Harvard Medical School Personal Statement Examples

3 Strong Medical School Personal Statements for Harvard Applications

Updated: April 10, 2020

3 Strong Medical School Personal Statements for Harvard Applications

Harvard Medical School Personal Statement Example #1:

It was always expected that I would become a doctor. Both of my parents are doctors, my aunt & uncle are doctors, & my older brother is completing medical school; everyone assumed I would follow a similar path. However, for a while, I didn’t see myself following this path of my own volition: it felt like something imposed, rather than something I actually desired. I maintained solid grades in my pre-med courses, but found myself really coming alive in my electives, particularly creative writing/poetry. During my high school years & first 2 years of undergrad, I found the sciences cold & detached – far from the imaginative world of creative thinking I got to explore in my breadth requirements. So, I spent my initial undergraduate years ticking the necessary boxes & getting solid marks in my required science courses, but my heart was pulled more & more toward the humanities. At the end of my second year, I decided to carry my pre-med major, while also declaring a minor in creative writing. It wasn’t until that summer between my 2nd & 3rd years that I realized these worlds of thought are not as far removed as I’d initially (& admittedly naively) assumed.

Growing up in California, the opportunity to learn Spanish was widely available. Being particularly moved by the poetry of Pablo Neruda, I actively pursued Spanish lessons, so that I could read his moving words in their native language. Reading his works in Spanish & independently learning about his life gave his work a renewed richness & depth. I spent many office hours with my poetry professor, Dr. Wilma Salvador, soaking up her knowledge of Neruda & other such artists in 1940-80s South America, learning about the intersections of post-colonial thought, the politics of the 1st-3rd World divide, & the ways in which artists used their craft to support & foster movements of resistance in the interest of social justice. As such, when the opportunity to participate in a 2-month medical mission in rural Chile arose, I eagerly applied.

To say this mission trip was life-changing would be an understatement. Here, we worked with a mobile clinic, providing care to the most impoverished Chilean communities. Doctors spent much of that time providing inoculations to children & treatment for diseases we rarely encounter in North America. There was some resistance to our offers of help, as many in the region were suspicious of aid coming from the United States, in part due to the complex history of relations between these nations. As I am near-fluent in Spanish, I was able to transcend the language barrier; this helped me build rapport with some locals, but it wasn’t always enough to help break down those walls & encounter one another as humans working together toward a common goal: wellness. Toward the end of my 2nd week in Chile, I met with Maria & her daughter Mariposa. Both were wary of our care – Maria was rather aloof, & Mariposa was terrified of the needle they were going to use to give her a vaccination. Upon learning Mariposa’s name – which means “butterfly” in Spanish – I muttered a few lines from Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Mariposa de Otoño” (“Autumn Butterfly”). Immediately, Maria’s face lit up. She knew the poem & confessed that it was the inspiration for naming Mariposa. Seeing her mother’s relief, Mariposa, too, began to relax & open up to me. At that moment, it was as if a light shone down, illuminating the merging of paths I’d thought completely disparate. My passion for words, languages, the beauty & complexity of human communication opened a unique moment between myself & those in my care. These worlds are not separate; when brought together meaningfully & intentionally, they compliment one another.

I returned to my 3rd year of undergrad with a renewed sense of self & purpose. At last, the pieces of my “puzzle” felt like they fit together. I began taking my pre-med work more seriously, spending time talking with my professors – both in the sciences & humanities – about my interests, & the connections I saw between these 2 worlds of thought. No longer was one a barrier to overcome to get to the other; rather, they were mutually inclusive & beneficial. At this time, I really began understanding the meaning of patient-physician relationships, & the ways in which broader humanistic knowledge can facilitate such relationships – creating a stronger bond with patients leads to greater patient trust & honesty, which in turn leads to better patient outcomes. My interest in artistic expression could be a bridge between my world & that of my patients. With my 3rd year studies in global health & social justice issues, I became more knowledgeable about discrepancies & inequities in healthcare systems. By following the path of medicine, complemented by my other studies, I’m developing the tools necessary to advocate for & support patients, both within & beyond my future practice as a physician. I now understand that a doctor heals bodies, but also nurtures the humanity of each patient. Maria & Mariposa helped me see this profession in a way that has left me inspired, with a sense of mission & vocation, which I hope to see through by completing my M.D. as a passionate & driven student of both the medical & the human conditions. 

