If you’re planning on applying to Duke University School of Medicine in the next cycle, then these Duke medical school secondary essay examples will be a great tool to help you prepare. Reading through expert examples can give you the confidence to start writing and to conform to the formatting and content quality standards to improve your chances of getting accepted. As writing an essay requires a combination of practice and understanding of deliverables, you can start by reading how to write a college essay. In addition to documents like your medical school recommendation letters, your secondary essays give the admissions committee a glimpse into who you are as a person and as a future medical professional. In this article, we explain the essential features of your medical school secondary essays and provide examples of various prompts with suitable responses.

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Article Contents
10 min read

Introduction to Secondary Essays Duke Medical School Secondary Essay Example for Prompt #1 Duke Medical School Secondary Essay Example for Prompt #2 Duke Medical School Secondary Essay Example for Prompt #3 Duke Medical School Secondary Essay Example for Prompt #4 Duke Medical School Secondary Essay Example for Prompt #5 FAQs

Introduction to Secondary Essays

Before getting into examples, we should establish the formatting requirements for medical school secondary essays. First, secondary essays are typically about 250–500 words. Each prompt will have different word length or character requirements. Historically, Duke doesn’t ask for more than 500 words, and the majority of their prompts have a maximum of 400 words. When you’re writing your secondary essays, you will want to write as close to the maximum word count as possible without exceeding it to keep your writing concise and sufficiently detailed.

Each question might have slightly different formatting requirements. For your answers to longer secondary essays, you can use paragraph breaks to make your sentences flow better and improve readability. For shorter essays, a single paragraph will often suffice. To help you decide what makes more sense, use an outline to plan what you want to say before you start writing. This can also help reduce the frequency of errors.

Duke Medical School Secondary Essay Example for Prompt #1

“Describe a situation in which you chose to advocate for someone who was different from you or for a cause or idea that was different from yours. Define advocacy as you view it. What risks, if any, might be associated with your choice to be an advocate?” (400 words)

To advocate means to defend the moral rights of a person, entity, thing, or idea. The right to advocacy is as fundamental to the expression and action of justice as any other basic human right. I believe advocacy is achieved by adherence to an underlying ethic of altruism and utilitarianism. To advocate for something is to place the benefit of the subject before another due to a perceived injustice or disadvantage.

During my pre-med studies, I was a member of a student advocacy group for women in STEM. The group’s purpose was to communicate the message that the number of women in STEM majors and careers was disconcertingly low compared to that of men. This incongruency is distressing because a significant portion of this difference is due to explicit discrimination and covert sexism in academia. As I was completing a degree in philosophy, I was exposed to a similar demographic difference. I was skeptical of the purported reason for this incongruency, as I was inclined to think people weren’t limited by factors besides their own free will to make individual choices. I decided to become an advocate because I discovered an online post on a student forum about STEM advocacy. The post discussed a prominent stereotype that women “lack the constitution for STEM careers,” and this is what motivates a lot of discrimination. Based on this and the testimonials from women who were in STEM majors or careers, I understood that because bias can be difficult to understand and observe if you aren’t disadvantaged because of it, it’s important to illuminate this incongruency to dismantle myths and create a more equitable distribution of men and women based on freely made individual choices.

There are some risks associated with choosing to be an advocate. In most cases, you take the risk of relinquishing the comfort of having firm beliefs and of never returning to a state of moral idleness. You also risk your reputation and previous associations or acquaintances. The payoff of advocating for someone or something is that you actively reduce the amount of injustice by a small percent. And I think pushing the needle in favor of a more just society and system is worth taking all the risks above.

Word count: 371

Duke Medical School Secondary Essay Example for Prompt #2

“Leadership, teamwork, and communication flow synergistically. What do you value most as a leader and as a contributor? What attributes do you possess as a leader and as a team member and how do you apply them on a daily basis?” (400 words)

As a leader, I value the ability to establish an ideal outcome of the project or task with the people I’m working with. I want to be able to see that my teammates are motivated and invested in the project or task. I believe trust is needed to create the preconditions for a collective idea and commitment to what we want to achieve. Synergistic workflow occurs when everyone accepts and buys into the process, rather than fixating on an individualized process or solution. There’s a tendency among large and even small groups to diverge and dissent because certain individuals are using their own approaches, rather than a collective approach, to arrive at a solution. To me, this indicates a fundamental flaw in communication and leadership, which should come from a bond and a sense of trust.

