochemistry. I enjoyed them very much and they will be useful in medical school.”
“I challenged myself with chemistry, taking both chemistry and biochemistry at the university level while in high school. At first, I resented these courses because of their difficulty, but I used that adversity to strengthen not only my scientific knowledge but my study habits. Once my studying improved, I could relax and enjoy the courses more. In my biochemistry lab, I wound up creating an experiment which further pushed me to my limit.”
Presumably, “B” will move on to discuss the experiment next. But do you see how that relates to the author? They explain how they moved through the course, what they learned, and how they are moving forward due to that experience. Reflect instead of just relating.
Tell a Well-Rounded Story
When selecting your experiences to highlight, choose major events, but try and think of ways that these signposts highlight your diverse experiences and capabilities, as well as how they tie together into a story, instead of just being disjointed events that happened in your life.
This plays into reflection as well, because the same events can be emphasized in different ways. Some events might be used to just constantly remark on scientific or medical interest, but if you use the same events to speak of expanding your palette of experiences, you can show that you are a well-rounded person.
For instance: let’s say that the person was drawn to medicine by an elderly grandparent needing care, volunteered at a care facility, and then studied geriatric medicine.
If those points are delivered emphasizing medical science each time, the writer has presented themselves as one-note. If, on the other hand, they highlight the importance of hands-on, personalized care for the first point, a frustration and difficulty that they had to overcome – or lesson learned – with the second point, and intellectual achievement – such as an award won – with the third point, they will come across as more diverse in their background.
Throwing in oblique or direct references to your life – outside interests, sports, intellectual pursuits, family background, etc. – will underline how well-rounded you are.
Most importantly, you need to tie all of these events together to tell a complete story. They cannot be disparate, but must be connected, to show why you will be a great doctor and why you want to be one.
Can you show a progression of important skills?
If you have skills outside of pure academics, make sure to mention them. Of particular interest will be communication skills, how well you organize or lead a team, and your abilities in teaching others.
Bring your essay around full circle. You have set up an expectation with your introduction and you must pay that off at the end of the personal statement. You are making an argument, through a story, that you will be a great doctor someday. The conclusion ends the story – thus, it must connect with the introduction – and must also tie together the story to show what you hope to achieve as a medical student and future physician.
If your hook talked about, as we did above, your rural upbringing, pay it off by talking about how you will be a doctor in a small community, that your goal is to be a family doctor where it is often difficult to get great medical care. The more altruistic and thoughtful the goal the better, but remember that it also must continue to be meaningful specifically to you. This is your goal that you are using to show the admissions committee why you are the best candidate to select for admission.
Example Statement and Breakdown
I grew up across the street from a sheep that the family named Ned, and far enough away from a city that I didn’t think that was unusual. We were farmers, and all of my early experiences with medicine were a combination of scrapes and bruises – from my siblings and myself playing rough – and veterinarian sciences. In fact, I first wanted to be a vet, changing to medical doctor only after my family’s hardships with my grandfather’s illness.
When my grandfather was sick and needed care, my family went to stay with relatives so we could visit and support our Grandad. While visiting, I interacted with the expert staff, who made us comfortable, answered our questions, and most importantly, clearly took their jobs as care providers very seriously.
After our stay to support Grandad, I volunteered at a care facility, dedicating a few hours a week throughout high school to helping with elderly patients. My job was to help with food, cleaning, and physical mobility, but I found that the real job was just offering my time. Spending extra time with each patient to look at pictures of grandchildren with them, to hear a reminiscence, or just to talk and joke was appreciated by the residents of the facility.
My joy in the healing power of medicine through care workers was strengthened and reinforced every time I worked there. I learned that healing came not only through medicine, but truly holistic care. I learned empathy skills by observing the staff and interacting with the residents. Furthermore, I read on the history of care and how far we have advanced, particularly in terms of ethical care; this has made me extremely interested in medical ethics.
One of the facility’s nurses recommended the book Medical Ethics and the Elderly. I loved the book, particularly its essay on informed consent, and began writing my own thoughts and ideas down. I eventually wrote several essays of my own on the topic. One of these papers, Who Speaks for Who? An Ethical Consideration of Power of Attorney, was first runner-up in two different essay competitions. I appreciated the recognition, but being able to get my thoughts down and work my way through thorny issues has been invaluable.
Last year, I stopped volunteering at the elderly care facility and started a part-time job at a hospital. Although I am on the janitorial staff, I have approached the health care professionals there and asked, as a student, for help. Most have replied positively and are giving me insight into a wide array of medical areas and specialties. Some have allowed me to shadow them, others have answered my questions about specialties like oncology and pediatrics, and shown me around the different units in the hospital.