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Harvard Medical School Personal Statement Example #2:

At the tender age of 9, I thought the arrival of a baby sister would be a joyous occasion. It never occurred to me that it could be one of the most terrifying ordeals I’d ever experience. I recall the preparations we’d made in our home for Jenna, the anticipation & excitement each time I felt her move in our mother’s womb. 3 months prior to her expected arrival, however, Jenna was born prematurely. She was tiny, under 2 pounds, & spent the first 10 weeks of her life in the NICU. I recall the brief moments I was able to hold her, just a tiny, fragile bundle. Throughout this trial, I was also able to see the dedication & tenacity of the doctors who worked tirelessly to save her life. Watching a medical team devote themselves to her care, tending also to my mother, father, & myself, helping us steal as many precious moments as we could with her, filled me with hope & determination. As she grew stronger, they celebrated with us – every gained pound as much a cause for joy for them as it was for us. They were not merely her doctors, they were part of our family for that time. Seeing all they did for Jenna, & the relationship they built with all of us, helped me realize my own calling in life. The day she came home was the day I decided that I wanted to become a doctor.

As inspirational as this early motivator was, it was later that I learned the real work & challenges I’d need to overcome in pursuing this profession. While no one in my immediate family is a physician, my uncle, a cardiologist, has been keen on helping me achieve my goals. His guidance led me to volunteer work & shadowing experiences even in my grade school years. In Grade 7, I thought I may want to go into neurosurgery; he used his connections to help me shadow a renowned surgeon. Though I was only 12, Dr. Tankian treated me as if I were a serious med school applicant. I followed him through a full day of surgeries, standing by his side as he removed a ruptured disc in a patient’s back, & installed an artificial bone in the neck of a patient with a degenerative condition. Being in the operating theater was exhilarating, but also terrifying. At one point in the disk removal surgery, I had to step out of the room to catch my breath, as the smell was something I hadn’t anticipated & it made me woozy. A nurse brought me tea, & I momentarily thought about leaving. However, I knew I was getting an incredible opportunity. Despite this small set-back, I firmed my resolve & returned to watch the rest of the surgery & the one that followed, & I made it through the rest of the day without having to step away again. Though I persevered, the temptation to leave had been strong, but I know now that I can face such challenges head-on & set aside my own discomfort for the sake of learning. After our day together, Dr. Tankian helped me compile research on the brain & its functions, which I assembled into an un-assigned research project that I voluntarily presented to my science class. Though it was not a graded assignment, it remains one of the proudest moments of my childhood.

Since 2014, I have volunteered in the NICU at Good Samaritan Hospital – the same NICU that cared for my baby sister. Today, Jenna is strong as ever, & the opportunity to help other families has been a motivator for my volunteer work. During my initial years, I operated as general support for nurses & families. I grabbed lunch or coffee or whatever was needed for the nurses on shift & for the families whose glazed expressions matched those of myself & my parents as we held on for my little sister. I knew a blanket or even a listening ear & warm smile can make a difference in the day-to-day lives of families in such moments of struggle. I frequently stayed well beyond my scheduled shift, as providing such comforts isn’t something that can simply be abandoned when the clock strikes a certain hour. Over time, my commitment was noted; I rose to the position of Lead Volunteer & then Volunteer Coordinator. Today, I still get to provide one-on-one support to families & staff, but I’m also responsible for scheduling & training other volunteers in this unit. The ability to lead a cohesive team, to ensure commitment from our volunteers through accountability measures, & to continue making that impact on families has helped me refine my leadership skills & general organizational competency. Our unit was recently awarded the hospital’s Volunteer Excellence award, which left me beaming with pride.

With this experience, I’ve also learned that not all NICU stories have a happy ending, & that my own family was fortunate in this regard. The work I do here is meaningful, but also emotionally difficult. I have wrapped my arms around weeping mothers, who had to say goodbye to a life’s worth of hopes & dreams. I have seen cases with generally good outlooks take a devastating downturn. I have seen the face of true anguish & loss. I have learned that nothing is certain, everything can change – for better & for worse. The strength I have seen in those families that go on, & in the doctors & nurses in the NICU, inspires me to contribute however I can to advancing change in a positive direction. To contribute substantially & meaningfully in such change, I must become a physician. 

Harvard Medical School Personal Statement Example #3:

In his landmark text, The Birth of the Clinic, Michel Foucault observed the ways in which medical doctors act as empowered & revered agents in modern societies, but also the ways in which the “medical gaze” can dehumanize patients, reducing them to mere bodies that are acted upon. Though published in 1963, this work continues to inspire physicians, philosophers, sociologists, & other scholars who seek to understand such power dynamics & bring empowered patients back to the center of medical care. Acknowledging this role of the doctor has left every project, every research goal, & indeed, every step on my path to gaining my M.D., subject to additional analysis & reflection. It has helped me understand the medical world in new ways & inspired me to act as an advocate for chronically ill – & often misunderstood – patients.

