The medicine personal statement for Oxford University must be sharp and focused: some of your finest writing. With fierce competition coming with the territory – Oxford is one of the top , - it is absolutely imperative that you put tremendous effort into your application.
In this blog we will discuss the purpose of a personal statement, cover some quick details about what you need to know specifically about Oxford’s medicine personal statement, and provide an example statement with a breakdown so you can approach your own statement with confidence.
To stand up and stand out – this is the purpose of a personal statement. Beyond what your says, or a mere list of accomplishments, your personal statement will show your best, most unique aspects to the admissions committee. This goes beyond just hitting a list of . You need to show the uniqueness of you and your personal journey to medical school.
The key element to your personal statement is that it will be a personal story of your journey to pursue medicine. Telling this story is the main goal of your statement.
This means that you want to present yourself in the best light possible, but also to present your specific journey that you have taken to get to medical school and why medical school is important to you.
The primary focus ought to be on your impetus for journeying to med school – why do you want to be a doctor? Answer this question in full, in a way that makes you stand out, and you will greatly increase your chances of an interview.
Tell this story with your background, your work and volunteer experiences, academic breakthroughs, and how you have conquered or surmounted obstacles.
All of these subjects should be treated with your personal touch so that you as an individual stand out to the committee. Use every aspect of your statement to show your individuality and what you can bring to the program.
Consider a personal statement, structurally-speaking, the same as any other essay. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. You’re going to start with a captivating opening paragraph, follow that up with a body that tells your story through two or three major events that led you to medicine, and conclude your essay in a way that inspires the admissions committee to want to learn more about you. Keep in mind that your opening sentence and conclusion are just as important as your experiences.
Think also in terms of a chronological story. Start at the beginning – your early life – move through to the catalyst – why you are going into medicine – and then tell your journey to medical school. How did you get to where you are? What steps did you take to prepare for the next phase of your life and career?
Your first lines must arrest attention. Often called a “hook” for its purpose of ensnaring a reader, this sentence should compel a reader to finish reading the essay. Even if somebody is not a member of the admissions committee, with no obligation to read further, they should want to know more.
“My family moved to England when I was five; we are refugees,” is a bland, factual statement. Consider a different opener:
“When we fled to England, I felt our pursuers were always right behind me; I experienced fear and adrenaline the entire time. I was young, five years old, and my earliest memories are of coming from fear to safety.”
Don’t you want to know more? The second opener almost forces you to keep reading.
The opening also sets up the rest of the essay, just as a thesis statement would. The rest of your personal statement should emanate from this. In the above example, the statement should go on to speak of how the immigrant, refugee status of the writer has brought them to medical school, and why they will be a fantastic candidate. If you open by speaking about experiences as a refugee, those experiences should inform your journey and be part of your conclusion. How has your personal history brought you to medicine? If information is doled out without connection, it is random, and the personal statement will lack focus.
This infographic will guide you in creating an exemplary medical school personal statement:
Is there a difference between an Oxford personal statement for medicine and a “regular” statement? No, not really. You can write a to apply to a variety of institutions. Just make sure that you aren’t putting in anything that only applies to one institution and you’ll be fine.
With that said, there is a technical limit that you do need to pay attention to: word count.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, used by Oxford, gives you some limits on your personal statement’s length. It can be no more than 4,000 characters – including spaces – or 47 lines. Cross neither of these thresholds. It is imperative that you stay within the limits provided for you. Forty-eight lines means your statement won’t work. The 4,001st character will not be crammed in, nor will it be read.
If you can manage to encompass elements of your top choice schools, that might be good. Let’s take a look at the qualities Oxford is looking for:
Under “personal characteristics suitable for medicine,” they list:
Honesty, empathy, motivation, communication, ethical awareness, ability to work with others, capacity for intense work, alignment of values with the NHS constitution.
Under “academic potential,” Oxford says they want:
Problem-solving, critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, and communication skills.
Taking in both of those lists, you’ll see that communication comes up twice, so it might be wise to emphasize your ability to communicate.
With that said, don’t try to cater to Oxford alone. You aren’t just applying to Oxford, right? You will likely be using UCAS to open up several . So don’t make everything in your statement specific to that one place. Go into detail about you. You aren’t trying to say why you want to go to a particular school, you are showing why you are a great candidate for medicine in-general, so highlight the “you” of it all.