A big surprise for me was in the hospital’s pathology lab. I was shadowing a pathologist and I was fascinated by her work. She was testing tissue samples and concluded that her patient’s problems were stemming from an auto-immune disorder – probably genetic.
Since that time, I have spent more time in the laboratory myself, taking lab-specific courses at school. I enjoyed my bio-chemistry lab the most. My enthusiasm for the subject led me to doing extra readings and experiments, and ultimately led to my highest score in my a-levels in chemistry.
My journey started as a farm boy with dreams of being a veterinarian, but I have wound up as somebody interested in a wide variety of medicinal areas. At the moment, geriatric care still holds a strong place in my heart, but I am more and more drawn to pathology. I want to explore all options, but ultimately I want most of all to help people and contribute to their health.
A good introduction hook connects this student’s past and personal life to their present goals. It also introduces their medical interest, and shows us the start of a journey where they did not envision themselves as a physician. That’s okay! Don’t feel the need to say that being a doctor was a lifelong dream. Be honest to your real story. Just because you have changed your mind doesn’t make your dream less evocative in the eyes of an admissions committee. The main thing is to hook them on your story, whatever that is. Something compelled you to change, so hopefully it will compel them, too.
The writer moves chronologically, using the body of their personal statement to cover their switch to human medicine, followed by examples of work, academics, and volunteer positions that have brought them closer to their goals, let them grow as a person, and have shown several desirable attributes. Notice that we can see that this person is enthusiastic, engaged, proactive, hard-working, dedicated, open-minded, curious, intelligent, and thoughtful through their stories.
For instance, they don’t have to say, “I’m curious,” after speaking of their love of laboratory experiments. Open-mindedness comes from their ability to change opinions about medicine or learn about ethics – which also displays conscientiousness.
In short: show, don’t tell – that old maxim – is on full display here. You get a feel for this person without them needing to say anything directly. How do you know they’re intelligent? They placed in two essay competitions. How do you know they’re proactive? They reached out to hospital workers for help and advice to advance their goals.
The conclusion references the beginning of the story, bringing the whole thing to a neat close in such a way as to finalize their journey.
Want to hear expert admissions consultants share medical school personal statement introduction examples that impressed them? Watch this video:
Make sure that your personal statement is unique to you, says something important about yourself, and sticks to a structure that increases readability and coherence. Put yourself out there, show your best side, and take your time to get it right. It is just one aspect of your medical school application, but it is just as important as any other. That is to say: it’s very, very important.
1. What is UCAS?
UCAS is the system that Cambridge University uses for students to apply to their medical program. Most UK schools use UCAS, which is the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service and helps students apply to post-secondary educational institutions.
If you want to know more, check out some UCAS reference letter examples.
2. How long can my personal statement be?
There are two limits imposed on a UCAS personal statement: 4,000 characters and 47 lines. Never exceed those limits. Triple-check that your word processor hasn’t added a line you don’t know about and do not type the 4,001st character expecting it to be read.
3. I have too much to write about, how can I fit it all in?
Focus what you’re writing about and pare down. If you have too much, pick the events of paramount importance to your journey and use only those to form “signposts” of your journey to medical school.
4. What tone should my statement have?
Uplifting is good; you don’t want a downer statement. Of course, a professional tone – one which avoids colloquialism and slang – is required. However else you construct your tone, make sure that it is professional and academic. The only exception is that most essays aren’t written in the first-person and your personal statement will be. This is acceptable because it’s understood that you are writing from a personal place.
5. How many medical schools should I apply to?
We recommend that you give yourself enough schools to cast a wide net but not so many that you cannot fill out that many forms. Between six and eight is a good number.
UCAS allows five applications, so do all five, and if possible, one or two outside of the UCAS system. If you cannot, just do those five.
6. How long should I spend writing my personal statement?
More time is better, and we recommend taking six-eight weeks to work on the statement. Write and re-write, optimize your drafts, and come up with the best possible work to show yourself off.
7. Can I change my statement once submitted?
No. Don’t push the “submit” button until you’re ready.
8. What are the best experiences to have and highlight, medical or personal?
Ideally you will have a mix of experiences in medicine and in your personal life, or you can blend them together. If you only talk about personal experiences, you won’t look like a candidate with a meaningful understanding of medicine. If you only talk about medicine, you might stray too close to the “resume in paragraph form” mistake.
Think about what medical school requirements are, or about extracurriculars for medical school. That will help you know which experiences to highlight.
The best experiences to highlight are the ones that moved you forward on your journey as a person and why you have grown along that journey. Remember to reflect on your journey and experiences to show your best qualities.
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