As a contributor, I value transparency and the opportunity to take initiative. I believe clear instructions should be given by a leader or supervisor. There should also be an established time and place to ask questions to clarify inconsistencies and questions that may arise as I complete and learn tasks. I think it’s important not to be told how everything works, because it’s important to learn by doing. Completing a task and learning from performing it has the most profound influence on someone's ability to make progress.

As a leader, I think it’s important to identify the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of every person, especially in a team environment. In my most recent paid position as a personal trainer, I worked with small groups of people with varying gym experience and fitness levels. If someone disagreed with the advice I was giving or training I was leading, I would like to discuss that in the appropriate group and one-on-one environments. I believe discussion is the best way to hold people accountable for their goals, which must have positive and negative consequences to be achieved. My strength as a leader is knowing everyone’s limits and potential. If people are receptive and amenable, they can overcome their limitations. As a personal trainer, I observe my clients to know how far I can push them and challenge their conception of what their own limitations are.

Word count: 368

Duke Medical School Secondary Essay Example for Prompt #3

“Critical thinking involves a number of characteristics. Research experience enhances critical analysis skills. Describe any research experience or another situation in which you utilized critical thinking. How will critical thinking be important in your future career?” (400 words)

Over the summer, I was part of a research program hosted at X University. The program duration was nine weeks. Students were taught pulmonary and critical care medicine with the guidance of a mentor, and at the end of the program, we were to complete a research project. The project topic I was assigned to was asthma epidemiology. My job was to investigate asthma inception in children of vulnerable populations, particularly the roles and nature of genetic determinants of asthma and allergy disease development.

In this project, it was important to engage my critical thinking skills for a few reasons. First, when we were formulating the hypothesis, I had to consider methodology. My supervisor made it clear that we could conduct either a twin study or a genome-wide association study. I also knew that a cohort study was off-limits due to time constraints and a lack of resources.

After choosing to conduct a genome-wide study, we found a large sample size of about 2,000 severe asthmatics. When we were testing the single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), I knew that we were going to encounter issues with noisy variants, which would pollute the markers we were attempting to identify. To circumvent this complication, I proposed that we use SNP genotype references from the 1000 Genomes Project. This decision led to an increased statistical significance of our results that found the association of two asthma susceptibility loci.

My goal is to open my own clinical practice for family medicine. The diversity of patients, conditions, comorbidities, and other variables can create confounding information that can make it difficult to conclude and outline an accurate and precise prognosis or treatment plan. Therefore, having the ability to analyze information and engage critical thinking skills to distinguish methods and resources will be critically important to successfully providing good health care and upholding ethical, quality, and care standards. I also believe that having strong critical thinking skills can influence other medical professionals I work with by enhancing my ability to contribute to discussions and deliberation regarding a patient’s results or treatment.

Word count: 343

Duke Medical School Secondary Essay Example for Prompt #4

“Not achieving a goal or one’s desire can sometimes be disheartening. What have you learned/gained from your setbacks and disappointments and how does this translate to your current way of thinking?” (400 words)

While I was completing my degree in neurobiology, I was an undergraduate teaching assistant for a first-year biology class. I was given this opportunity after asking a few of my previous professors if they had any openings for undergraduate TAs. As I’ve always been interested in teaching, I was looking forward to the class I was assigned to. I developed a presentation on the structure and function of plant and animal cells, which I was planning to present on the first day. To prepare, I spent the week revising the presentation and reading through some of my old notes from when I took the class. On the first day of class as a TA, I was nervous about speaking in front of a large audience. At the start of the lecture, I put the presentation on the screen for everyone to see; as I turned to the first slide and addressed the audience, the professor tapped me on the shoulder and explained that the class had already covered this topic and they were now discussing the structure and development of angiosperms.