7 years ago, my mother woke up one day with widespread pain in her body, relentless fatigue, & a multitude of other generalized symptoms. For the first few weeks, she brushed these off. Seeing her struggle just to do basic tasks like showering or making dinner was excruciating, but she assured me that this was just a passing flu or something like that. Weeks & months went by, with no improvement; I finally convinced her to see a doctor. I thought that would be the end of this ordeal – she would get a diagnosis & treatment, & things would return to normal. After a battery of tests that all came back negative, however, we hit a wall. Over the following 2 years, she would see 5 different doctors, undergo more tests – blood draws, stress tests, even an MRI – which all came back “negative”; yet, her suffering continued. With no real treatment, she cut back her working hours, & spent most of her time off work in bed. I had to step in to maintain the home, prepare meals for our family (her, my younger brother, & myself), & ensure bills were paid, all while working part time & continuing my education.

Finally, after insisting upon a referral, she was able to see a specialist (rheumatologist), who diagnosed her with fibromyalgia. While we sighed with relief upon the diagnosis & related treatment, this was the beginning of yet another arduous struggle with the medical establishment. We quickly learned, upon returning to our family doctor, that because this disorder is not easily tested or treated, it is not always taken seriously – patients are often told that it’s “all in their head” or treated as if they are seeking narcotics. I witnessed both things happen to my mother, as I’d started attending her doctor’s appointments. All I could see was a woman who used to be heroic in my eyes, reduced now to a lifetime of very real pain & suffering. As I began researching fibromyalgia & frequenting support groups for those with this condition, a long history of dismissal, humiliation, & intense physical & mental anguish spread out in front of me.

When I encountered Foucault’s theories in my coursework during pre-med, it helped me articulate my mother’s experiences – & the experiences of many in the chronic illness community – in new & trenchant ways. I could see the ways in which she’d been dehumanized & dismissed by some doctors, simply for trying to self-advocate & get the care she desperately needed. This experience led me to establish a new campus group for invisible disability awareness & advocacy, for which I currently act as founder & co-president. Together, we raise awareness on campus & in other pre-med student groups, & volunteer our services on evenings & weekends helping such patients with basic household duties, much as I’ve done for my mother. Because of this work, I’ve been invited to make several presentations & guest lectures in pre-med courses that touch on such issues, helping students connect what they’re learning to the lived experiences of those with chronic illnesses. So many aspiring med students grasp the basic science, but demonstrating the connection between medical knowledge & the humanity of patients is critical in advancing truly patient-centered care.

There’s no doubt that medical doctors hold positions of prestige & power in our society. This is an earned distinction, of course, but one that requires a degree of humility in listening to one’s patients & understanding each patient as an individual, rather than using stereotypes to lump certain patient groups together. When patients are not considered part of the healthcare team, a chasm can grow between patient & practitioner – a chasm which leads to additional harm & which negatively impacts patient outcomes. I want to become a doctor so that I can be part of a new generation of practitioners dedicated to individualized care. Though this may change once I’m in med school, I would currently like to pursue rheumatology, so that I can continue my advocacy for patients with such conditions, who are often subject to misunderstanding, stereotyping, & inadequate care, rather than individual care geared toward the best possible quality of life. As conditions like fibromyalgia are not well-understood, I want to learn about & continue the most cutting-edge research into diagnostics & treatment for this & similar conditions (e.g., Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), so I can provide others the kind of care my mother sought & struggled to find. 

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Final Notes on Harvard Medical School Personal Statements

Harvard Medical School utilizes the AMCAS application system, meaning that your personal statement should adhere to the requirements of the AMCAS personal statement. This means that your essay should be no more than 5300 characters (including spaces), and should speak to your motivations to pursue a career in medicine (“Why do you want to be a doctor?”). Remember, you’ll also have the AMCAS Work and Activities section to give details about your work, volunteering, research, etc., and the AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences to expand on some significant moments in your life, work, and education. The personal statement should be a narrative engagement that highlights your key qualities and core competencies, as they align with the requirements of medical professionals, and the mission of the university itself, in ways that cannot be articulated in smaller components like the autobiographical sketch or most meaningful experiences. 

Harvard is definitely not one of the easiest medical schools to get into – indeed, it remains one of the most competitive medical schools in North America (follow this link to see medical school acceptance rates). This means that your essays must be next-level if you want to be considered as an applicant. 

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*Please note that our sample essays are the property of BeMo Academic Consulting, and should not be re-used for any purpose. Admissions committees regularly check for plagiarism from online sources.