You should, however, concentrate on your personal journey to medicine. Use these tips to help you prepare your statement for maximum effect:
Show Talent Through Reflection
Naked facts won’t get you in. That’s what your transcript is for, or your resume. Instead, you need to make sure everything is unique to your journey and show the impact it has had. Simply stating test scores aren’t unique to you; everybody has test scores. Reflect on everything, showing how each fact matters and how it has changed you. Anything you include must be made relevant to your journey; relevance is paramount.
The “B” example goes into detail on how this impacted their journey and what they learned from volunteering. Presumably, this person will go on to describe further experiences with cancer battles and persevering.
Describe the actions, reflect on the actions, show how it impacted you and moved you forward.
A Well-Rounded Applicant
You pick your guideposts – two or three major events – and now you know to reflect on them, but the way you reflect matters as well. You could just describe how each point in your life moved you to study harder or achieve more, but that’s bragging at worst, and at best only amounts to a one-note symphony. You want to be more interesting, engaging, and unique than that.
For example: let’s say your first event chosen were parents pushing you into being a doctor, your second event was the first biology class you enjoyed taking, and the third event was applying your first-aid knowledge to a friend at a car accident. Okay, if you only conclude each event with, “so I still want to be a doctor,” that’s lifeless.
Use the first to show your parents’ high expectations and the stress and anxiety you felt, but also why family is important to you and that you value those connections. The second event opens up a world of curiosity – highlight your academic prowess and intellectual exploration. Finally, show how a high-anxiety event – a car wreck – showed you how to apply your knowledge, conquer your anxiety, and move forward. You’re good in a crisis. You’ve just highlighted different values, abilities, and personal goals and gains that you have that are unique to your journey.
The study of medicine is holistic, as is its practice. You show yourself to be a better candidate by showing a variety of skills and experiences, and that you understand that there is more to medicine than simply punching a clock and distributing some pills. By giving a more complete picture of your life and a bevvy of skills that you have accumulated – preferably in different areas – you add depth to your statement and a clearer picture of who you are and why you will be a brilliant physician.
If you can add in references – directly or indirectly – to the rest of your life, your non-academic life, so much the better. Throw in something about how you love tennis, or program computer code, or speak three languages – show off your intellectual diversity.
As you have moved forward on your journey, you have picked up certain skills. Can you highlight some of these, showing a progression of your gathering of knowledge?
Valued skills include communication skills, leadership, organization, and teaching.
You started off your personal statement with a compelling, or maybe even intriguing, statement. The expectation is, of course, that you will come around at the end, connect your opening statement to your closing paragraph, and show why you are on your way to medical school. To say it quickly: pay it off. What did you learn? What did you achieve? How have you changed? Answer those questions by closing off your opening statement.
Our hook statement was about being a refugee. Talk about how you have come to think of yourself not as a refugee but as a helper – someone who can give back to others in need – and how your past, rooted in fear and pain, is moving you forward to help with the pain of others. Maybe that’s as an ER doctor or a physician overseas, but wherever you’re going, connect it to your opening statement.
A considered, thoughtful, and selfless goal is best, but regardless of the qualities of the goal, it must always tie in to you, in a singular way. Nobody else’s goal is yours because you are uniquely you. Show off why you are the best candidate for admission.
When we fled to England, I felt our pursuers were always right behind me; I experienced fear and adrenaline the entire time. I was young, five years old, and my earliest memories are of coming from fear to safety.
I think I adjusted to our new lives faster than my parents did – I was very young, after all – and they never lost that sense of urgency and a need for safety. Maybe that is partly why they pushed so hard for me to enter into the medical profession. This pressure reignited anxiety within me, and I felt a lot of pressure to live up to expectations that were not my own.
In all honesty, medicine was not my personal goal for a long time. It was my parents’ dream for me. Over the years, that has changed, however. Family is important to me, and I believe that my strong family life has helped me over the years to develop a good sense of duty and personal responsibility.
Growing to love medicine and the sciences was a gradual process, but much of my shift towards medicine personally came from my high school biology teacher, Ms. Hill, who pushed me hard and gave me the encouragement I needed to find a love of the hard sciences within myself. She gave me the latitude to conduct extra experiments, which I enjoyed thoroughly. By allowing me to indulge my curiosity, she fired my enjoyment of the subject. I found myself cataloguing birds that visited our garden, breaking down foods to find sugar content, and indulging my curiosity all in the name of academic advancement.
What really brought me to medicine, though, was shadowing a physician – Dr. White – at a local hospital. Dr. White is a reconstructive plastic surgeon, and I observed Dr. White speaking to a patient about their orthognathic surgery to correct jaw problems. I never knew the jaw could cause so many problems throughout the body, but this patient suffered severely; they were unable to smile without pain.