Because I was familiar with this subject, I was able to use the professor’s prepared slides for this topic to complete the ninety-minute lecture with thorough detail on the topic. From this experience, I learned the importance of communication and organization. When I initially discussed the lectures with the professor, he didn’t mention that the plant and animal cell section had been omitted because this had been indicated in the syllabus. I realized I should have clarified prior to creating my lectures and schedule, instead of assuming. I also learned to be more organized and attentive to detail, because if I’d browsed the online course content uploaded on the student portal, I would have noticed this change. Since then, I have started using a calendar to record all important dates and information. This experience transformed the way I approach important dates in my schedules and plans for presentations, and I always create and rehearse a plan B. For example, if I’m preparing for an exam and I don’t know if a topic will be covered, I study it anyway so I can adapt to the format and content of the test as needed.

Word count: 374

Are you writing your med school personal statement? Find more tips here:

Duke Medical School Secondary Essay Example for Prompt #5

“Describe a situation in which you had to utilize your values to interact with people from different backgrounds. How did those values impact the relationship?” (400 words)

I volunteered as a workplace language trainer at an immigrant services organization located in my hometown. Most of the lessons I provided were in a remote, online format for the convenience of the participants. Prior to becoming a volunteer for this service, I was required to take literacy and language classes to ensure I met the qualifications to teach. I was also directed by a supervisor who provided training in a cursory diversity and representation class. In this class, I was taught the various forms of bias and discrimination, along with cultural relativity and sensitivity topics, such as harassment policies.

There was one time when I was working with a couple who immigrated from France and didn’t speak English. This made it challenging to communicate the terms and concepts I was teaching in class. I knew immediately that if we were going to make progress, I had to be patient and understanding; I decided to employ visual support models that showed what certain words meant. And because I knew a bit of French from high school and a first-year university elective I took in French language studies, I was able to translate and communicate better with them in a more cordial and casual way prior to the lesson. This helped them feel more at ease and respected, which is important when learning a new language and integrating into a foreign culture. The value I was espousing through action in this scenario was compassion, which was a necessary precedent for creating a learning environment for two individuals who were new to the country and language.

In my view, inclusivity is a catalyst for creativity and innovation. The voices of different people from different backgrounds create more opportunities for productive discussions, and I think, in the marketplace of ideas, we need to be able to share opinions and understand one another to advance in society. Teaching immigrants at a social services centre showed me that people need to feel like they belong, but they also need to feel like they can contribute in their own way. Connecting with people through our shared, universal values will help create a more secure and meaningful society for everyone.

Word count: 363


1. How long should my secondary essays be?

Your secondary essays for Duke medical school should be a maximum of 400 words. Some schools will require a specific character count or word count, so make sure you’re writing to the required standard.

2. How should I structure my essays?

To keep your essays concise, you should use paragraph breaks where necessary to divide information and keep transitions logical. If a prompt asks more than one question, you can address each point in separate paragraphs.

3. Should I pre-write some secondary essays?

Because you won’t know what the prompts are for the next application cycle, pre-writing should be done with caution. Some schools have a lot of the same questions for each cycle, so you can find out what questions are likely to be repeated and then start pre-writing if you wish.

4. Should I have a goal in mind when I write my secondary essays?

Your goal should be to show the admissions committee who you are as a person. You will want to demonstrate your values and skills by using specific experiences to illustrate relevant points.

5. How do I show, not tell?

Showing means that you’re demonstrating your character through action. For the Duke medical school prompt about values, let’s say you wanted to show that one of your values is compassion – illustrate a situation, such as a community service project, in which you revealed your ability to act based on that value.

6. How can I stay organized when I receive my secondaries from the schools I applied to?

To stay organized, you can create a spreadsheet. This way, you can rank each school and prioritize essays based on deadlines.

7. Do my experiences need to address why I chose the school/discipline?

Not necessarily, unless you’re explicitly asked to do so. Instead, you will want to focus on the qualities that will make you a good physician and successful student.

8. How do I answer a question about diversity?

There are many types of diversity. For example, you can discuss how you can contribute to the diversity of the school by sharing how you formed a new perspective or unique skill.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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