I was allowed to observe the surgery as well, and I was more tense than Dr. White was in his operating room. Afterward, I saw the patient’s first pain-free smile.
Since the beginning of this year, I have been volunteering in a pediatrics unit at the same hospital. It is difficult seeing children in distress, but caring for children is rewarding and vital. My love of family, and my being a refugee child have given me a deep connection to pediatrics.
I have applied Dr. White’s friendly, straightforward, and unassuming manner interacting with patients and families, and I am already deriving such joy out of working with them. While volunteering, I also took a first aid course; I wound up using this knowledge far sooner than I had hoped.
This summer, my friend James was giving me a lift to a tennis match – we’re both very found of the game – and we got into a car accident. Despite being shaken, I wasn’t hurt, but James was. I remembered my first aid knowledge and managed to apply several techniques before the paramedics arrived; they complemented me on my actions as I rode with James to the hospital.
Maybe it was my childhood memories of fleeing from danger, but for some reason, I stayed fairly calm during the crisis – only getting the adrenaline shakes and worrying about my friend after. James is recovering well, in case you were worried.
It didn’t start as my dream, but my experiences with medicine have led me to dream of putting pain-free, post-anxiety smiles on the faces of patients and their families –family is still very important to me. I hope to work in pediatrics, since my experiences on that unit have shown how rewarding it is to heal children. I remember being a child in need of care, coming to this country all those years ago, and I think my experiences will help me relate to children in distress.
Ultimately, I am grateful to my parents for pushing me and inspiring me. My path did not start out as truly mine, but it is now, and I am looking forward to seeing it through – through any adversity or hardship – all the way to the end.
Here's a great video that unpacks "Show, Don't Tell" as a writing strategy:
The opening hook grabs attention and draws the reader in. They want to know more.
The honesty that comes next – saying that medicine wasn’t a lifelong dream, but something this person’s parents wanted for them – is a value that Oxford is looking for. Throughout the piece, you can see other aspects of Oxford’s values highlighted – intellectual curiosity, for instance.
Note that qualities are demonstrated. Instead of just saying, “I am intellectually curious,” the writer shows this by talking about their joy in conducting multiple experiments under the guidance of a beloved science teacher.
The experiences within the statement are described in detail and clear about how they affected the writer’s journey towards medicine. Many more experiences are doubtless under the surface, but a few, key moments are picked to discuss.
The conclusion relates to the opening statement. The personal statement highlights family and the writer’s experiences as a refugee child as reasons for the areas of medicine this person wants to practice. It all connects to their personal story.
Your personal statement is something you need to perfect to have your best chance of getting in to medical school. Take your time to write it right.
Remember: reflect, showcase yourself, and tell your story.
1. What is UCAS?
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service is the central service used by many UK universities and colleges to allow students an easier admissions process.
2. How much of my resume should go in my personal statement?
Very little, actually. Pick two or three highlights and focus on those landmark moments in your journey to medical school. Everything else is available on transcripts and CVs.
3. Can I exceed my character count by a couple characters?
No. Limits are limits. Never go over the character or line count in any way.
4. I can’t think of what to write, how do I beat writer’s block?
Take your mind off of your work for a half an hour or so. Do something physical, like going for a walk, or practice meditation. When you come back to writing, give yourself two minutes to free-associate and write whatever comes to your mind about your journey to medical school. By the end of those two minutes, you’ll be well on your way.
5. Can I write colloquially?
No. You’re writing an essay, and although you are writing in the first person, there is an expectation that you will still employ professional, academic language and a formal structure. This is the written equivalent of an interview. You wouldn’t pepper your language with “like” or employ slang in an interview, so don’t do it here.
So, while the admissions committee expects your writing to be a first-person account, it’s still within an understanding of polished work. Your prose should be in casual-dress.
6. How many medical schools should I apply to?
Around six to eight schools is a good number. Give yourself a range so you aren’t putting all of your hopes in one possibility – that’s limiting and a big risk. But don’t put so many together that you run out of time or cannot focus on making a great application.
Another UCAS-specific note: you can apply to up to five institutions through UCAS, so do all five. If you want to hit that six-eight number, you’ll have to go outside of the UCAS system to do so.
7. How long should I work on writing?
Somewhere between six and eight weeks is good. This won’t be full-time, of course, but take the time to reflect and write something meaningful, impactful, and that has the desired impact on your readers.
8. Can I change my personal statement if I have already submitted it?
UCAS doesn’t allow you to alter your statement after you submit, so make 100% sure that you have the best statement you can before sending it in.